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New One Planet Network Initiative on Harnessing Digital Technologies for a Circular Economy

  • Published on December 5, 2022

With the increasing need to accelerate the shift towards sustainable consumption and production, the One Planet Network has launched a new initiative to harness digital technologies for a circular economy. 

The current linear economy has caused major global crises including climate change, material scarcity, biodiversity and pollution, increased vulnerability to global shocks, and other economic and environmental impacts associated with inefficient production, use, and loss of products and materials. As an innovative response, a new economic paradigm, the ‘circular economy’ model, has emerged over the last decade. According to recent data from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, implementing an ambitious circular economy model in five key areas (cement, aluminium, steel, plastics, and food) can eliminate almost half of the emissions from the production of goods – 9.3 billion tonnes of CO2e by 2050 – equivalent to cutting all transport emissions to zero. 


Meanwhile, digital innovations are sweeping the planet at an exponential rate. Research predicts that over 60% of global GDP will pass through digital channels and 2 billion people will be consuming online by the end of 2023. While there are incredible opportunities to unleash major structural economic, environmental, and social transformations, there is a troubling downside: unprecedented environmental and social risks. Digital technologies generate e-waste and require large amounts of energy which endanger our planet. Furthermore, they can exacerbate social inequality by further bifurcating those with/without necessary skills and training. Therefore, it is increasingly urgent that we direct the trajectory of digital transformation responsibly, so that it accelerates the circular economy, scaling environmentally and socially sustainable products and services, as well as behaviors and lifestyles. If leveraged successfully, digital technologies allow for the creation and processing of data and information for circular business models to fulfill the complex demands of circular supply chains and offer unique opportunities to inform and change government, business, and consumer behaviors.  


The recommendations outlined in the forthcoming ‘Critical Path for Harnessing Digital Technologies for a Circular Economy’ will provide the basis for a new One Planet Network initiative, guiding concrete interventions and formation of communities of practice to effectively support the public and private sector in its successful implementation. The Critical Path also identifies key challenges and barriers in harnessing digital technologies to unleash the full potential of the circular economy. It takes a circular economy and value chain approach, addressing the smart use of products and their manufacturing, lifespan extension of products and their parts, and the effective use of materials, throughout the value chain through identified key digital pathways and functions (such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, internet of things, additive manufacturing and big data for data collection) – from policy and investments, raw material use and production, to the dissemination and consumption stages. 


This initiative will be evidence-based – guided by scientific research and expert knowledge to ensure the impact and relevance of co-developed interventions. Capitalizing on existing knowledge and expertise, the initiative will partner with digital technology, circular economy and consumption experts with thematic and sectoral expertise across existing One Planet Network Programmes and external alliances, businesses, academia, international organizations and public entities. Through mobilizing public and private actors, this initiative will drive multi-stakeholder efforts to jointly address the concrete challenges and barriers of the realization of digital circular economy impacts, addressing four areas: willingness to adopt; technology and data; policy and regulations; and finance and investments. 


Stay tuned on our website for more information in 2023 on the launch of the ‘Critical Path for Harnessing Digital Technologies for a Circular Economy’

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