A summary digest

The event was titled “Time for Climate,” and the predominantly German, business-focused audience concurred. One attendee expressed, “It’s not five minutes to midnight, it’s five minutes after!”

A diverse array of corporate viewpoints was present, alongside an informative discussion on the EU’s circular economy strategy. The event also featured an evening interview with the environment minister, a brief conversation with a young climate entrepreneur from Indonesia, and an extensive talk with circular economy expert and co-author of Cradle to Cradle, Prof Michael Braungart.

It was invigorating to hear the insightful and measured presentations from numerous prominent German corporations throughout the day and evening. These corporate leaders approach their responsibilities with great seriousness and take pride in being regarded as ‘good companies,’ while also candidly acknowledging the challenges they face.

Tina Muller, recently appointed as CEO of Weleda, emphasized Weleda’s dedication to regenerative practices and highlighted the bioeconomy’s ultimate circularity, which supplies nearly all of Weleda’s ingredients and formulations. Christoph Werner, CEO of the prominent DM retail chain boasting 80,000 employees in Germany and beyond, stressed the CEO’s responsibility to solicit the best ideas from employees. He underscored the power, particularly within their brand, to develop products that offer both excellent value and environmental responsibility. Dr. Thorsten Dreier from Covestro outlined significant investments to handle higher-value plastics responsibly and underscored the importance of local employment and place.

Throughout the day, there were noticeable absences, which were discussed by Karel Golta, Founder & CEO of Indeed Innovation, and Ramona Liberoff, Executive Director of PACE, in their closing remarks. One notable absence is the absence of a circular economy, despite Germany’s robust end-of-life recycling infrastructure and high compliance in sorting domestic waste. Eco-design was mentioned, but examples were limited. Germany grapples with exceptionally high average resource utilization and heavy dependence on the automotive industry. As Professor Braungart emphasized, resource overuse is the primary cause of planetary overshoot. Although Germany boasts a strong research and development infrastructure, with spending second only to the United States, innovations tend to be technological and often fail to achieve scalable improvements that benefit people, nature, or the climate.

Despite agriculture’s significant contribution to climate change and environmental degradation, it was conspicuously absent from the discussions. Additionally, there was no representation from the agricultural or food sectors. While the automotive industry holds disproportionate influence and the shift in transportation is crucial to addressing carbon emissions and material consumption, no automotive companies were present. The majority of the discussion, approximately 90%, centered on the energy system, including topics such as the future potential of hydrogen and the need to promote renewable energy. While these are important issues, they fail to address the root cause of resource overuse and planetary overshoot. While some sponsors argue for a ‘business case’ in responsible corporate behavior, it was acknowledged that the ‘easy’ wins, such as transitioning to renewable energy, have already been achieved, leaving more significant challenges. Furthermore, the absence of a carbon price and the challenges in establishing a consistent, clear, and long-term direction within a coalition government for guiding industry investment were also raised.

Despite the challenges, there are numerous grounds for optimism. Among the insightful reflections, it was noted that just as Germany has successfully reinvented itself in the past, it possesses the capability to do so once more. A pivotal theme highlighted was the need for constructive collaboration between politics/regulation and corporate entities. Additionally, establishing a clear, long-term, and stable environment is crucial, allowing corporations the freedom to innovate in addressing the collective challenge of climate change.

PACE (Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy) will further explore the opportunity presented by enhanced collaboration and knowledge exchange across various industries, encompassing policy, investment, and technology sectors, to address common challenges.

This text was originally published on PACE’s blog. Thank you, Ramona Liberoff, for the excellent event summary.

Author: Ramona Liberoff

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