Interview with Elin Bergman: Why the Dutch & Swedes would profit from collaborating in Circular Economy

Elin Bergman Cradlenet

Elin Bergman is chair of Cradlenet Sweden, a non-profit organization that is accelerating the transition towards a Circular Economy (CE) in Sweden. Today, the organization can be considered as the leading hub on CE in the country, even though it never started out with this goal in mind, as you can read below. Cradlenet has ambitious goals for Sweden, as Elin explains: ”We are working with the goal to not having to exist. As soon as Sweden has a Circular Economy in place, our job is done.” In this article Elin gives her view on CE in both Sweden and the Netherlands. She compares the two countries and identifies opportunities for Dutch and Swedish companies to collaborate more intensively within this area.

How is Sweden doing with regards to CE?

Hesitance and lack of initiative from Swedish politicians
There is a great interest from all parts of the Swedish society today, but most organizations are looking for politicians to take the lead, as they did in Sweden with climate change. Elin stresses the urgency of the government taking initiative: “Sweden has set ambitious and clear national targets for transitioning into a low carbon economy in Sweden, as well as Roadmaps on how to get there. We need to do the same for CE, otherwise most companies will just wait for others to take initiative. A European Roadmap to become circular will be needed afterwards anyway, since a new report from Material Economics shows that in order for the EU to reach the Paris agreement, more than 50% of the solutions lays in moving to a more circular economy.”

What will you ask a new coalition (after the recent elections) to do regarding CE? 
“We are tired of talking: Swedish politicians need to act on CE, and we are going to force them.” When asking what a new coalition after these elections should do, Elin does not need to think twice: “It is necessary to set the same national targets for Sweden as the Netherlands has done – to have a completely Circular Economy by 2050. Also, I would decide to copy Finland’s Roadmap on how to get there, and adjust it accordingly for Sweden.”

“Swedish politicians need to act on CE, and we are going to force them.”

Cradlenets cradle
Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

High ambitions and lots of initiatives from Swedish businesses
Even though Cradlenet’s ambition might not be shared by the politicians yet, there are definitely interesting developments with regards to CE from the Swedish business sector. Elin believes that the main reason to look at Sweden is definitely because of their abundance of base materials such as wood and steel. In a Circular Economy a high-quality materials supply is increasingly important, and Sweden also has extensive knowledge on how to maximize and retain value from this supply. She states: “Our businesses’ current waste (or preferably secondary resources), could very well become your businesses’ main resource.” This is even more likely as traditional waste recycling companies, such as Stena Recyling and Ragn-Sells, are changing their business completely by becoming more circular. It is either adapt (and grow) or die for these companies.

Besides the materials supply, Elin notices that a lot of initiatives are popping up in different sectors, even though these efforts are still somewhat fragmented. She sums up three sectors (amongst others) where she believes CE-principles are being increasingly applied:

  • Biomass: In Sweden, the emphasis of CE is largely put on creating a biobased economy. Sweden is an expert on bioenergy and it is the country’s leading energy source (accounts for 36% of total energy consumption). This makes it highly interesting for companies abroad to look for ways to connect with Swedish partners within this sector. Read all about the exact opportunities in a previous article.
  • Fashion: Sweden is a frontrunner regarding CE in the fashion industry. Of course, H&Ms vision of becoming 100% circular gained a lot of attention, but much more is happening. A very successful clothing brand within this area is Houdini. With their vision of “Maximum Experience. Zero Impact”, they emphasize their role of being a pioneer to turn this industry upside down. Another interesting project to make this sector more circular is Re:Textile (funded by the Västra Götaland and Borås regions). For example, they are testing the feasibility for a national sorting centre for textiles.
  • Furniture: The EU’s furniture industry represents a €84 billion market. Currently, Swedish companies are increasingly trying to capitalize on making this sector more circular. For example, Kinnarps (Europe's leading workspace company) is trying to make its entire value chain more circular, as it recognizes the economic opportunities. Also, IKEA is even trying to become carbon positive, by applying circular principles. The spinoff of such influential brands accelerates CE within its entire ecosystem drastically.

How would you describe CE in the Netherlands and how did you experience the Holland Circular Economy Week?
When asked to summarize this in one sentence Elin states: “The Dutch efforts to become circular revolve around high-level ambition and collaboration.” This was made pretty clear during the Holland Circular Economy Week 2018, which was a fantastic event. It was really well organized with fantastic speakers and interesting topics. I expanded my circular network quite a bit and as an effect of that I am part of planning a Circular Economy Conference for Scandinavia next year. The conference is planned for the second half of 2019, and of course, all Dutch people are more than welcome.”

“The Dutch efforts to become circular revolve around high-level ambition and collaboration.”

Holland Circular Hotspot
Source: Holland Circular Hotspot

Where do you see possibilities for Sweden and the Netherlands to learn from each other?
Elin talks about how Sweden can learn a great deal from the Dutch example when it comes to high ambition, and setting national targets for circular economy, as mentioned before. She also believes that Sweden can learn from the Netherlands how the business sector, government and knowledge institutes collaborate in order to accelerate the circular transition.

An example of this are Green Deals. The Green Deal approach is being used by the Dutch government as an instrument to support sustainable economic growth, or ‘green growth’. Elin was present during a seminar organized on the 18th of September in Stockholm regarding Green Deals, to explore whether this Dutch approach would be useful for Sweden (summary of the seminar, presentations, and programme can be found here). Elin believes introducing Green Deals in Sweden could be very useful indeed, as companies need to be able to work together with the government to remove the barriers they meet when trying to become more sustainable.

Elin also believes that lots can be learnt from the Dutch business sector, as she experienced during the HCEW 2018. For example, in construction, lots of businesses really focus on circular design instead of merely reducing waste (read more about the opportunities for CE in construction here). “A great example was the QO Hotel in Amsterdam, which is a ‘living building’ made by circular materials and with its own food supply through its greenhouse and fish farm on the roof.”

On the other hand, the Netherlands can also learn a lot from Sweden. “As said before, influential multinationals such as IKEA and H&M, have set the most ambitious circular economy targets on the planet – i.e. to become 100% circular by 2030.” What is even more important than these companies’ own operations, is that it will have a spinoff effect on its entire ecosystems, which will all be directed more towards CE. Dutch multinationals should therefore do the same. Moreover, the earlier mentioned biomass knowledge of Sweden is really something interesting for the Netherlands.

Elin also gives a number of cultural reasons why it is interesting for a company active in CE in the Netherlands to come to This is summarized in the image below.

Lastly, Elin has a clear message for all countries to work together on CE: “The main reason is that no business can become circular alone. All countries must collaborate in order to move towards a circular future, due to the different resources or strengths they possess.” Sweden might have more biobased resources than the Netherlands, but the Dutch might be better in building with these materials. The globalized market does not allow a country to become circular by themselves anymore. As Aristotle said, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Elin's 5 reasons

This article is written by Rutger Oorsprong and was originally published 27 September 2018 on LinkedIn.