EMU participates at a circular economy conference in Estonia

The Estonian Ministry of the Environment organised a Circular economy conference on 19-20 January 2022. This year’s conference was the third such event conducted by the Ministry of the Environment, and for the first time the conference was webcast, which allowed everyone interested in the circular economy to participate. All members of the Estonian CIRCLE team participated in the conference as listeners. Rando Värnik had an opportunity to give a presentation and some of us joined workshops on the second day.

The two-day conference started with greetings from the Estonian Minister of the Environment Erki Savisaar and a welcome from the host city Narva Mayor Katri Raik. Narva is the centre of the oil shale industry in Estonia. Their goal is to use mining and processing waste of the oil shale industry and to become one of the frontrunners in the circular economy. We wish them determination and endurance to achieve their goals.

The conference continued with presentations from external speakers. From Norway, the consulting company Circular Norway argued that the circular economy is the only possible way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reduce global warming. Norway’s economy todays is only 2.4% circular (ie. 2.4% of materials consumed make it back into the economy), but with the right strategies it can rise to 45.8%. The presentation by Circular Norway provided a good first glimpse of their key strategies and how they plan to achieve their circularity goal (see the image below). More information about Circular Norway activities.

Source: Ellen Anette Høvik, Circular Norway (2022). Key strategies of the circular economy. Circular economy conference in Estonia.

The second external speaker was Dr. Juhani Damski from Finland’s Ministry of the Environment. Finland’s objective is to focus its competitiveness on a carbon-neutral circular economy and the development of low-emission solutions. They believe that circular economy is driven by digital solutions, sustainable products and services, as well as focusing on the less-is-more mentality. The Finnish government aims to be a strong player and offer sustainable solutions and smart regulations. To find out more about circular economy business models in Finland.

Throughout the conference the aim was to learn about good examples and share experiences about the Estonian Environmental investment centre measure “Energy and resource efficiency of undertakings” and to encourage entrepreneurs to use it more. Thermory AS, AS Kiviluks and Comodule shared their experience and how they used the energy and resource efficiency measure. Thermory prolongs the lifetime of wood via thermal modification. They used the Environmental investment centre measure for innovating their production process – heating chambers are placed in a warehouse, residual heat is used to heat up the rooms, indoor heating and cooling of product. Thermory CEO Simmo Soomets’s presentation was very motivating, their aim is to do better than they did yesterday, and their use of materials confirms their aim.

The first day ended with panel discussions. In the first discussion round, representatives of the above-mentioned companies talked about how their activities follow the principles of the circular economy, and the benefits and possibilities of cooperation between companies and research institutions, etc. The participants pointed to the need for science-based analysis, which is expensive for individual compancies, and the benefits of sharing more good experiences and best practices. It is important to have policies that point in the right direction, but in a quickly changing business environment there isn’t time to wait for policies and the changes should start at the enterprise level. In the second panel discussion the participants were representatives of Accelerate Estonia, Tallinn Science Park Tehnopol, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communication, and the Ministry of the Environment. This panel discussion emphasised the importance of establishing long-term objectives and development plans. But there are many obstacles that Estonia needs to overcome to establish clear and faster data gathering methods and long-term targets. Participants thought that the Estonian strength is the small size of the country and the overall level of technological development as all the changes are readily accepted so it’s a good environment to implement new ventures.

The first part of the second day summarised the state of the art of the circular economy in Estonia, the future of the bioeconomy, and the day ended with different workshops. The undersecretary of the Ministry of the Environment Kaupo Heinma confirmed that the draft of the circular economy development plan was ready. Still, the question remains – how to redesign big sized companies (as currently circularity is mainly led by start-ups)? To summarise, Rando Värnik gave an overview of the future of the bioeconomy (Bioeast Foresight Exercise, Sustainable Bioeconomy towards 2020 research) and different scenarios for the future. To find out more, the presentation is available here.

In conclusion, we believe that such high-level conferences are needed but with more in-depth focus and greater involvement of participants. Entrepreneurs and other participants gave very positive feedback about the workshops as they provided an opportunity to get involved in different situations and really think through how the circularity works.