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UK regions helping industry become future fit

Posted on 05/01/2017

New initiatives to support innovative businesses to develop new products and services or transition.

By Catherine Joce, Knowledge Transfer Manager, Circular Economy

In this era of devolution, the success of regional authorities increasingly depends on developing and implementing a successful strategy for economic growth. The best plans build on local unique selling points such as geography, access to specialist skills or particular resources, existing value chains and new knowledge generated by resident universities.

Despite regional specialities and peculiarities, many regions face common challenges of increasing populations and rapid urbanisation that are making current patterns of production and consumption unsustainable. Cities in particular are ecosystems that concentrate resources and thus are at the front-end of dealing with the consequences of consumerism.

In response to these challenges, many regions are building circular economy principles into their long-term economic development strategies. The circular economy refers to a systemic approach to the redesigning of business systems, enabling sustainable economic growth by managing resources more effectively as a result of making the flow of materials more circular and reducing and ultimately eliminating waste flows, (BS8001 Framework for implementing the principles of the circular economy in organizations –DRAFT, British Standards Institute, 2016 https://drafts.bsigroup.com/Home/Details/59265).  Circular economy thinking encourages new business models where long-life products, reuse, repair and remanufacture can potentially be more lucrative than current “take-make-dispose” models.

Exploring circular economy enablers and approaches

In the UK, many progressive regional or city bodies are developing programmes to support the transition towards a circular economy model by evolving their own operations as well as encouraging innovation within their local business communities.  Scotland was the first UK region to publish a circular economy strategy, Glasgow published a circular economy vision and action plan and London is developing a circular economy route map. And it is not just big regions and cities getting in on the act; building on their success as World Smart City of the Year 2015, Peterborough set an ambitious goal to become the UK’s first circular city.  New initiatives to support innovative businesses to develop new products and services or transition to new business models have already been launched including ZeroWasteScotland’s Circular Economy Investment Fund and London Waste and Recycling Board’s Advance London programme.

Across Europe, many similar circular economy regional initiatives are well established and new ones are springing up.  Building on KTN’s track record of supporting companies on circular economy innovation and KTN’s Smart Specialisation Hub’s knowledge of data-based decision making in regional innovation planning, KTN have entered into partnership with many of these regions.

Funded by Horizon2020, the SCREEN project (Synergic Circular Economy Across European Regions) aims to deliver a replicable systemic approach towards a transition to Circular Economy in EU regions and to support regional cooperation through the identification and implementation of operational synergies, contributing to novel future eco-innovative business models and value chains.  By understanding in detail the circular economy activity in the cooperating regions from Italy, Portugal, France, The Netherlands, Poland, Greece and Finland (with more to join) KTN will seek to identify tangible opportunities for UK regions to enter into strategic partnerships with them to deliver circular economy objectives.  Sign up to KTN’s Sustainability and Circular Economy newsletter to keep up-to-date on this project.

Long-term thinking is essential to ensure regions and the industries they host are prepared for the challenges of an increasingly resource constrained world.  Regions that can combine a detailed, evidence-based understanding of their strengths and opportunities with a long-term perspective and understanding of global megatrends will be best placed to generate sustainable economic growth.