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Finland’s road map to a circular economy

7 lessons learned for governments and international communities that want to establish their own road maps for a transition to the circular economy.

Child pointing to Finland on a world map

This article is part of our Paradigm Shift series, produced by nonprofit PYXERA Global, on the diverse solutions driving the transition to a circular economy. See the full collection of stories and upcoming webinars with the authors here.

The world’s first national guiding document for a circular economy, "Leading the Cycle: Finnish Road Map to a Circular Economy 2016–2025," was published in autumn 2016 in Helsinki by the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, together with a cross section of all Finnish stakeholders. The road map created a platform from which to launch and advance circular economy initiatives throughout the country, while ensuring Finland’s population possesses a shared understanding and tools to coordinate the transition. 

At the time, no other national road maps existed to guide the way. Essentially, we were pioneers, laying the tracks for our own path toward a circular economy.

The result is a unique combination of strategy, purpose and concrete action plan. There is a strong emphasis on public-private collaboration and, as a small country, it is not only intended for policy makers but also for all stakeholders. As an independent think-and-do tank, having seen and assessed emerging solutions since our inception, Sitra had the impetus to share best practices and inspire organizations to contribute their own solutions and proactively engage in the circular economy.

Since the guide's publication in 2016, other EU countries have released similar strategies and road maps. However, to remain a pioneer requires continuous adaptation, for which reason in 2019 Sitra launched an update titled "Critical Move — Finland’s Road Map to a Circular Economy 2.0." Its goal was to chart Finland’s development, raise the level of our ambition, accelerate the change and connect the circular economy to climate change mitigation as a possible solution. Winning solutions are simply not created using the old way of doing things, but rather by demanding diverse cooperation between the public, private and social sector as well as through persevering effort and commitment.

To achieve fundamental social change, a circular economy must be advanced by governments in a coordinated manner with sufficient resources allocated to support the change.

To achieve fundamental social change, a circular economy must be advanced by governments in a coordinated manner with sufficient resources allocated to support the change. Acknowledging the necessary timetable of uninterrupted progress is also critical. Shifting to a circular economy requires a parliamentarian effort that spans multiple terms of office. Currently, Finland’s circular economy goals are embedded in the government’s overarching agenda and in strategic programs implemented by the ministries. The role of these goals is particularly topical in light of the post-crisis recovery, as the circular economy helps create new jobs and build more resilience to help avoid future disruptions, while also solving many other ongoing crises, from resource scarcity to biodiversity and climate change.

Sitra is preparing a playbook for governments and international communities to establish their own road maps for the transition. It is a combination of toolkits, concepts and lessons learned from the pioneering years of work at Sitra. For those developing similar guiding documents, we share the following lessons:

1. Cooperation is the starting point and a requirement for progress

Change is difficult to achieve without listening to all stakeholders, securing broad commitment and encouraging ownership of the process. Invest in the dialogue in different ways. Meet a variety of influencers from all areas of politics, government, research, economic life and civic organizations. Cooperation is based on trust. Make sure that the entity sketching the road map is an esteemed and neutral agent that puts effort into making the change fair and just. Invest in international cooperation. In that context, it is also worthwhile to include materials in English to expedite international engagement.

2. Make sure the road map balances concrete action with flexibility

At its best, a national guiding document for circularity is a combination of strategy and concrete action plan. If it lacks an action plan to get started, it may cause the practical implementation to be considerably delayed.

3. Form a conceptual framework

Invest time in formulating a comprehensive situational picture or conceptual framework to have a baseline understanding of your country or area. Consider the framework’s most important observations. In addition to the scope of your own country, also clarify the international scope of action for other countries seeking to engage.

4. The road map must be agile to stay relevant

Make an updatable version of the road map so that it does not expire immediately. Continuous adaptation through supplemental actions is necessary to address changing needs.

5. Create measurement indicators, monitor development and set stages for the journey

Establish a clear set of indicators to measure progress toward goals and assess progress on a regular basis to capture lessons learned and adjust as needed. Chart the results, ensure the level of ambition is realistic, hasten change and clarify the big picture as necessary.

Establish a clear set of indicators to measure progress toward goals and assess progress on a regular basis to capture lessons learned and adjust as needed.

6. Invest in the execution

Even a good road map or strategy can trip up on a shoddy execution. Ensure the interventions are coordinated by a competent party with the skills and resources to act as the driver of change.

7. Make participation possible

Companies, government, civil society and individual citizens are all needed for the change to take root and grow. Instigate broad participation via open workshops, online commenting or events targeted to different stakeholder groups. By inviting participation, you also will retain stakeholders. 

Moving forward, Sitra will continue its work with a more global focus. We see international cooperation with pioneering countries and organizations as key to achieving a participatory circular economy. The World Circular Economy Forum 2019, held May 3-5, 2019, in Helsinki, focused on how emerging circular solutions can be widely scaled for the equitable distribution of their benefits. 

With these lessons, governments, companies and civil society can start down the exciting path toward a society where a good life is no longer achieved by simply producing more goods. It is vital that civil society takes these lessons to heart and acts to achieve the long-term sustainability of our planet earth.

To learn more from the leaders of the circular economy transition, visit PYXERA Global.

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