International Correspondents

Finland’s action plan towards a circular economy

The idea of a circular economy has attracted a lot of interest and expectations in Finland, but translating the hype into concrete action has still been a question mark for both industry and policy makers. To overcome this, a national action plan is now being prepared that will help Finland take the lead in the transition towards a circular economy.

A group of high-ranking Finnish officials and industry representatives gathered in April and May to discuss a matter of Finnish national priority: making Finland a circular economy forerunner. The two meetings were part of a series of roundtable discussions that aim to create a circular economy roadmap for Finland.

Present in the discussions were representatives from the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, as well as representatives from the Confederation of Finnish Industries and the Federation of Finnish Technology Industries. Overall, over 30 people had gathered to discuss the future of circular economy in Finland.

The meetings were organized by the Finnish Innovation Fund, Sitra, which has been leading the discussion around circular economy in Finland. The fund’s purpose is to help build a better and more successful Finland, and it works under the direction of the Finnish parliament. Sitra is now in charge of creating the circular economy roadmap.

According to Sitra’s senior lead in circular economy, Kari Herlevi, the timing was right for a dialogue between key organizations and stakeholders in Finland.

“Circular economy is mentioned in the strategic paper of the Finnish government, and the purpose is that Finland will become a forerunner by 2025. At the same time the EU Commission’s circular economy package is being addressed in the Finnish parliament. Now is a good time to have a proper discussion on how we intend to achieve our goals.”

©FlickrCC: Ville Miettinen
©FlickrCC: Ville Miettinen

Interest towards circular economy didn’t appear out of nowhere: Finnish companies and research centers have invested a lot of resources into cleantech and bioeconomy in the past. When Sitra invited key people to the roundtable discussions, people across many industries were lining up to get involved.

The main purpose of the discussions is to elicit cooperation and action. Despite all the interest in circular economy, translating the hype into actual results has so far been difficult.

“I should say that we’re talking about a circular economy action plan. We want to involve different stakeholders and create a national planning process that will help us make a systemic transition at a national level. But we have to also carefully consider how this all will translate into concrete action.”

Another major challenge for circular economy is in making sure that the solutions are truly systemic. Herlevi points out that optimizing only the parts of a system will not result in improvements at a societal level.

“When we’re talking about a systemic and society-level transition, it’s not enough to fix things. On one hand, we need strong market demand for circular economy, and on the other, we need strong policy tools that can guide us in the right direction. The challenge is similar to when talking about digitalization: we need to integrate these larger approaches into every aspect of business and society.”

One of the most pressing issues is getting the Finnish SMEs on board the transition. According to a survey conducted in November 2015 by the Confederation of Finnish Industries, 25% of its member companies saw business potential in circular economy.

“It’s great, but it also tells that 75% of the members don’t see any potential yet. Of the ones who knew about circular economy opportunities most were large corporations with global operations. The real work is in making the transition happen at the level of the SMEs.”

Hopefully, the roadmap combined with the roundtable discussions will help tackle these issues and gather momentum behind the transition towards a circular economy. A draft of the action plan is already available on Sitra’s website, where citizens can comment and propose suggestions for the plan. An open stakeholder meeting will be held on June 2, where Sitra invites everyone interested in the topic. Final version of the action plan will be released in September 2016.

By Jukka-Pekka Ovaska, Helsinki, Finland, author of Business models for a circular economy.

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Jukka-Pekka Ovaska, studies in the Creative Sustainability master’s degree programme in Aalto University, Finland, and has a growing passion towards sustainable and design-driven business innovations. In his blog he writes about systems thinking, design thinking, leadership and sustainability…



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Lena Gravis

Lena Gravis

Lena manages international content at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. She writes for Circulate about French news and is responsible for the international section.
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