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II Catalan Circular Congress


The II Catalan Circular Congress was celebrated in Barcelona this June. The congress took place over 2 days. The first day included keynote speeches and round tables with examples of new circular business models and examples of circular economy governance at different territorial scales. Then, the day followed by a second part of networking and parallel sector sessions to encourage circular alliances. This year the sectors debated were containers and packaging, textiles and fashion, waste management, and construction. The second day Catalan good practices were visited. The congress was a perfect opportunity to remind us that an economical model change is possible, and businesses can be more competitive.

The congress started with the welcoming and moderation of the very passionate journalist Clara Sánchez-Castro Bonfill. Isaac Peraire, Director of the Catalan Waste Agency, introduced the Catalan Biocircular Roadmap. The Observatory aims to be a Catalan reference point to provide knowledge, information and visibility to the current multi-level and cross-sectoral efforts, contributing to the internationalisation of Catalonia as a green and circular economy reference. In parallel, the Strategy is composed of 7 objectives to promote circular bioeconomy in Catalonia and comprising the better exploitation of biomass; the development of a good business network; incentivising the use and consumption of bio-based products, materials and energy in the market; promoting resilient agroforestry landscapes; placing knowledge as a driver of circular bioeconomy; strengthening the role of the administration and adapt the regulatory framework; and preparing Catalan society for the change.

After the institutional welcoming, Ángel Castiñeira, PhD in Philosophy and Education Sciences and Director of the ESADE Chair in Leadership and Sustainability, in other words and as he presented himself “A philosopher with an economic vision”, gave a very concrete and inspiring keynote opening talk. Dr Castiñeira came to the congress to give us 3 messages:

1 There have been recent environmental changes.

The speaker highlighted that until today, with the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), EU has only achieved the 15% of the actions, and COVID-19 Pandemic did not help. In addition, he stressed that there has been an increase in the climatic anomalies being fossil fuels the elephant of the problems (check this Nature Communications Article). Moreover, we keep being burst into nature systemic crisis, or else also called policrisis by the World Economic Forum, increasing the problems’ complexity and risks (explore the Global Risks Report 2024). Ángel quoted H.L. Mencken mentioning that “For every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong!”.

2 There are verified facts and predictions.

He briefly cited The Circularity Gap Report 2024 highlighting the fact that we have already quantified that Earth cannot sustain more growth (i.e., The Planetary Boundaries), that there is IMPACT INEQUALITIES, that the upcoming future generation will be the first one struggling more than the past generation, and that in the geopolitical field we face the risk of having more wars for resources. Castiñeira emphasized that the EU has already changed the message: “We are not talking about progress anymore, instead we are talking about resilience”.

3 There is the urgency to modify the economic system.

Dr Castiñeira mentioned that we need a change, similarly to what happened when there was a change from the feudal system to capitalism. Through the EU Green Deal, under the circular economy, regenerative economy, circular bioeconomy… concepts we are currently coexisting with the 2 models, the ‘resource-intensive’ and ‘sustainable’ ones with the need of 3 decoupling to achieve a new sustainable stable model: the IMPACT decoupling from resource use and economic activity; the RESOURCE decoupling from the economic activity; and the WELLBEING decoupling from resource use[1].

The opening intervention finished with key questions and some hints about the answers:

  • How could we achieve a successful business model in a circular world? Innovation.
  • How should the circular future influence the products and services? Be proactive to adapt current regulatory frameworks.
  • Where will we notice the aggravation of material shortage / resource scarcity? In the volatility of value chains’ supply.
  • In which moment the transition will be critical? During the creation of supporting infrastructures.
  • We need SHARED SOLUTIONS; industrial symbiosis is key!

    Then we could listen to a round table with successful circular business models. They were from different sectors and context, but they all had in common their increased sustainability aspect within their business vision. The invited speakers were:

    Testimonials intervened around 4 driving questions:

    1 Added value compared their lineal competitors: Bumerang offers both, services to other businesses (B2B) but also directly to consumers (B2C). Iberital is the perfect example of the resistance of a family business that won the REZERO award. Safechem is expert in leasing industrial products. Kave Home is pioneer in dealing with voluminous waste such as sofas.

    2 The consumer understanding of the circular added value: For Safechem the reason they understand the added value is pure economic. Processes can also be optimised and offer a win-win approach. For Iberital, they work hard to make society understand that a reconditioned product is equal or even better than a new product. Iberital dignifies the 2nd life of products. They also highlighted that there is the need to be very aware of green washing and achieve homogenised certifications from independent organisms. A big problem for businesses with new sustainable business models is the disloyal competence of the lineal economy.

    3 How to influence other businesses: The speakers emphasised that at industrial level the sustainability concepts are more present and are part of the decision-making process. If big companies start then the rest will follow.

    4 Added values of the digitalisation: It is key to proof circularity with data and traceability. In addition, digitalisation is crucial to personalise products and be able to showcase virtual reality, before buying the final product.

    From this first round table, the take home messages were transparency, when we talk about organisations/businesses we are talking about people, we need to have a clear vision of the pathway to follow, empower civil society, and informing and capacity building in general.

[1] United Nations Environment Programme (2024): Global Resources Outlook 2024: Bend the Trend – Pathways to a liveable planet as resource use spikes. International Resource Panel. Nairobi.


After this session the event planned the intervention of two keynote speakers from the government administration. Anna Barnadas, Secretary of Climate Action of the Catalan Government, introduced the Catalan Circular Economy Strategy as the theoretical framework to follow and keep implementing. It specifies the actions to be taken based on the quadruple helix approach and responsibilities. In addition, Barnadas informed about the several facilitation instruments from the administration:

  • Catalan Eco-design awards
  • Catalan Waste Agency financial support
  • Green Public Procurement
  • Industrial Symbiosis Platform
  • Pact for the Circular Fashion
  • International Participation

Then, Joan Romero, Executive Directive of the Agency for the Businesses Competitiveness of the Catalan Government, introduced instruments to incentivise circularity in the private sector.

ProACCIÓ GREEN, with 3 lines:

  • Schemes: consulting / advice services
  • Nuclis
  • Technological innovation

Finally, the morning closed with examples of circular economy governance at different territorial scales with the interventions representing EU, national, regional, and local levels.

At EU level, Françoise Bonnet, General Secretary of ACR+, emphasised that circular economy is an instrument to fight climate change. By having a circular economy strategy, the territories could reduce the CO2 emissions. Bonnet said that circular economy should be linked to true well-being. With the new European Commission, we will have a better level of decentralised sectors to “break the silos”. In addition, she not forgot to mention the projects as a shared treasure of knowledge. Bonnet finished her intervention by highlighting current EU challenges such as keeping EU competitiveness in parallel with the EU Green Deal implementation; recognising we are still in a capitalism world; and the fact that the social aspect and affordability of eco-products is also key and tackled with the SOCIAL CLIMATE FUND. She concluded by emphasizing that we should have an overarching principle, the SUFFICIENCY.

At national level, José María Fernández, Director of the Circular Economy at IHOBE, put an example of the lineal economy with the iron sector at the Basque Country. From their experience, when they could not extract more iron from their territory, they clearly saw that the extraction model was not a good strategy. Fernández showed that still relies a lot on external resources and this creates geopolitical tensions. In turn, José mentioned that he truly believes that the administration should LEAD the change…leaving no one behind. He highlighted that the EU has already approved a lot of new regulations. The new challenge is for those who have to implement these new regulations. Within this framework, sustainability should be a clear example of business competitiveness. The speaker explained that IHOBE is the organism who works for the Basque Country government to implement the Euskadi Circular Economy Strategy 2030. He stressed that the important is not the action plans per se, instead, the achievements of the plans. He concluded emphasising the public-private collaboration models as great achievements.

At regional level, Victor Falguera, Director of the Catalan BIOHUB, explained that this Hub is the corner stone of the new RIS3CAT strategy at Catalan level. Explaining that the EU Hub definition means a connection point, the BIOHUB CAT mission is to put in touch companies. In addition, he highlighted that innovative companies are assuming high risks and therefore, they need financial support. In turn, the Hub aims to replicate good practices in different sectors and, as a consequence, create specialisation vectors in BIOINDUSTRIAL AREAS.

At local level, David Bote, Mayor at Mataró Municipal Council, stressed that at municipal level is also key to have a Circular Strategy for 2030 and Mataró has one! Bote explained that there is the need to see circular economy as an opportunity and copy the others’ success. In Mataró they saw potential in the textile industry within the 1/3 of urban area. They also considered the 1/3 of agriculture and 1/3 of forestry diversified municipal land. A good example is the project REIMAGINE TEXTILE. David concluded emphasizing that there is the need to be able to align the principal strategic axis to exponentially increase the impact, but always be able to identify the own local elements that add value.

The take home messages or “dreams” from this panel were to consider fundamental to establish pacts and achieve stability; more collaboration and trust for the systemic transformation methodologies; the need of a real change in the functioning of the administration to simplify the internal governance; and build bridges. Françoise Bonnet finished by emphasizing that Catalonia and the Basque Country are very good examples, but not all regions are at the same “level”. Therefore, we need to keep capacitating the administration.

During the networking lunch I particularly had the opportunity to speak and networking with entrepreneurs such as the ones who created the GREENTEAM.APP; Valérie Itey who has a start-up of hair mats as vegetal covers (CLIC RECYCLE); Damian Arezzo Casanova who was exploring new bio-based materials (Woody biocomposite); and the administration of Rubió municipality interested in replicating the models and already starting with industrial symbiosis.