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The circular economy stands or falls by systems innovation. Technology alone will not get us there. We need to work on several solutions simultaneously. And the whole of society has to participate: from government to business, citizen to consumer. This is only possible when the right knowledge and information is available to guide the best and most appropriate response to every situation.

The way we handle raw materials and natural resources is unsustainable: shrinking resources, increasing climate change, rampant environmental pollution and damaging loss of biodiversity. And with it all, massive increases in social inequality.

Towards a circular society

The transition from a linear to a circular society is more urgent than ever. But this transition is still in its infancy. Although the Netherlands is a leader in recycling, for example, we are still a long way from being a circular society. We need to move towards ‘higher’ (more-effective) forms of valorisation on the R-ladder (see box) and that requires systems thinking. After all, a circular society is a system of closed cycles in which we jointly ensure that raw materials and natural resources retain their value as much as possible and in which renewable energy sources are used. Any change within such a system causes a shift, with intended and unintended effects on the rest of the system. The challenge is to ensure that the whole remains in balance, i.e. that every change adds something positive. In doing so, any negative effects of this change must remain within acceptable limits.

Knowledge and perspectives for action

At present, stakeholders often still lack sufficient knowledge about these systems, behavioural changes and possible actions to get started and gain traction. This is where science has a crucial role to play: to further develop knowledge, innovation and action perspectives in this area and disseminate them widely. A challenge central to Circular Society’s mission.