The need to economise with our resources is ever increasing. The circular economy is a key in this respect, because the focus is on reducing environmental impact by using society’s material resources more efficiently – while simultaneously creating good business opportunities.
"Business opportunities are an important part of the circular economy! There must be motivation for the companies, in addition to laws and regulations, to implement this change," says Maria Ljunggren Söderman, Associate Professor in the Division of Environmental Systems Analysis at Chalmers.
She is the project manager for the Chalmers part of the extensive research programme called Mistra REES, which has now received funding for an additional four years. The programme started in 2015 and strives to facilitate the transition to a more resource-efficient and circular economy. The research, which is coordinated from Linköping University, takes place in close collaboration between the academic world and the business sector, and brings together researchers from Chalmers, Lund University and Linköping University.
"We are very pleased that the programme can continue. It strengthens the research that we are already conducting and gives us the opportunity to acquire a broad basis for continuing to work within the field. Circular economy is a very topical and expansive area in large parts of the world. There will be future requirements linked to circular economy, but also major opportunities for Swedish companies – which is why more research and knowledge in this field are necessary," she says.
The Chalmers researchers in the programme have so far focused on the environmental improvements that a circular economy could entail, but also the limitations that apply. In the next phase they will monitor companies’ change processes at an early stage in terms of business models, design strategies and policies for resource-efficient solutions. The goal is to understand what information companies need early on in the process – and in which contexts.
But Maria Ljunggren Söderman also has another key goal for the continued research: to investigate the limits for circular solutions and assess what is and what is not possible.
"Circular economy is about using materials and products over a long period, but meanwhile we have technical development that is useful and should not stagnate," she says.
"There is a limit to a product’s life, and today many products are not designed to be used for a long period of time. The more complex and varied the products we have, the more difficult they are to upgrade, reuse and recycle. That’s why a radical change may be necessary for the circular economy to be effective. It’s a major challenge that I want to research more."
At the same time that the Mistra REES research programme is entering into its next phase, Chalmers is launching a course in circular economy
with Maria Ljunggren Söderman as examiner. The course, which will start in September 2019, is fully subscribed.
"Circular economy is an area that is in the process of being created and taking shape; it is multidisciplinary and concerns key challenges in society. It is important that education is available. This will be Chalmers’ first course that is specifically on the subject of circular economy – and the first at Master’s level in Sweden," she says.
Text: Ulrika Ernström
Photo (portrait): J-O Yxell
Supports the transition to a circular economy
- Mistra REES, where REES stands for Resource-Efficient and Effective Solutions, works to facilitate the transition to a more resource-efficient and circular economy. In close collaboration between academia and the business sector, researchers and partners develop resource-efficient products, services and business models.
- Mistra REES is coordinated from Linköping University and brings together researchers from Linköping University (LiU), Chalmers and the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE) at Lund University.
- The programme has now been granted funding for a further four years from the Swedish foundation for strategic environmental research (Mistra). Besides the SEK 47 million in funding from Mistra, universities and participating partners contribute an additional SEK 29.5 million, giving the programme a budget of at least SEK 76.5 million.
- Phase 2 of Mistra REES comprises three research projects. Tomohiko Sakao, associate professor at Linköping University, is responsible for "REES design support at a company level". "Policy and laws affecting REES in companies" and "Environmental and Financial Assessment of REES" are led by Carl Dalhammar, Lund University, and Maria Ljunggren Söderman, Chalmers, the Department of Technology Management and Economics, respectively.