[INTERVIEW] The circular economy is the consumerism of the future

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Anne Kari Hansen Ovind, Norway’s Ambassador to Korea, speaks at the World Knowledge Forum in Seoul on Thursday. [EMBASSY OF DENMARK IN KOREA]

The circular economy is not a fashionable concept only in the Nordic countries rich in renewable energy, said experts from Denmark and Finland who attended a policy forum in Seoul on Thursday.

“This T-shirt,” Kirsi Terho, key account manager for Finnish company Infinited Fibre, said as he pulled out a garment during an interview at the Shilla Hotel Seoul on Thursday, “is a Patagonia T-shirt that was produced at from old shirts sent to us from Patagonia stores in Korea.

The Infinited Fiber Company is working to make used fibers look like new, a technology they hope to scale up so they can be more than just a “drop in the bucket” among others. textile producers in the world.

Kirsi Terho, Key Account Director of Infinited Fiber Company, speaks with the Korea JoongAng Daily at the Shilla Hotel Seoul on Thursday. [PARK SANG-MOON]

Kirsi Terho, Key Account Director of Infinited Fiber Company, speaks with the Korea JoongAng Daily at the Shilla Hotel Seoul on Thursday. [PARK SANG-MOON]

Millions of tons of clothes are thrown away every year. A US study put the figure at 13 million tonnes in 2017, 85% of which was buried or burned.

Terho says she is one of many trying to reverse this trend.

Pernille Berg, scientific director of Bloxhub, a Nordic institution working on sustainable urbanization, also traveled to Seoul to speak Thursday at the World Knowledge Forum, an event organized by the embassies of the Nordic countries – Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden – in Korea. .

Berg, who was visiting Seoul for the second time, said she saw huge potential for the megacity as a testing ground for solutions to adjust consumer behaviors to drive industry-level change.

“I think Seoul can be an interesting place for many partners working on projects to change consumer behavior, because of its size and good management,” Berg said. “The greater Seoul area has 27 million people, far more than Copenhagen and many other European cities, and that would mean large-scale solutions could be tested in Seoul, with meaningful data and results.”

Pernille Berg, Scientific Director of Bloxhub, speaks with the Korea JoongAng Daily at the Shilla Hotel Seoul on Thursday. [PARK SANG-MOON]

Pernille Berg, Scientific Director of Bloxhub, speaks with the Korea JoongAng Daily at the Shilla Hotel Seoul on Thursday. [PARK SANG-MOON]

Cities only take up 3% of Earth’s land, but they’re known to be the biggest carbon emitters, according to Berg.

The following are edited excerpts from the interview with Terho and Berg, in which they discuss how Nordic and Asian cities and businesses could collaborate to transform the centuries-old way the world has produced and consumed for a brighter future. green.

Q. In the simplest terms, how would you sum up the concept of circular economy?



A. Kirsi Terho: It’s about making the most of the resources that already exist and building a business around the process. Because if there is no business around it, there can be no circular economy.


Pernille-Berg: I would liken it to living in circles. We all know the seasonal changes, that we live and die, and everything works with this circle in mind. So when we say goodbye to our plants, our home or our loved ones, we are always sending them on a better journey. I think the way we’ve lived for the past 50 to 70 years, we’ve forgotten to have that level of reverence and love for our habitation. The circular economy is about having the economic system that supports this circularity.

What are the good examples we see today of companies fully in line with this idea of ​​a circular economy?



Berg: A company that I think is a top star because of its holistic approach to circularity would be Patagonia. They have just dedicated their wealth to doing good for biodiversity. And I think the way Patagonia has also looked at its corporate policy, from human resources to materials to business models, is a very, very good example of that.

Since the start of the pandemic, more and more Koreans have turned to buying and selling second-hand clothes on various online platforms. For Infinited Fiber, how did it turn the concept of textile recycling into a business model?

Terho: So it all started in the 1930s in Alabama, where there was an innovation for this technology [to turn used materials into fiber] which has never been used. And our founder Ali Harlin, mountain bike teacher [VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland], wanted to make it work. So he started experimenting with it, making fibers out of old newspapers, then old banana boxes, then old jeans. He decided to bring the results to ITMA Milan, a textile fair. The result? A huge list of brands interested in circulating old clothes into new ones. VTT was therefore at the origin of the innovation and application of the technology, and Infinited Fiber had the chance to acquire hundreds of years of experience and develop it to a commercial level.

Consumer behavior is often the key to changing the way we produce and consume. What is the position of the public in the Nordic countries when it comes to going the extra mile in the way they consume to protect the environment?

Berg: When we talk about consumer behavior in fashion, we have to talk about moving from fast fashion to slow fashion. Some companies now release new styles every week. This must stop. The skirt I’m wearing now is completely upscaled because it’s plastic bottles that have been turned into fiber. The skirt behaves no differently than if it had been made from another type of material. And that is why we need the research and technology experts to refine and perfect their knowledge on how to produce recycled products and also to ensure that consumers do not lose any value by buying them because they behave same way as the fiber we re used to would.

I hope a similar trend will be increasingly visible in the construction industry. We have a few examples of homes being built using circular principles, but consumers are still wondering if using a more eco-friendly material would have the same aesthetic appeal.

Terho: Generation Z right now is very careful about what they wear and how they want to feel in relation to what they consume. Consumers are steadily driving businesses right now, forcing the industry to change.

With the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis in Europe, would you say that business and consumer interest in implementing a circular economy through smarter recycling and greener production has been put on the back burner?

Terho: There has been a lot of talk in Europe about whether the energy crisis will turn everything upside down [on the climate agenda] and pushing back some of the renewable energy conversations. But I think it will be something that will happen momentarily. In Finland, we are expecting a very cold winter this year, but we are also ready to weather it with our renewable energy sources.

Berg: I think the energy crisis causes a lot of fear among people. And we know that when people are afraid and worried about the future, they tend to regress to what makes them feel safe. So people talk about staying warm using charcoal. But what we have also seen in Europe over the summer, as you have also seen in Seoul, are extremely heavy rains, as well as droughts and heat waves. People are therefore aware that we are facing many crises at the same time. Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution, we have no doubt that we will see our CO2 emissions temporarily increase as we try to get through this ordeal. [energy shortage] crisis and then back down because many are also determined to tackle the problem of climate change.

Despite the postponement of the Copenhagen carbon neutral plan by 2025 in light of Europe’s energy crisis, Denmark remains a leader in decarbonisation. Where to go in the Danish capital to see some examples of green urbanization?

Berg: Definitely go to “Living Places”, which will be ready next year. This is an initiative to create homes that, as a community, meet the Sustainable Development Goals. The construction industry must reduce its current CO2 emissions by 96% [to meet the carbon neutrality goals], so Living Places will be an example of how we can build homes differently to achieve these goals. We also have what we call the Copenhill, where we have a waste-to-energy plant.

Plastic waste in Korea, including the thousands of disposable plastic cups that roll out of cafes across the country every day, is a big problem here. If Seoul came to Bloxhub asking for their advice on how to solve this problem, where would you start?



Berg: I think we know that to reduce CO2 emissions, we have to start with consumer behavior. So I would start with social awareness and behavior change mechanisms and incentives. I think Seoul can be an interesting place for many partners working on such projects to change consumer behavior, because of its size and good management. The greater Seoul area has 27 million people, far more than Copenhagen and other European cities, which would mean large-scale solutions could be tested in Seoul, with meaningful data and results.

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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