UN: Entrepreneurs Leading the Wave of the Circular Economy
  • 2024-03-19
  • Entrepreneurship Research Center on G20 Economies
  • Edit

  • On 6 June 2023, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) released a report on "Entrepreneurs Leading the Wave of the Circular Economy", which highlights the circular economy as an economic model that recycles and sustains the use of resources by minimising waste and environmental impact. In contrast to traditional linear economic models, the circular economy recycles and reuses resources by designing and implementing sustainable production and consumption patterns that transform waste into resources.

    And entrepreneurs play an important role in the circular economy. They promote resource recycling and reduce environmental impacts through innovation and business model transformation. By developing new circular solutions, fostering industry cooperation and changing consumer behaviour, they contribute to the development of the circular economy and to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Their actions help protect the environment and bring long-term benefits to the economy and society. 

    The report begins by mentioning that entrepreneurship and innovation drive transformation, particularly in the area of the circular economy. The power of entrepreneurship and innovation has led to the development of on-demand shared products and has helped to tap into markets and meet local demand, thereby gaining greater market share. The rise of the circular economy offers new opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators, especially for small, medium and start-up businesses. Being smaller in size, these enterprises are more flexible, more attuned to customer feedback and more adaptable to changing market demands.

    Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can have a huge impact in the process of transforming the circular economy. Together, they account for more than 50 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, 17 per cent and 90 per cent of the world's businesses, while creating more than two thirds of all jobs. By adopting circularity principles, SMEs can trigger ideological shifts at the local level and create ripple effects in the supply chain. Therefore, developing sector-specific approaches to encourage SMEs to adopt circularity can have a significant impact on promoting transformation. 

    ZOLA Electric, for example, which is also transitioning to sharing and this service model as a start-up, was launched in 2011 in the United Republic of Tanzania with the goal of addressing energy inequality, and its business model proposes to do so through a pay-as-you-go system. This very innovative system can provide electricity services at $0.19 per day, making it affordable for 80 per cent of Tanzanian households.50 ZOLA Electric's model stands out from traditional models because it can not only design and manufacture solar systems, but also install and maintain them. By facilitating the transition to solar energy and improving the efficiency and longevity of solar installations, it contributes to a circular economy with an electricity system that lasts for more than a decade.

    Such service- and sharing-based business models optimize the use of commodities by reducing resource wastage, increasing resource efficiency, extending the life of products, and promoting community cooperation and sharing. They help to reduce the generation of surplus commodities, lower the demand for resources and promote resource recycling, leading to a more sustainable economic model.

    The report also mentions the need to create an enabling environment for entrepreneurship in the circular economy, where entrepreneurs are often faced with limited access to finance and technology, and where a lack of understanding of the circular economy can constrain entrepreneurs from innovating circularly, so that the public and private sectors, as well as academia and government, collaborate in order to ensure that different areas of expertise can contribute to a circular economy transition.

    Based on the Entrepreneurship Policy Framework and Implementation Guidance issued by UNCTAD, five key pillars have been identified, each of which can provide policies and incentives to foster the development of circular business models, promote innovation and the widespread adoption of circular practices. The five pillars include:

    1. Adapt the regulatory environment to support circular entrepreneurship.

    2. Strengthening circular entrepreneurship education and skills development.

    3. Promote the diffusion of technologies and innovations for the circular economy.

    4. Improving access to finance for circular business models.

    5. Raise awareness of circular entrepreneurship and promote networking.

    With such a pillar structure, a more layered and continuous circular economy transition can be provided.

    While the circular economy offers significant economic and social opportunities, its implementation has encountered challenges that hinder entrepreneurship and innovation, including cooperation and coordination, financial support and a change in mindset. Collaboration among governments, businesses, academia and the community is needed to develop relevant policies and standards, and to provide financial support and training to promote the circular economy. In conclusion, the circular economy is an evolving economic model that not only addresses pressing environmental challenges, but also has the potential to unleash economic growth and job creation and contribute to a resilient and sustainable society.

  • Partners

  • Global Health Innovation Center (GHIC)
  • World Intelligent Incubation Network (WIIN)
  • National University of Singapore
  • Canada-China Institute For Business & Development
  • TusPark Research Institute for Innovation
  • Cross-strait Tsinghua Research Institute
  • Tsinghua X-Lab

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