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New Project Set to Help European SMEs Transition to Circular Economy

Furniture producer Orangebox undertook a pilot project in 2014 to design a recyclable office chair that resulted in the “Do” chair, which uses less material, fewer parts and fewer product miles, and is 98 percent recyclable. Orangebox received a visit from representatives of the new Circular Economy for SMEs project as an examplary local SME in Wales working to integrate circular models. | Image credit: Orangebox

Businesses of all sizes can realize opportunities presented by the shift from linear ‘take, make, waste’ models and systems to circular ones. As the originator of the circular economy concept Walter R. Stahel once said, “A circular economy will directly create numerous jobs with a broad diversity of skills at local and regional level, and give rise to new SMEs [small and medium enterprises] exploiting opportunities in the local loops.”

To help SMEs in this endeavor, ten partners from six European countries are pursuing a four-year project called the Circular Economy for SMEs (CESME). Created by the Business Development Centre North Denmark, the project aims to create a step-by-step guide to help SMEs with the transition to more closed-loop operations, maximize the efficiency of their resources during their use, and extend products’ value through processes such as reuse, repair, remanufacturing, and recycling.

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Groups from Denmark, the UK, Italy, Finland, Bulgaria, and Greece will share experiences and identify best practices for both SMEs and policymakers. In the first phase of the CESME project, the organizations are working to identify and recommend improvements for relevant policy instruments, as well as design support packages to help SMEs adopt more circular business models. Next, the second phase will involve working directly with SMEs to act on the lessons learned from the previous work.

Wales hosted the first partner event in May, which saw all 10 partners gather in Cardiff and hear from a number of circular economy experts including the Ecodesign Centre Wales and WRAP Cymru, according to Resource. Delegates visited Hengoed-based furniture producer Orangebox, an exemplary SME that created a 98 percent recyclable chair that is produced using less materials, fewer parts and fewer product miles. Meetings hosted by the other organizations are expected to follow a similar format, featuring speakers and case studies.

“Wales has a strengthening global reputation for green growth and we recognise the opportunities the circular economy will bring,” Welsh Environment and Rural Affairs Cabinet Secretary Lesley Griffiths told Resource, commenting on Wales’ part in the project. “Sharing valuable expertise will help us break down barriers for SMEs and bring this vision into reality.”

The CESME project has a budget of €1.73 million and will be co-funded by the Interreg Europe Programme, a policy-focused organization that helps regional governments across Europe. By the end of 2020, the project is expected to create 350 new jobs and generate €45 million in revenue growth for the participating SMEs.

Hannah Furlong is an Editorial Assistant for Sustainable Brands, based in Canada. She is researching the circular economy as a Master's student in Sustainability Management at the University of Waterloo and holds a Bachelor's in Environment and Business Co-op. Hannah… [Read more about Hannah Furlong]

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