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An Interview Between +SocialGood’s Shariha Khalid and Harald Friedl of Circle Economy

Updated: Apr 12, 2018

Global leaders gathered to discuss the future at the World Economic Forum in Davos. +SocialGood Connector Shariha Khalid reported from the event to discuss the leading themes, solutions, and how we can shape the conversation.

In this interview, Shariha speaks with Harald Friedl, the CEO of the Circle Economy, which is a social enterprise working to accelerate the transition to circularity through on the ground, action focused, development of practical and scalable solutions and international campaigns. This interview was originally published on +SocialGood's Medium page.

Meet Harald Friedl: As Circle Economy’s CEO, Harald brings extensive international experience running both for and non-profit businesses with a focus on scaling impact. Before joining Circle Economy in 2017, Harald spent 5 years in Myanmar, during which he co-founded Impact Hub Myanmar, headed the market development for the world market leader of electromechanical hydropower projects in the country and co-founded Myanmar’s first pre-incubation programme for social enterprises. Prior to moving to Myanmar, he worked as the Head of Office for the Assistant Secretary General in New York and acted as the spokesperson for the Deputy Prime Minister of Finance in Austria.

*Note: Interview edited lightly for clarity

Shariha Khalid: Harald, will you explain about the work that the Circle Economy does, and what you hope to achieve through that work?

Harald Friedl: We’re an impact organization. What we have passion for is building a global community for the circle economy. We do this in two ways: one, we work with businesses and two, we work with cities. We have a mixed funding model. The second economy is a strong road map to achieve the SDGs and to work towards the agreed-upon climate goals. We effectuate this and mobilize this through applying circle economy strategies with cities and businesses.

Shariha: That’s fantastic. One of the things that caught my eye recently was the report launch that you did here in Davos. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Harald: The circle economy is a new thing. We launched our first metrics in The Circularity Gap Report, which says only 9% of the world is circular, meaning that the other 91% of the world is non-circular. Which means, we are wasting our resources. Most of these resources end after one time use in landfills or are being burnt. That’s a waste. We are living in a world of abundance but we need to use the abundance. Waste doesn’t exist in a circular economy system. Waste is just a resource for another process.

At the moment, the linear economy is designed in a very inefficient way. The largest problem with circle economies do not lie with the ones that currently exist but with the structure of other economies. We have to get all the players around the table because there is not yet proper incentives in this world for a circular economy. We, in the report, now propose targets for individual sectors like the plastic sector or the capital goods sector to be able to change the metrics or to change and ensure progress for next year. I think there is a lot to learn from the climate change community that has done a fantastic job over the last 15 years of tracking progress and creating awareness. We need to do the same with the circle economy and to be able to interlink these discussions even more.

Shariha: Can you share with the +SocialGood community how the movement around the circular economy connects to the SDGs and how it can mobilize a bigger community outside of the businesses, governments, or city authorities that you work with?

Harald: The interesting thing is that the circle economy is not a goal in itself. The goal is the SDGs. The goal is a low-carbon economy with human dignity at its center. We’ve done this work in developing countries and emerging economies and also in the developed world. When you overlay the road map with the SDG goals, you have about a 75% overlay of goals. So, everything we’re trying to achieve in a circle economy also adds into the SDGs.

A recent example is our work with Philips. That is a company that is completely transforming its business models in a circular model and this has a very positive implication. For example, for carbon emissions but also for the future of jobs. They’re looking into developing countries like in Kenya and exploring how they can improve access to healthcare.

How this all comes together in cities is also highly fascinating. A circular economy is per se a multi-stakeholder approach, as are the SDGs. We have learned in our work on the textile sector, for example, that you can’t do it without everybody around the table, including unusual alliances. So, you have the financial guys. You have the lawyers. You have the businesses and you have the cities. They sit together and think with an open minds about how this new model can enable us to increase the circular interdependence, to achieve the SDGs, and to leave a better planet for the future generations.

Shariha: Effectively what you’re saying is that if business and governments around the world practice a circular economy model, they’re actually unlocking funds to be able to deliver on the SDGs?

Harald: Yes, I think there are two things. One is the unlocking business opportunities for themselves, for investors, because it’s an interesting business proposition. In Europe there were measurements done, and I think there were about 300,000 new jobs and the added value of a couple of billion Euros to the economy. The other thing, we don’t even know the full potential that will be unlocked by looking at this new business model. We’re living in times of extremely fast change.

A circle economy will foster and anchor a healthy prosperity. Locally, it will hopefully be a much fairer system that will lead to a much quicker and more equitable distribution of wealth and it will unlock many new investment opportunities — as we already see happening. Because, more and more funds are looking at circular opportunities and we need to help to create the business models for that.

Shariha: I’m very excited about the possibilities that could happen if we can truly move towards a circular economy. Do you have any final words you’d like to share to inspire the innovators out there?

Harald: Yes, I would say let’s all be circular. There are extremely good business cases out there that which you can access on the knowledge platform for circularity. There is a lot of work being done out there. One, we have to motivate our governments to do this. Two, we have to enable business models to do it for the businesses. Three, ourselves. Look at our own behavior. What are the things you’re wearing every day? What are things you consume every day? As consumers, we have enormous power to change these models.

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