Two men sitting in front of computer screens overseeing a webinar. Paula Lehtomaki pictured on a big screen in the background.

A Milestone in Nordic Collaboration on the Circular Economy

“To sum it up, it was a great success”, says Senior Innovation Adviser Elís Benediktsson. “What started as a gathering of key actors working with the circular economy in the Nordics, became a world-class summit reaching far beyond the Nordic borders in the course of only a few days. Two inspiring, information-filled, and action-oriented days, engaging the full range of players in our societies”, continues Benediktsson.

The Summit, which ran for two days in November 2020, was co-hosted by Nordic Innovation and Nordic Circular Hotspot, a project co-funded by Nordic Innovation. As part of implementing the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Vision 2030, Nordic Innovation has supported the Nordic Circular Hotspot, which is run by a group of managing partners, who are circular economy experts from all the five Nordic countries.

The Nordic Circular Summit in short:

Date: 26 - 27 November 2020.
Co-hosted by Nordic Innovation and Nordic Circular Hotspot.
10 sessions including circular cities, finance and manufacturing.
Over 1000 attendees from the Nordics and beyond.

"The Summit is an important milestone towards cementing the Hotspot’s key role in bringing Nordic stakeholders together and collaborating towards an accelerated transition to a circular economy in the Nordic region", says Benediktsson.

The circular economy can play a central role in achieving Vision 2030

The Nordic Circular Summit was opened by Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers, Paula Lehtomäki.

"Circular economy and bioeconomy are very much at the heart of the Nordic cooperation. Last year the Nordic prime ministers adopted a new vision for the cooperation, stating that the Nordic region should be the most sustainable and integrated region by 2030. This means working for a green, competitive and inclusive Nordic region, where circular economy can be a very central tool in achieving the target", Lehtomäki said.

The complexity of the transformation calls for a systemic transformation. We need to work together and rethink our system for economy and our consumer-based lifestyles.

– Paula Lehtomäki , Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers

One by one, the Nordic countries have accomplished a lot when it comes to the circular economy, but the Nordic countries would be a much stronger power if they collaborated as the societies, economies, and environment are deeply intertwined.

"The complexity of the transformation calls for a systemic transformation. We need to work together and rethink our system for economy and our consumer-based lifestyles. That is why it is so important to gather different stakeholders together and get them connected as in today’s event", Lehtomäki stated in her opening speech.

Nordic Sustainable Business Transformation

Three years ago, Nordic Innovation initiated the program Nordic Sustainable Business Transformation, one of three thematic priorities for the period 2018-2021. A total of NOK 60 million has been allocated to the program.

Read more about Nordic Sustainable Business Transformation

Wanted: A green infrastructure push

"The Nordic model can serve as a north star. If we follow it, we can head towards a more resilient, sustainable future, while strengthening our economies today", stated Børge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum, in his speech at the Summit.

The Nordic countries are leading stars when it comes to sustainability, because the fundamental pillars of the economic model are the same pillars that you find in sustainable economies.

According to Brende, the Nordic countries are leading stars when it comes to sustainability, because the fundamental pillars of the economic model are the same pillars that you find in sustainable economies. But the global economy was only 8,6 percent circular in 2020. The world is battling a pandemic which has turned millions of people towards unemployment and poverty.

Einar Kleppe Holthe, Nordic Circular Hotspot
Photo: Fredrik Myhre 2020

"International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently said that the green infrastructure push would help our recovery, boosting global GDP and creating 12 million new jobs in the coming years. This is something we need to deliver on. And they underlined estimates that we could have 4,5 trillion USD in economic gain to be unlocked if we scale up circular economies".

Brende explained that going green brings not just future sustainability, but immediate benefit, and encouraged participants to walk the talk and scale up the circular economy.

The Nordic Circular Economy Playbook: Circular Business Models for the Manufacturing Industry

The playbook is a tool for companies to start and continue on their circular economy journey, and is made in collaboration with The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra. It is based on learnings from the Nordic Innovation project Circular Business Models in the Nordic Manufacturing Industry.

“I hope it will be widely used by companies in the Nordics to enhance their competitiveness and value creation by going from a linear value chain to a circular ecosystem. It builds on the Nordic common strongholds like access to raw materials, a digital and highly educated population, and the ability to adapt. In this lies great potential for being the most competitive and circular companies in the world", Marthe Haugland, Senior Innovation Advisor at Nordic Innovation.

The playbook is compiled by Accenture on behalf of Nordic Innovation.

Recycled bricks and green ventures

On the second day, a panel with four different participants discussed the current state of the environment for, and innovation of, circular solutions from different perspectives: A startup entrepreneur, an investor, an explorer, and a networker. Jorunn Tyssø, founded the company Høine in 2019 with an ambition to make money out of recycled Norwegian bricks. Høine is designing, developing and producing products that raise the value of waste.

"In Norway we dispose of 20 million bricks per year, which is more than we import of new. At the same time the market is asking for reclaimed building materials. Our plan is to raise the value of recycled Norwegian bricks", she said.

Nordic businesses as change makers

"How can Nordic business networks operate as change makers?" Ladeja Godina Košir, Founder and Executive Director of Circular Change, asked the panel when she moderated a debate. The panel consisted of Professor Flemming Besenbacher, Chairman of the Danish Carlsberg Foundation, who emphasised that circular economy has an enormous business potential.

Waste will no longer be the end of our consumption, but instead the beginning. In short, the concept of waste shall no longer exist .

– Flemming Besenbacher, Chairman of the Danish Carlsberg Foundation

Nina Ekelund, Executive Director of the Swedish Haga Initiative said it was "... important to walk the talk, both as a company and as a person, and show what you are doing to contribute to reduce climate impact".

Brendan Edgerton, Director at Circular Economy of the WBCSD (World Business Council for Sustainable Development) said he thought that Nordic businesses have a great potential to act as change makers and front runners.

Cathrine Barth, Nordic Circular Hotspot
Photo: Fredrik Myhre

Several Danish companies have embraced the circular economy; Too Good To Go has developed an app for surplus food. It connects users with businesses that have surplus food, so that this food can be enjoyed instead of wasted. Another example is Plastix, which transforms fishing nets, fibers and rigid plastic waste materials by mechanically recycling them into high-quality raw plastic material: Green Plastic. Green plastic is used to create high-end products, such as furniture, kayaks and lightnings.
These are initiatives which Nina Ekelund applauds. All the companies participating in the Haga Initiative have committed to become zero neutral by 2030.

Moving closer to a circular Nordic region

Three years ago, Nordic Innovation initiatied the program Nordic Sustainable Business Transformation. The program will continue in 2021, as will the support of the Nordic Circular Hotspot. "The Hotspot has since its establishment developed into a known and respected enabler for change. Nordic Innovation has proudly supported its good work from the beginning and will continue to do so in 2021", says Benediktsson.

In september last year, the five Nordic ministers of trade and industry launched eight initiatives for the period 2021-2024, to help the economy recover in a greener direction in the wake of COVID-19. The initiatives will primarily be driven forward by Nordic Innovation, in parallel with the ongoing programs. Three of the new initiatives are directly connected to the circular economy: Circular Business Models, Sustainable Construction and Sustainable Minerals.

The work continues in enabling the transition to a circular economy in the Nordics by bringing Nordic actors together and facilitating their cooperation.


Portrait Marthe Haugland

Marthe Haugland

Senior Innovation Adviser
Marthe combines her international experience with her knowledge of business development and innovation to promote Nordic cooperation within the circular economy. She belives Nordic cooperation can drive the systemic change and give Nordic companies a competitive edge going forward.

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Hanna Törmänen

Hanna Törmänen

Innovation Adviser
Hanna has background in Nordic and international exports, public-private cooperation, project management and market analysis. Her focus at Nordic Innovation is to support Nordic businesses and ecosystems in their transition towards sustainable and circular business models.