The circular economy – a core part of NORSUS’ work for 30 years

There is an acute need for a more resource efficient and circular economy. A circular economy demands that the products we produce last longer and can be used more often in order to reduce the extraction of resources from nature. The circular economy is thus about more than simply recycling. In a report from 2018*, the Dutch PBL analyses the circular economy with the following main terms:

  • Smarter creation and use of products
    • Turning products redundant (Refuse), using them more intensively by sharing them or through multifunctionality (Rethink) and more efficient manufacturing of products through the use of fewer natural resources and materials (Reduce).
  • Extending the lifespan of products and parts
    • Extending the lifespan of products by using them again (Reuse), by repairing them (Repair) or by modernising them (Refurbish).
    • Remanufacture and Repurpose. Using parts of discarded products in new products of the same function or with a different function.
  • Useful application of materials
    • Recycle. Processing of materials to achieve original high-quality or lower quality materials.
    • Recover. Incineration of materials recovering their energy

In Norway, the 2021 national strategy for a green, circular economy (https://www.regjeringen.no/no/dokumenter/nasjonal-strategi-for-ein-gron-sirkular-okonomi/id2861253/) highlights the following sectors as having particular high potentials for increased circularity: the bioeconomy, the construction sector, process industry and the trade and service sectors. The strategy highlights that a circular economy considers emissions throughout the whole life cycle or value chain of a product and the importance of assessing all these when comparing products and systems to improve climate impacts. In line with this insight, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a useful approach to assess sustainability perspectives for different circular economy strategies and for helping private and public enterprises to adapt to requirements and expectations in the circular economy.

NORSUS has conducted applied research on the circular economy for 30 years, long before the concept was created. As an internationally leading research community in the field, we use LCA methodology as a basis for documenting and improving environmental and resource efficiency of products and services. LCA can be used to design sustainable products, services and systems, giving public and private enterprises a knowledge base to improve the environmental effects of own products and services, which can be used as a competitive advantage in markets increasingly emphasising sustainability and circularity.

The circular economy is important because we are currently using our natural resources at an ever increasing speed, far outspeeding nature’s production capacity. In 2021 the “earth overshoot day” was July 29th (https://www.wwf.no/klima-og-energi/earth-overshoot-day), meaning that we on this day had spent the available renewable natural resources for the entire year. Circular Gap Report Norway for 2021 (https://www.circularnorway.no/gap-report-norway) shows that only 2.4 % of the resource use in Norway is truly circular. This means that it is urgent to take knowledge-based action.

* https://www.pbl.nl/sites/default/files/downloads/pbl-2018-circular-economy-what-we-want-to-know-and-can-measure-3217.pdf