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Issues | SUSTAINABLE ECONOMY
A sustainable economy takes account of social and environmental aspects so as to meet today’s needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own requirements (the FPS Economy definition: http://economie.fgov.be/nl/consument/duurzame_economie/#.WjPF4TdG270 ).
Several concepts are generally covered by this term; here we only address those on which the CFDD has worked or is currently working.
1. Circular economy
The concept of the circular economy is very broad. It has been extensively documented by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which has developed and tested the theory with a number of private players (industrialists, strategy consultants, etc.).
In simple terms, the circular economy aims to reduce the consumption of resources (energy, and organic and other material resources) and the pollution resulting from their use (such as waste and air and water pollution). The concept is generally contrasted with the traditional linear economy based on the extraction and consumption of resources, with the resulting waste. The circular economy, in contrast, aims to return resources in all their forms to the economy, at every stage of the production and consumption process, thus establishing a closed loop for raw materials.
The circular economy includes:
- The use of recycled materials
- Eco-design, aiming to:
- prolong product life
- reduce the resources consumed
- make it possible to repair products, entailing their dismantling and the presence of proper documentation
- end-of-life recycling, which also requires documentation of the materials concerned.
- A link can be made here with the fight against planned obsolescence (the fact that products have an artificially limited useful life). This may be technical (an item breaks and cannot be repaired at a cost that is attractive by comparison with the purchase of a new device), or socio-cultural (the replacement of a smartphone not because it is faulty but because a new model has been released on the market). On the topic of planned obsolescence, see the EESC opinion and press release.
- Improving the efficient use of resources: consuming less per unit of production. Examples include the energy required to produce one kWh of electricity, the quantity of water used to produce a litre of a given drink, etc.
- New business models reducing the use of resources. The functional economy is one example: by replacing the ownership of a good with access to a service fulfilling the same need, the consumption of materials can be sharply reduced. The best-known examples are those in which the good is no longer bought but hired for the period of use - these are known as use-oriented services and include car-sharing, where several users share a single car. The service may also be result-oriented, for instance replacing one technology with another (e.g. an enterprise enabling natural light to be diffused throughout a building, alongside a more conventional lighting system).
- The development of local partnerships in which enterprises come together to convert the waste generated by one into raw materials for use by the other.
(picture: Ellen MacArthur Foundation)
European and Belgian initiatives
The European Union has published several documents on the circular economy. Link to the European Commission’s site.
At federal level, the deputy premier and minister for the economy Kris Peeters, and the minister for the environment and sustainable development Marie Christine Marghem published a paper in 2016 covering 21 joint measures to promote the circular economy in Belgium. This document was prepared in conjunction with the environment department of the FPS for Public Health, Food Chain Safety and the Environment, the FPS for the Economy and SMEs and the Federal Institute for Sustainable Development.
Further information is available at http://www.marghem.be/wp-content/uploads/ECON-CIRC-FR-LIGHT-2.pdf
The ministers also asked the CFDD to issue an opinion on this set of measures. This opinion was unanimously approved on 7 September 2016 and can be consulted here.
Again at federal level, the Central Economic Council (an advisory body including the social partners) has established a resource efficiency platform to encourage recycling. This platform is made up of a range of players, mainly the competent federal and regional authorities. The results of the platform’s work can be consulted on the Central Economic Council’s site.
Many initiatives have been launched at the regional level:
- Brussels-Capital Region: http://www.circulareconomy.brussels/a-propos/le-prec/
- Region of Flanders: http://www.vlaanderen-circulair.be/nl
- Region of Wallonia:http://www.jcmarcourt.be/actions-phares/economie-circulaire.htm#.Wh0cHDdry70
The work of the CFDD
In 2014 the CFDD decided to focus on one particular aspect of the circular economy in order to increase its practical knowledge of this area. The functional economy was chosen, as there has been little work in this area and it represents an innovative business model. An “Innovative Economic Models” working group was set up to monitor this work.
A study was commissioned from the consultancy EcoRes (read the report). This study uses an ad hoc methodological framework and a number of case studies to examine how far and under what conditions the functional economy could be a lever for sustainable development in Belgium. What kinds of businesses have adopted this model? What are their reason for doing so? What were the obstacles, and what results have they achieved? Finally, the report makes recommendations for the development of this business model. These recommendations have not been analysed or validated by members of the CFDD and are solely the opinions of the study’s authors.
2. The collaborative and sharing economy
Wikipedia defines the collaborative economy, another economic model with potentially significant social impacts, as follows: “The collaborative economy is a human activity that aims to produce value in common and which relies upon new forms of the organisation of work. It depends on an organisation that is more horizontal than vertical, the pooling of goods, space and tools (use rather than ownership), and the organisation of citizens in networks or communities, and generally involves the intermediation of Internet platforms (except in the case of models such as mutual knowledge exchange networks)”.
The work of the CFDD
The Innovative Economic Models working group next decided to focus on the collaborative and sharing economies. Two lunchtime debates were organised during 2016:
- The first lunchtime debate , organised on 31 May 2016, aimed to give a brief presentation of these economic models and the links they might have with sustainable development, and to review current trends.
- The second, held on 4 October 2016, enabled Council members to present their point of view on some questions submitted in advance on the collaborative economy and sustainable development.
On the basis of these discussion, the Council issued an own-initiative opinion, unanimously adopted on 8 March 2017. It can be consulted via this link.
The working group then asked the Council’s secretariat to conduct a series of interviews with experts in the collaborative and sharing economies in order to reach a clearer view of the definition of these concepts, the potential impact on sustainable development, examples to follow or avoid, and so on. The report of these interviews, along with a short video, can be found at http://www.frdo-cfdd.be/fr/publications/autres .
These topics have also been the subject of work at other levels of power in the country. The FPS for the Economy and SMEs has been considering the collaborative economy (see http://economie.fgov.be/fr/entreprises/economie_durable/economie-collaborative/); while the Central Economic Council and the National Labour Council are working on the digital economy and on the collaborative economy in the light of the 2017 interbranch agreement, which states that:
- “The inter-branch social partners shall examine in the CNT-CCE what measures can be taken to ensure that digitalisation and the collaborative economy lead to more growth, jobs and entrepreneurship, and to sustainable social security.
- The Report and recommendations of the Higher Employment Council (CSE), the opinion of the CNT on the future of work and the CCE’s documents on digitalisation and the labour market will provide an important primary reference for this work.
- The social partners shall pay particular attention to the impact on the sustainability of the economy and the labour market, and on fair competition between all the players and entrepreneurs in this market. They shall identify where opportunities or dangers exist, and shall formulate proposals to better prepare workers and employers or entrepreneurs for these challenges, or to mitigate any adverse effects.
- The social partners shall issue an initial analysis by 30/06/2017. On this basis, they shall draft practical proposals by 31/12/2017. To this end, they shall organise, within the CNT-CCE, a seminar for all the players concerned in September 2017.”