Mari Pantsar: A new economic model requires new kinds of skills

Circle Economy, a Dutch think tank, published in January 2019 a startling report on the global cycle of materials.

We are already living far beyond Earth’s capacity, consuming too much of our natural resources, and what is more, only 9.1% of harnessed natural resources remain in the cycle. More than 90% end up at the dump, are incinerated or become environmental waste. At the same time, their value is eliminated and more natural resources are needed to manufacture new products.

For the environment and economy, the price for such reckless use of materials is high. This is a price that all of us have to eventually pay in the form of increasing prices for raw materials and products. This challenge will only grow, as the world population is predicted to increase by some 3 billion individuals by the year 2050.

We stand at the end of the line for the current linear economic model, based on the utilisation, manufacturing, consumption and disposal of natural resources. Instead, we must adopt a more sustainable economic model, the circular economy.

The circular economy is about much more than recycling. It is about product design, sharing, using products as services, using products made of circular materials and eliminating all waste. Simply put, it is the smart use of materials.

Transitioning to a circular economy demands new kinds of skills: at its heart are materials technology, design and new kinds of business models. As we are not talking about a new technology, but rather the transformation of our entire economic model, novel thinking and skills will in the future be in demand throughout society. In the future, not only will we need circular economy specialists, but the principles of a circular economy must be internalised by specialists of all fields. In this, teaching and education have a central role. At the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, we are cooperating with all educational levels, from daycare centres to universities, in order to deploy this new economic model through practical measures.

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Mari Pantsar leads the Carbon-neutral circular economy theme at The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra

In the series Science Advocates, people describe the significance of research and research-based teaching for themselves. Read the other instalments on the Researchmatters website (scroll down).