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Slovenia is Moving Towards a Circular Economy

Slovenia, an EU country with 2 million inhabitants and 60% of its land area covered by forests, is home to a considerable amount of pristine natural capital. Since the 1980s, national campaigns and key messages have focused on this potential, resulting in strong public awareness and engagement for a positive development model. The circular economy model seems to be the right answer for this small country tucked between Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary.

Resource-efficient and circular

Licensed under CC - credit Flickr user: Javier Sanchez Portero
Licensed under CC – credit Flickr user: Javier Sanchez Portero

Slovenia has two reasons to look for new solutions: it is a small country, without the strong geo-political power which would enable it to ensure cost-efficient and secure natural resources for all its needs, and it doesn’t have big multinational companies that export final products. Slovenian companies are mostly suppliers, and as such they are more sensitive to new trends, including the implementation of the principles of the circular economy in large multinational companies. The Slovenian economy cannot afford to watch and wait to see what will happen on the global market, it has to be proactive; a strategic systemic approach is needed.

Bearing this in mind, in 2015 the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning introduced an action plan for a transition to a resource-efficient economy, including a circular economy, industrial symbiosis, energy efficiency and sustainable development. The action plan focuses on three aspects: the economy, the environment, and society. At the same time it was clearly pointed out that the principles of the circular economy form the basis of an economic and environmental shift. The circular concept offers Slovenia a new opportunity in international competitiveness.

Overcoming obstacles on the way to economic change

Licensed under CC - credit Flickr user: James Green
Licensed under CC – credit Flickr user: James Green

Besides the evident opportunities for gain that open up in a shift towards a circular economy, some obstacles to its implementation in Slovenia have also been recognised in different research studies. As mentioned above, most Slovenian exporters are suppliers, and so they are forced to change in accordance with their main customers, while those companies less dependent on export, are not so opened for sustainable business models. The banking sector is not flexible enough, and does not provide the efficient instruments that would encourage companies to change their business models in the ways required by the circular economy. Another factor is a lack of information, knowledge and targeted communication; many companies, and even some government structures, still see the circular economy as a movement promoted by NGOs, primarily related to recycling.

However, interestingly, local communities have been very active, proposing concrete plans for closer collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and other key stakeholders to cooperate in and strategically coordinate sustainable goals and projects. The green policy of the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, is reflected in the city’s green purchases, which exceed 70% of all city investments. Transportation in Ljubljana has also changed dramatically in recent years, with the BicikeLj bike-sharing system achieving more than 1.6 million journeys – close to the number of all the inhabitants of Slovenia! Slovenian businesses are now taking on the principles of the circular economy. Two recent conferences brought together different stakeholders to discuss the circular economy for the very first time, confirming it as a major factor in competitiveness.

So what’s next?

What is actually going on in Slovenia? The process of defining its ‘Strategy 2050’ is ongoing. A Document for Smart Specialisation has been confirmed, and its basic pillars are green, healthy, active, and digital. A call for development partnerships has been announced, with the circular economy as one of its priorities. A special governmental working group is being led by the Ministry of Environment, connecting different Ministries and focusing on creating solutions that will lead to a transformation towards a regenerative economy. At the same time collaboration between corporations, emerging innovators and the regions is being strongly supported by the same Ministry, through different projects crucial to the implementation of the principles of the circular economy.

The year 2016 will be a very active one for communication and activities related to the circular economy. Slovenia started the process to join the Ellen MacArthur CE 100 Program, organise a variety of events and workshops for different stakeholders, and in the first half of the year focus on clear and unified messages about the advantages the circular economy can bring, and, even more importantly, how it can be implemented. Much knowledge transfer is still required, and the sharing of best practice will continue.

Ljubljana is the 2016 European Green Capital

Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, is following the European path to sustainable development. Its main priorities include the Environmental Protection Programme, the Sustainable Mobility Plan, the Sustainable Energy Plan and the Electro mobility Strategy. In 2007 Ljubljana introduced a sustainable development vision up to 2025, with 93 infrastructure projects which are important for both the environment and quality of life. A package of sustainability documents have been adopted and more than 650 larger and smaller investment projects have been implemented so far, each of which is aimed towards improving the quality of life of Ljubljana residents.

Ljubljana, and Slovenia itself, have attributes that represent a perfect setting for the development of new business models based on the principles of the circular economy. Former EU Commissioner for the Environment – and former EU affairs minister of Slovenia – Janez Potočnik was central to the adoption of circular economy by the EU Commission, and remains a key advocate of the framework at international level. The Prime Minister, Miro Cerar, also supports this transition:

“It is important to understand the transition to the circular economy as a long term process. A broader social consensus is needed, as well as the establishment of an appropriate supportive environment. The best guarantee for this would be for the concept of a circular economy to become the foundation of Slovenia’s Long-Term Development Strategy.”

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