The 1st Summit of Technological Innovation and Circular Economy was held on July 6 in Madrid. The participants, who were chosen among 1,957 candidates throughout Spain by the Advanced Leadership Foundation (ALF), enjoyed the opportunity to improve their knowledge among Nobel prizes, world leaders in green economy and sustainable development, and representatives of governments leading current policy and national economies.
The Summit aimed to raise public awareness about how the circular economy and innovation are competitive advantages for companies, institutions, employers and the country as a whole, promoting a more rapid and efficient transition toward a sustainable economic model in Spain. The Summit of Circular Economy and Innovation had as main objective the identification, selection and training of 300 social leaders from each of the 50 provinces of Spain with the most relevant and innovative information in several issues. The leaders were formed by 28 speakers who attended the Summit, of which 20 were men and only 8 women. Undoubtedly, an aspect that should be improved in favor of achieving a balance of gender representation, there can be no doubt that there are women leaders dedicated to work in favor of sustainability from all areas.
Among these leaders were representatives of the Business and Economy, leaders of cultural and social groups committed to sustainable development, entrepreneurship and circular economy, international cooperation, innovation and environment, and new technologies.
The following are some key phrases that were said in the Summit:
“Green investments can be more profitable than the traditional ones” says Juan Verde, president of ALF.
“The most pressing social problems are human, not technological” says the former president of the United States Barack Obama.
“Beyond adopting commitments, it is time to move forward in the development of the circular economy. It is the responsibility of civil society, politicians, companies; strengthening the circular economy is a challenge for all” assured Josep Bagué, CEO of SUEZ Water Spain.
From the scope of tourism, Zurab Pololikashvili, General Secretary of the World Tourism Organization, highlighted the link between innovation and job creation: “We have to use innovation to create better jobs and enhance the competitiveness of the economy“.
One of the leaders selected to attend this Summit was a Basque woman committed to sustainability, entrepreneur, Patricia Astrain, founder of the company recircular. At in2destination we are committed to enhance the visibility of the inspiring work of women in favor of sustainability, so we have had the chance to interview Patricia to learn and share:
in2destination: What encouraged you to create recircular? When did the idea come up?
Patricia Astrain: My career has been very industrial and my first jump to entrepreneurship was with a consulting firm in the optimization of production processes. This experience allowed me to witness the limitations of consultancy work and the need for sustainability and social innovation in industrial environments. I investigated and studied the circular economy and I saw that I intended the solutions I was looking for. I decided to start working on one of the areas of the circular economy, with the concept of waste-resource, as the more tangible and easy way for companies to understand its value and potential environmental and social impacts, but also economic. In recircular we want to bring the circular economy to companies creating opportunities through the recovery of waste.
in2destination: What is recircular? What type of companies are your clients?
Patricia Astrain: recircular is an active platform for connection of companies for the recovery of waste as raw materials. When a company introduces a waste in the system, recircular returns information about existing opportunities for recovery, calculates the optimal transaction on the basis of economic, social and environmental indicators and connects them automatically with their potential consumers. Currently we are conducting projects with medium and large companies especially, but we are developing the online platform to be able to perform all the process automatically and access any type of company, regardless of size. It is important for us to reach SMEs to demonstrate that it is possible to be sustainable, to be circular, and it makes sense even if you are a small business, a workshop or a large multinational.
in2destination: Which were the main barriers you have face to develop the project?
Patricia Astrain: There are some barriers to implement an initiative such as this, in addition to the obvious ones related to any innovation in conventional sectors. On the one hand, we found the legal barriers on waste, end of consideration of waste, sub-products.. At the European level, the circular economy is promoted a lot and we are in the process of implementing the initiatives involving companies in them, but the legal considerations may pose a problem in some cases. On the other hand, there are logistical barriers, related to the transport costs, above all, we deal with them by working in the most possible local way, reducing distances and incorporating innovative logistics partners to our system. We are also confronted with barriers of trust between companies and in relation to the quality of the resources we want to enhance, for which we work directly with companies and we use the concept ‘Design for Trust’ used in other systems like Airbnb. We work with all necessary actors to reduce barriers that we found.
in2destination: What actions do you develop as intermediaries between companies?
Patricia Astrain: First we analyze the waste, sub-products or any other trace production that is presented to us, what we call resources, to know its characteristics and understand their situation. Then, we investigate on the possibilities of reusing them focusing on reuse as direct as possible (since that is what consumes fewer resources), as well as on technology and intermediate processes necessary for the adequacy of resources. In this process we try to be creative in order to identify more opportunities and more innovative as well. Then we look for sectors and firms that may need such materials or those characteristics of the resources and we will get in touch with them to promote that transactions are carried out. We take into account the economic impact and environmental and social improvement that may lead to the transaction, as we seek to focus on the triple balance, both for us and for the companies we work with. The tool that we are developing performs this process automatically and calculates the optimal transaction on the basis of indicators that consider these three aspects.
in2destination:What future perspective do you have regarding circular economy?
Patricia Astrain: I believe that the circular economy is the way to follow to ensure sustainability as a society, as well as that of our business sector. It is the only way that ensures that we can live with the resources we have available without that future generations will have to renounce them. In addition, when we think in terms of circular economy a world of possibilities is opened with new business opportunities, innovation,… is fascinating! I also believe that it is important to mention that I always refer to the circular economy well understood as a holistic concept that goes from the ecodesign, passing by the servitization of products (in replacement of the sale) and ends in a cycle of reuse of products and materials that prevents from reaching its end of life and throw, as is done now.It is important to understand this because currently is disclosing the circular economy in the wrong way in many media, in which they only speak in terms of recycling or plastics. The circular economy goes far beyond that.
in2destination: In which aspects do you think recircular can be beneficial for the tourism sector?
Patricia Astrain: With recircular what we get is to have local and regional companies stronger, less dependent on imported resources, more innovative and more able to face the challenges that can reach. At the same time we can create more job opportunities, creating sustainable jobs, in many cases for vulnerable groups. When we educate citizens and businesses of the value of resources and opportunities that they offer, we aspire to eliminate the need for landfill sites. In addition, many cities and regions are already working to become circular environments. I believe that all this will have an impact in a more sustainable and valuable tourism, both for the visited regions and for tourists.
in2destination: With respect to the Summit of Technological Innovation and Circular Economy that was held the 6 of July, what aspects of those which were discussed there have had an impact on you? Did it provide you with new ideas?
Patricia Astrain: It was a pleasure to be selected as one of the 300 leaders in circular economy that was invited to attend the summit. It was an event with a high level of speakers! Barack Obama, 4 Nobel Prize winners, former presidents and presidents of countries, representatives of the World Bank or the American Sustainable Business Council… well, an incredible level. It was a very complete event in which they spoke about education, the impact of automation in the work, politics, sustainability… It wasn’t so focused on circular economy, but it was very inspiring. There was a comment from Barack Obama on the importance of going improving slowly, although it is not the perfect solution, “better is already good.” All of this is very important to recircular, because we are not the solution to all problems, we did not implement the circular economy completely, but we offer real solutions and we are already having a real impact. It is better to go forward and contributing, even if it is little by little, than stand waiting for the perfect solution.
in2destination:What measures do you think should be taken to promote the circular economy and its development?
Patricia Astrain: Many measures are being adopted, many of them promoted from Europe, but it is true that we need greater support to ensure that the circular economy becomes a reality. On the one hand, we need access to financing with good conditions. Implement changes that the circular economy proposes can be costly initially for businesses and entrepreneurs, but in the medium term is more profitable. On the other hand, it is clear that we need less legal barriers, less bureaucracy and that they should allow us to work to give a second life to waste. I also believe it is important to support the circular economy on a practical level, talks less and do more. That is what we are doing in recircular!
Thank you Patricia for your time, congratulations for having been one of the leaders selected to participate in this summit, we have learned a lot with you, and we wish you lots of success!
Finally mention that in connection with one of the main topics addressed in this Summit, technological innovation, we want to make reference to this year’s theme of the World Day of Tourism that will help to highlight the opportunities for sustainable development they represent for the tourism technological advances, such as the data intelligence, artificial intelligence and digital platforms. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) believes that digital developments and innovation are part of the answer to the challenge of reconciling the continued growth with greater sustainability and responsibility in the tourism sector.