The circular economy: from concept to real-world applications

What is circular economy? Let’s start with the basics. The circular economy is more than some good-sounding buzzword. It’s a whole new way of considering business growth by disconnecting it from the use of our planet’s limited resources. As such, it affects every single aspect of our economies, so its implementation is no small endeavor – “especially for a company like Solvay,” says Dominique Debecker, Solvay’s Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer, “which is high up the value chain and has a wide range of very different products and markets. We have to think about these subjects collectively, together with our customers.”

Changing our ways for good



And that is the whole idea of an event such as Movin’ On, the world summit on sustainable mobility, held in Montreal late May 2018. “We wanted to talk about the circular economy and all the changes it implies with our partners and players in mobility without debating about a product and its specifics,” explains Dominique. “That’s why we chose a simple example of an everyday object everyone can identify with: electric bikes.”

Bruno Jestin, Europe Zone Director at Solvay’s Silica Global Business Unit, about the complexities of the circular economy from the stakeholders’ perspective added: “We conceived it as a concrete exercise,” he says, “where groups of participants play the role of electric bike manufacturers, rental services, municipalities and waste management companies to understand the business models and synergies for every different type of player.”

A work of demystification

Solvay’s credibility regarding these issues (in the mobility segment and beyond) is widely recognized, in no small part thanks to the Group’s Sustainable Portfolio Management classification (SPM) and its efforts to redirect its business towards sustainable products and solutions – hence the proposition to lead this session. “Solvay has had a sustainability-based policy for over ten years, more than most of our competitors,” reminds Dominique. “We identified the circular economy as a vector for true transformation: we can’t just do a little better, we have to change our ways completely.” If only to abide by the 2015 Paris agreement, new ways of conducting business across industries have to be found that will consume ten times less resources than traditional models. The circular economy is all about finding such models.

“The aim is to demystify the circular economy as a market trend that is forcing us to change as well as an opportunity we have to seize,” explains Bruno. “The sooner we understand that, the better.” And that cannot be done alone, company by company. “We need to find partnerships to evolve new technologies as well as new mindsets,” says Dominique, “which is why we started working with the Ellen MacArthur foundation, for example. There is no ready-made solution: we have to stay humble in our approach and integrate many different factors, including the social dimension, and take into account the entire chain of production.”

Infographic-electric bikes

New trends and opportunities

A humble, pragmatic and holistic approach is tellingly illustrated by Bruno Jestin’s own journey towards the question of sustainability. “The circular economy brings new opportunities to our Silica business. In the field of mobility, new market trends are emerging quickly that clearly derive from the concept of the circular economy. For instance, younger generations are no longer interested in buying their own car, and municipalities are working on fleets of shared electric autonomous cars, pushing for the development of maintenance-free, long lasting vehicles. In that sense, silica plays a key role: on top of reducing tire adherence, leading to lower fuel consumption, it enhances the long-term performance of tires including wear resistance. We are also working on recycling tires better. It’s up to us to be on the forefront of these issues in order to capture new opportunities through new business models.”

Last but not least, studies show, including Solvay’s research on its own products and markets, that sustainable solutions enjoy higher growth than neutral ones, while unsustainable solutions tend to have negative growth. As Bruno conluded: “Doing good for the planet is doing good for business.”

Press release

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