Publications

Creating a digital roadmap for a circular economy

5 July 2019
Johan Bjerkem (Policy Analyst), Annika Hedberg (Head of Sustainable Prosperity for Europe programme and Senior Policy Analyst) and Stefan Sipka (Policy Analyst)



The climate crisis, environmental disasters, a lack of competitiveness, falling behind in the digital race… The EU faces multiple challenges that it will need to address if it is to ensure long-term sustainable prosperity for European citizens. At the same time, there are two ongoing transitions – the creation of a circular economy and the digital transformation – that could provide the means to address these challenges, if they are managed well.

As the EU and national policymakers are making significant efforts to promote a circular economy on the one hand and a digital economy on the other, Annika Hedberg and Stefan Šipka, together with Johan Bjerkem, argue that it is time to align the agendas as a means to achieve greater sustainability and competitiveness. This publication: 

  • demonstrates what digitalisation means in the context of a circular economy, including the scope of possibilities in using data and digitally-enabled solutions to support the transition to a circular economy, while also considering the related obstacles, challenges and risks;
  • considers what a greater focus on sustainability would mean for the digital transition,including challenges and opportunities for the industry;
  • examines the role of the EU policy framework, tools and initiatives in steering a (digital) transition towards a (digital) circular economy and makes recommendations for EU institutions for the next five year.
  • Suggests that the EU must:
  1. think systemically, define a vision and act. Maximising the synergies between digitalisation and circular economy, and preventing negative externalities will require i) a digital review of the circular economy transition, and ii) a sustainability review of the digital transition.
  2. provide an adequate governance framework and economic incentives for a (digital) transition to a (digital) circular economy. Action is needed far beyond the traditional digital and environmental agendas; measures will need to be aligned with climate action and the wider sustainability agenda, and be supported by single market tools, the industrial agenda, research and development, and social and consumer policy.
  3. encourage collaboration across European society and economy as well as globally, and empower its citizens to contribute to the transition. This implies using existing European and global platforms to raise awareness of the linkages and exchanges, especially on improving information sharing across the value chains.

This Discussion Paper builds on the findings of the EPC’s ‘Digital Roadmap for a Circular Economy’ project of 2017-19 and paves the way for a more extensive final study, scheduled to be published in the late autumn of 2019.

The project has been supported by Aalto University and the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) (members of Helsinki EU Office), Central Denmark region, Climate-KIC, the Estonian Ministry of the Environment, Estonian Environment Investment Centre, HP, Orgalim, the province of Limburg, UL, Fondazione Cariplo and Cariplo Factory.

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