Dr. Joanne Rourke

Eastern-Midland Waste Regional Office


Promoting Circular Economy Principals to SMEs


Problem statement / challenge

With campaigns on reducing plastic and concern over extreme weather events as a result of climate change, 2018 saw sustainability emerging as an important topic in terms of media news cycles, social media viral sharing and, most likely, as water-cooler conversation also. Also in July of 2018, the long-awaited ratification of the EU Circular Economy Package legislation took place offering a realistic mechanism by which such sustainability may be achieved.

A circular economy is an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life (WRAP, 2018). In this way, circular economy models aim for minimum waste generation while increasing re-use, repair and recycling of materials. In addition, the model promotes more sustainable energy and water usage, as well as protecting and prolonging precious finite natural resources and reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to the environmental benefits, there are strong economic benefits for businesses and economies: innovation, competitiveness, job creation, retention of workers and potential new markets and growth.

While this is clearly a win/win situation for environment and economy, one of the biggest challenges to integrating circular economy principles into business models is that companies and institutions must, on an individual basis, commit to this and implement it – one by one. There are two main obstacles to this. Firstly, the awareness and understanding of circular economy; what it means and the business case for adopting it is still relatively low among businesses. Secondly, even where businesses are aware of circular economy and are interested in it, they may not have the in-house expertise to integrate it into their operations. Both obstacles are particularly pronounced for Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

Recent research by the National Economic and Social Council (NESC, 2017), concluded the following:

A multi-level, multi-modal policy approach is required that supports enterprise and public sector development of circular practices. This is best delivered with a cross-departmental agenda and collaboration to understand and embed circular economy practices. Interconnectivity is key and it requires a systemic perspective. (NESC, 2017: 17)

Solution Implemented

Dublin City is, of course, an important business centre and providing supports to businesses of all sizes in Dublin to embed circular economy principles into their operations is vital to create an environmentally and economically sustainable city. With this in mind, the Eastern-Midlands Waste Regional Office and the Dublin City Council began collaborating in mid-2018 to develop a training course for businesses in Dublin on circular economy. The training course was shaped though a co-creation process with a wide range of stakeholders from both business and sustainability sectors. Stakeholders include SEAI, IBEC, Dublin City University and EcoMerit as well as numerous environmental consultants, enterprises and brand designers.

Results Achieved

The result is a new training programme called MODOS. The MODOS programme is designed to assist small and medium enterprises operating in the Dublin area to apply circular economy principles in improving their business.  Businesses that rely on material to create goods or products that are distributed through a supply chain can best utilise this learning.  The programme is designed to take SMEs through the basic principles of the circular economy and to encourage them to examine how this relates to their business, identifying actions they can take to strengthen business and improve profitability.

The training will be run over a 6-weeks periodand it is designed to combine lecturing elements with dynamic learning including case studies and workshops. The case studies will be showcasing champion companies which successfully applied sustainable principles into their business. The rest of the training will be delivered on behalf of DCC by lecturers with different expertise (stakeholders) according to each module. The lecturers will be assisted by a project coordinator who will supervise the whole course rollout and guide the participants throughout the workshop activities. MODOS is a project-based programme: participant companies will be invited to develop their own circular economy project by applying the tools and knowledge gained over the course to their business case. At the end of the course each participant will present its circular economy business case and will be assisted in the review of their progress.

Once developed the MODOS programme course content and structure will be shared with all local authorities to increase the capacity of SMEs in their respective areas to transition to circular economy principals.

About Joanne Rourke:

Joanne is the Resource Efficiency Officer with the Eastern-Midland Waste Regional Office. She has many years’ experience in environmental science, research, policy and communications. Joanne has responsibility for resource efficiency and the transition to a circular economy. In this role, she collaborates with businesses and a range of other stakeholders to deliver the objectives of the Eastern-Midlands Waste Management Plan. Joanne holds a PhD in Environmental Communication and a BSc in Environmental Science.

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