THEME SUSTAINABILITY: “The population of our planet is increasing and we are consuming more which affects our environment negatively at an ever-increasing pace. In order to ensure that there is enough food, water and natural resources, we must make a transition for a linear to a circular economy”, says Joacim Rosenlund, senior lecturer at Linnaeus University, who conducts research on circular business models, waste and ecopreneurship and is cautiously positive about our future.
The climate has become one of the key issues of our time and many are concerned about the future. New phenomena like, for instance, collective climate anxiety and flight shame have popped up and the trade and industry as well as consumers want to do things right so that we can move towards a more sustainable society.
“Climate anxiety is actually a reasonable response to the gravity of what we are facing. This can be good if it can be turned into a driving force – but less good if it causes paralysis of action”, says Joacim Rosenlund.
The opposite of a linear economy
For a long time, our economy has been linear rather than circular. A linear production chain means that things are to be produced, used, and then thrown away. A circular business model involves that the product is reused to as far an extent as possible, that we try to design smarter products and packages, and that we, in different ways, use the energy in what cannot be recycled. Most people agree that it is absolutely necessary to make a transition to a circular economy, but this is a paradigm shift that takes time. Both companies and consumers must be onboard.
“For a long time, we have been living with the linear idea of wear-and-tear. It must become more self-evident to choose products that have a longer lifespan and to respect the real cost of the material. There is so much going on within this area right now, within many different parts of our society, and as a researcher it is exciting to be in the midst of this change”, Rosenlund continues.
Attracted by the unkown
Rosenlund’s path to research started at an early age. As a child, he was a large consumer of fact books and the TV show Vetenskapen’s värld [Science World]. What lured him most about research was finding creative solutions to different problems and the idea of venturing into the unknown.
“I think research is the most interesting thing there is because it’s about producing new knowledge. It’s about challenging yourself with new questions and problems, which guarantees that it will never become boring or monotonous. What is more, getting the opportunity to teach about what interests you the most is certainly a privilege”, says Rosenlund.
Joacim Rosenlund defended his doctoral thesis in 2017, a dissertation in which he studied how academia, the trade and industry, and authorities can collaborate on future environmental challenges. However, it was not clear from the beginning that he would work with environmental issues.
“When I saw Jurassic Park for the first time, I thought that the researchers who made dinosaurs come to life through cloning were cool. DNA seemed interesting. The first thing I did after finishing upper secondary school was to work at a genetics laboratory in London, but that was not the field of research in which I ended up later. As it turned out, I wasn’t that good at laboratory work, and I studied some sociology before embarking on the environmental science path”, Rosenlund explains.
Gamified environmental house will make recycling more fun
At the time being, Rosenlund is, among other things, working on a project with Region Kalmar and Region Kronoberg for a more circular economy. In collaboration with the regions, he studies what such a transition could look like and what tools can be used in order for companies and municipalities to achieve a more circular economy. He also leads the project “Det spelifierade miljöhuset” [The gamified environmental house], which is a collaboration with, among others, Kretslopp Sydost.
“We are currently constructing a new building for waste sorting. It will be a glossy work of art located in Kalmar. Once the building is in place, the idea is to make recycling an experience and to encourage better sorting of waste. With inspiration from the gaming world, this can be, for instance, collaboration, collecting points, or other things that make recycling a more fun experience”, Rosenlund continues.
Success factors for a circular economy
Thinking circularly is quite complicated. The producers must do it right from the beginning with the right quality and the right choice of material. What is more, recycled materials must also be cheaper than new ones, which is not always the fact today. This is a major transition, which means that is also a major challenge.
“By thinking climate-smart from the beginning, it is possible to extend the lifespan of the product or to make it easier for the consumer to repair it at a later stage. If, for instance, renting a product, it is easy to get it repaired or exchanged. This means that the parts of the products can be utilised by the manufacturer directly. It is also about expectations. Do we expect to have a perfect, new mobile phone, or can we make do with a slightly simpler one for some time still? What is necessary and what is luxury consumption, really?”, Rosenlund continues.
Circular economy – a broad field of research
In the future, Rosenlund would like to continue conducting research within the field and it seems there will be no shortage of questions that need to be dealt with.
“There are plenty of interesting ideas to continue working with. Making the true value/cost of the material in products visible, as well as where these materials come from. What actually drives consumption and production from the start. It would also be interesting to continue working with household waste. We will have to tackle the waste issue for quite some time ahead, which means that getting as good a recycling in place as possible will make a difference”, says Rosenlund.
Hope for the future
Even though we are facing major challenges, and very many things must match up, Rosenlund has a positive view of the future. He thinks that many things are moving in the right direction.
“So much is happening right now, and a lot of people are taking good initiatives – also in Småland I’ve seen many organisation that set good examples. We will become more circular. It may not be possible to become 100 percent circular, but there is great potential for major improvement. Hopefully, ten years from now, we will look back on this time and be amazed at how wasteful we were!, Rosenlund concludes.