Circular economy contributes to clean growth – but what are the implications for jobs?

Circular economy coverGetting to a Circular Economy: A primer for Canadian policymakers was released by Smart Prosperity (formerly Sustainable Prosperity) on January 24, the first in a planned series of policy briefs and blogs on the topic. This introductory Primer starts from the widely-held premise that current global production and consumption models are unsustainable,  and states that “Canadian discussion on the circular economy has been overshadowed by the national emphasis on climate change and clean growth. In fact, the two approaches have significant goals in common: a focus on a low-carbon economy and on economic growth, innovation and new technologies.”

The Primer uses  a broad  definition developed by Canada’s Circular Economy Lab (CEL):  circular economy is “an approach to maximize value and eliminate waste by improving (and in some cases transforming) how goods and services are designed, manufactured and used. It touches on everything from material to business strategy to the configuration of regulatory frameworks, incentives and markets.” The Policy Brief provides a catalogue and description of the major circular economy policies and initiatives from around the world, especially Europe; from Canada, these include the National Zero Waste Council,  the Circular Economy Lab , L’Institut d’environnement, du développement durable et de l’économie circulaire (EDDEC)  in Quebec, and BioFuelNet , through which Warren Mabee of the ACW conducts research on advanced biofuels.   The Brief concludes by proposing  “Top 6 Tools for Accelerating the Circular Economy in Canada” , including  extended producer responsibility programs and policies; green procurement;  and public investments in circular economy related research, development, innovation and pilots.”  The Brief identifies one of the research gaps as the need to understand the social and employment impacts of the circular economy, and how to manage them.

In related news, on January 22 at the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos, the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) was launched , with an agreement between the United Nations Environment Program and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the prominent U.K. charity whose mission is to accelerate the shift to a circular economy. To kick off the project,  eleven global corporations pledged that all their packaging will be reused, recycled or composted by the year 2025.

A Zero Waste Economy Benefits the Environment and the Economy

Closing-the-loopA report released on March 28 calls for a move to a zero waste economy in British Columbia, estimating that more aggressive reduction and recycling of consumer goods could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by almost 5 million tonnes by 2020 and 6.2 million tonnes by 2040. A “closed loop system”, in which products like appliances would be repaired and reused for as long as possible, and finally recycled or reused in new products, would also benefit local economies by creating decent green jobs in repair, servicing and maintenance, waste management in sophisticated collection and sorting systems, as well as re-manufacturing and recycling activities. Based on research carried out in the US, UK and Europe, the authors estimate that “100% recycling of B.C.’s waste, with all sourcing and processing done locally, would support 12,300 direct jobs. With an existing provincial diversion rate of 43%, this would mean about 7,000 new direct jobs. In addition to these, there are also potential jobs gains in the more labour-intensive repair and refurbishment of products.”

“Because there may be job losses from reduced resource extraction and landfilling and incineration practices, “just transition” programs will be needed that facilitate new skills development. On balance, it is anticipated that job creation impacts would be larger than losses, but policy should actively seek to create those jobs by developing the sectors cited above. Promoting and supporting unionized workforces would push green jobs to ensure decent wages and working conditions.”

LINK
Closing the Loop: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Creating Green Jobs through Zero Waste in B.C. by Marc Lee, Sue Maxwell, Ruth Legg, and William Rees is available at the Climate Justice Project of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (B.C. Office) at: http://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/BC%20Office/2013/03/CCPA-BC-Zero-Waste.pdf