Circular Economy leaders highlight business benefits

Few may have ever thought that a circular economy could start in a print shop in England, a hotel in Belgium, or a university in Germany. Yet such are this year’s EMAS (European Eco-Management and Audit Scheme) Awards winners, frontrunners for a greener and more sustainable economy.

The unifying theme for these three sustainability pioneers is EMAS, an environmental management tool developed by the European Commission to help both businesses and public organisations measure and improve their environmental performance. EMAS is unusual in that can be used for all types of businesses and sectors, and is applicable worldwide.

According to Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, “As demonstrated by [the] nominees of the EMAS Awards, EMAS can help foster new partnerships, identify new business opportunities, increase employee satisfaction and improve your reputation”.

Keeping waste out of the family business

Seacourt Ltd, a family-owned printing company from the UK, won the EMAS award in the category “Small and medium sized private organisations”. In 2009 Seacourt became the first printing company in the world to bring zero waste to landfill, resulting in both a reduced environmental impact and in cost savings for the company. Everything Seacourt prints either ends up as a finished printed product with its clients or goes into one of the company’s many recycling streams.

Despite having only 20 employees, Seacourt has invested extensively in the low carbon economy. The factory is powered by 100% renewable energy. The company has also developed a new printing process called LightTouch (waterless and LED printing) which eliminates water consumption and chemical use in the print process.

Gareth Dinnage, managing director at Seacourt, says: “We have been EMAS registered since 1999. In that time, our business has transformed from a resource intensive polluting manufacturer to the most sustainable printing company in the UK - we have been a closed loop production facility since 2009 and are close to becoming a net positive business”.

Bringing circular economy into the service sector

With 350 employees, the Belgian Hotel Chain Martin’s Hotels demonstrates circular economy on a larger scale. Winner of the EMAS Award in the category “Large private organisations”, Martin’s Hotels has achieved significant cost and material savings through its purchasing policy and waste management. Gaëlle Mourlon Beernaert, the sustainability director of Martin’s Hotels, says: “We have decreased our energy consumption by 12% while still increasing occupancy by 7%. Winning the award provides encouragement to our employees, who are very involved”.

Winning in the “Public Organisations” category, the campus of the Hochschule für nachhaltige Entwicklung Eberswalde (Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development) is a model of sustainability, from the energy it uses to the catering in its cafeterias. Built on the idea of offering instruction on sustainable development to its students, the university has fully integrated circular economy in courses and research projects. This concept made the school especially attractive to student Tim Schneider: “A university that offers research and teaching in sustainability without making its own commitment is not very credible or motivating. I am proud that my university has a consistent attitude.”

Circular economy in Europe

In December 2015, the European Commission adopted an Action Plan for the Circular Economy together with revised legislative proposals on waste.

According to Hans Bruyninckx, head of the European Environmental Agency: “The circular economy concept requires organisations to completely rethink their processes in order to move from a linear model (extract – produce – dispose) to a circular approach where all resources are used and nothing is wasted. Organisations which have implemented an environmental management system such as EMAS to monitor their processes and constantly reduce their impact on the environment have already taken a first important step towards the circular economy.”

Funding opportunities are available from European programmes such as Horizon 2020, LIFE+, COSME, ESIF, and EFSI. In January 2017, the European Commission also launched a Circular Economy Finance Support Platform, bringing together innovators and investors to find financing solutions for circular economy projects.

Useful links:

More about EMAS

More about the Awards and the 2017 edition

More about Circular Economy in the European Union