What is the challenge?
Throughout its more than 200-year existence, our industrialised society has been dominated by a linear way of producing and consuming goods. Raw materials are extracted, worked, used up and finally discarded. This involves wasting limited resources. It also exacerbates risks of volatile raw-material prices and an insecure supply of raw materials, with repercussions not only on resource-intensive sectors but on the whole of society.
We therefore need to move from a linear to a circular social system, with an economy based on more closed-loop material flows. Industry needs reuse, repair and remanufacture products and components on a much larger scale. There also needs to be a marked increase in recovery and recycling of materials from products and components. However, there are major gaps in knowledge of how to develop resource-efficient, circular solutions.
How can the programme contribute to solutions?
The task of Mistra REES (Resource-Efficient and Effective Solutions) is to develop principles, methods and guidelines that make resource-efficient products, services and business models possible. Another aim is to propose policy instruments and policy packages that favour the transition to a more circular economy.
In Phase 1 (2015–19), 12 companies and two municipalities and non-profit organisations took part in the programme, which comprised seven connected projects. In the first, the researchers created a knowledge base for the rest of the programme by exploring which conditions make circular products and services more resource-efficient. They also studied business and policy drivers and obstacles.
Three projects involved devising methods and tools for developing products and services, business models and policies. These were followed by a project to synthesise knowledge in the above-mentioned projects and explore scope for various parts of a circular economy to work together efficiently. The last two projects in the programme focused on disseminating the results to specific target groups.
In Phase 2 (2020–23), the programme will evaluate and build further on the design methods and design support for Swedish manufacturing companies that were developed in Phase 1. Another important part of the work consists in devising and finding new approaches to the evaluation of policies, policy areas and legislation that affect this development.
In addition, Mistra REES is setting out to examine the environmental and economic implications of the shift towards a more resource-efficient and circular society. Here, the aim is to support companies and decision-makers in making changes in design, policy and business management. In Phase 2, aspects involving financial analysis and business economics will also be evaluated.
Who will benefit from the results?
The businesses, municipalities and organisations taking part enjoy a head start in terms of knowledge, greater visibility to the public, customers and clients, and access to a network of similar stakeholders. However, to strengthen competitiveness in the long term, the results must be disseminated to the whole of Swedish industry. In addition, decision-makers from other sectors in society will be offered practical tools, such as workshops, textbooks, popular-science articles and summaries for decision-makers.
Mistra REES intends to move the research frontline in circular economy forward and mould a new generation of Swedish interdisciplinary researchers and practitioners through, for example, the PhD and master students participating in the programme.
‘In our resource-limited world, the need to move away from linear material flows and towards more circular ones is greater than ever. Mistra REES takes a comprehensive approach to these issues and we hope to be able to contribute to a rapid reorientation of society towards greater sustainability, which will benefit industry and consumers alike.’
Mattias Lindahl, programme manager