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How circular economy innovation can deliver a net zero transition

12 Dec 2023

COP 28 is winding up with a pledge to 'transition away' from fossil fuels. How do we achieve this, whilst delivering net zero targets and addressing wider environmental impacts associated with the extractive nature of our current economic system? The answer lies in the circular economy, writes Charlotte Lee-Woolf, Edinburgh Innovations’ Business Development Manager for Sustainability and Social Responsibility

A positive framework for addressing climate change, biodiversity loss, and wider sustainability challenges, a circular economy is a system in which resources are kept in circulation, waste and pollution are eliminated, and nature is regenerated.

The World Economic Forum has declared that moving to a circular economy is the business opportunity of our time, with scope to deliver up to $4.5 trillion of economic benefit by 2030. Opportunities exist across all industrial sectors to develop new business models, products, and services, to improve efficiencies, and boost financial performance.

With this comes job creation and opportunities for investment. Indeed, research by Scottish Government and Zero Waste Scotland estimates that over 200,000 jobs already contribute to a circular economy in Scotland with more opportunities for growth in areas such as construction and the bioeconomy.

Developing new technologies and creative approaches to the way we produce and consume in a resource-constrained world is key to realising these benefits. As the University’s commercialisation service, Edinburgh Innovations helps researchers, students, and industry partners to drive innovation in response to such challenges.

Recognising the importance of cross-boundary working and collaboration to address complexities surrounding this, we are building a thriving hub for circular knowledge exchange and innovation through which businesses and other organisations can access the right combination of expertise and professional training needed to understand the issues and develop cutting-edge, future-focussed solutions.

This hub of activity is underpinned by an interdisciplinary network of academics whose research is generating ideas to harness commercial opportunities and overcome barriers to investment – whether that be in the development of novel materials and manufacturing processes, product design, use of data and digital technology to elicit new insights, formation of supportive policy and regulatory measures, or methods for measuring financial performance.

For example, within the University’s College of Science and Engineering, academics are leading development of renewable energy technologies, using biotechnology to transform plastic into new materials like nylon, designing net zero buildings and construction materials, and re-engineering materials and components from decommissioned wind turbines.

There is much we stand to gain economically from embracing the move to circular economy, which is indeed becoming a business imperative in the face of climate change and other global sustainability challenges. Fostering a supportive environment for innovation is key to us getting there.

Contact Charlotte

Charlotte Lee-Woolf

Business Development Manager
Social Responsibility and Sustainability