Introducing 12 voices on the transition to a circular economy

September 24, 2019

In the upcoming months Holland Circular Hotspot will publish the blog series ‘12 voices on the transition to a circular economy’. 12 CEO’s, founders and thought leaders from our network who are (inter) nationally known for their work within a specific CE topic will share their perspectives on the transition and international opportunities looking at it from their field of expertise. Read the introduction to this series by HCH director Freek van Eijk!

Circular Hotspots or Hubs are organizations where public and private come together to fast-forward the transition process to a circular economy. The main goals are to promote and share circular knowledge, business models opportunities, and connect the gaps across the network so that information arrives to all. By sharing what is already being done and what soon will become possible, Hotspots create space and inspire motivation for new partnerships and cross-sectoral strategies to happen. By organising conferences, meetings, missions, and preparing publications of showcases and informative materials, Circular Hotspots act as true catalysts for the local economy and boost sustainable development.


Circular Economy Hotspots as catalysts for circular transitioning

Business as usual is not an option

We, as a planet, are facing some major challenges today. Climate change, loss of biodiversity, “the plastic soup”, and providing access to resources for our industries are just a few of them. Business as usual is not an option and time is not on our side! A transition to a Circular Economy certainly makes more sense under these circumstances.

A Circular Economy (CE) is often explained as a way of keeping resources in circulation for much longer and at the highest possible value. For us at Holland Circular Hotspot and many of the CE practitioners, it is not only about keeping materials in the loop, but also about renewable energy, preservation of biodiversity, social inclusiveness and new coalitions. It is another way of designing, producing, consuming and dealing with waste. It is a new economic model, a system-change with a fantastic spin-off to sustainability. It calls for a profound transformation in the way we work and produce, and the way we design, teach, invest, and buy.


If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together (African Proverb)

To make the transition to a complete circular economy actions are required from all stakeholders and new cross-sectoral partnerships are inevitable.

  • (Local) government should set the ambition (urgency), set boundary conditions and allow for experimentation.
  • Knowledge institutes develop new insights, enable valorisation of their knowledge and create awareness.
  • Local entrepreneurs show guts, take risks, accelerate and are the main actors of a scale-up.
  • Involvement of inhabitants and the leaders (and consumers) of tomorrow is crucial.

Changing today’s linear system however is a mighty challenge! In today’s world, value-chains and resource flows are international. The environmental impact of products is not reflected in the price and there are disturbing market instruments that make a transition cumbersome (think of agricultural or fossil fuel subsidies). We are all connected and dependent and there are not only winners in a CE transition but also losers. Linear companies can exercise power in the value-chain to delay or even block a CE transition.

It takes courage to be a first mover because you will run into all kinds of barriers. It asks for both business and government leaders to think ahead about future markets and viable and liveable societies. First movers however potentially have the biggest advantage.


The Netherlands has the world’s most ambitious Circular Economy programme

The Dutch live in a challenging delta area and had to work hard to make a densely populated and early-industrialised country a vibrant and liveable place. Our environment made us innovative and collaborative. These traits make the Netherlands a perfect living lab to pioneer city solutions for global challenges. Over the last 150 years we have learned the hard way how to do it and we hope others can benefit from our experience.


For a successful CE transition direction and ambition are needed. In October 2016 the governmental programme “A Circular Economy in the Netherlands by 2050”[1] was launched. In this programme, a nationwide plan was drawn up by multiple departments, to function as a vision for the successful implementation of the circular economy. The goal formulated in this report is to reduce the amount of primary (non-renewable) resources used in the Netherlands by 50% in 2030, and to become completely circular by 2050.This can be accomplished through resource efficiency, a shift to renewable and recycled resources, and creating new markets and business models. The programme was followed by the development of transition agendas[2]and an implementation programme[3]. A clear focus was directed to five priority sectors: biomass and food, plastics, manufacturing industry, construction sector, and consumer goods. Each of them has a specific ministry in the lead, which allows attracting a critical mass of stakeholders that is needed to scale-up the actions. The Dutch, furthermore, created the conditions to promote change by choosing a set of interventions. To name a few interventions: stimulate policies and regulations, create smart market incentives, provide access to financing, foster knowledge and innovation, seek international cooperation and work on behavior change.[4]


The Dutch innovative, entrepreneurial climate inspires circular pioneers from all over the world to come to the Netherlands. It is no coincidence that in the summer of 2019 PACE (Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy) moved their headquarters to The Hague.


The Dutch created a Circular Hotspot to accelerate the transition

Holland Circular Hotspot (HCH) is a foundation created in 2016 as one of the actions from the Dutch government programme “A Circular Economy in the Netherlands by 2050”1. Holland Circular Hotspot is a private public platform in which companies, knowledge institutes and (local) authorities collaborate internationally with the aim of exchanging knowledge and stimulating entrepreneurship in the field of circular economy.


HCH strives not only to create economic opportunities for Dutch companies, but also to promote knowledge exchange and accelerate the societal goals by stimulating a Circular Economy at the international level. In this context, the Dutch are very pragmatic. It makes no sense for a strong trading country as the Netherlands to create a “circular island” of the Netherlands if the rest of the world fails to make the transition. Paul Polman, the former CEO of Unilever, called the outcome of the Paris Climate Change Agreement (COP21) the biggest business opportunity of the century.[5]And Circular Economy can be a powerful source for climate mitigation. A 2017 study by Sitra[6]pointed out that a more circular economy could reduce emissions from heavy industry by 56% in 2050. That is why HCH is actively engaging with a network of other circular hotspots in the world.


The role of Circular Hotspots

Ideally CE Hotspots are the place where public and private stakeholders as well as knowledge institutes meet.

Supporters of a Hotspot come from visionary frontrunning circular businesses, both multinationals and start-ups, knowledge institutes as well as from leading Ministries ideally covering the economic and sustainable policy areas.

CE Hotspots are not commercial or political (a CE is not from the left nor from the right; everybody has to gain by the transition) and works on a non-commercial or cost recovery basis.

It helps to get acceptance for a hotspot if they start with a focus on topics where there is a significant economic, or sustainability impact and transition readiness (like for plastics). Using a special momentum in society or a major event like the organisation of a cultural capital or the Olympic Games, can be quite effective as well.


What role can hotspots play?

  • Circular Economy is not about copyright but about the right to copy! Circular Hotspots and hubs have an important role to play in sharing best practices from business and local governments and adapting them to the local situation and bringing the right coalition together. Start by making an inventory of local best practices that people can identify with and make them known. There are probably more than you might think! Probably they are not called circular at first but are part of resource efficiency, climate mitigation or city initiatives;
  • Including the regulatory component and lessons learned from elsewhere is often important for quite some market segments. Take for instance waste management; waste is like water it flows to the lowest point. A set of regulations and enforcement needs to be in place to make it work;
  • Sharing insights, tools, scans & facts and figures from knowledge institutes is essential as well. Note that this goes way beyond technical solutions. A CE transition is 20% about technical innovation and 80% about social innovation. A region or city scan can identify low hanging fruit, make the opportunities manageable by making them measurable and identify partners needed in a transition;
  • Bringing new coalitions together and exchanging circular offer & demand (the basis for action) is another characteristic of a Circular hub;
  • To create awareness and link partners CE hotspots have a role in aligning and co-organising events. At every economy or sustainability workshop: try to get on the agenda as Circular Economy. Make sure to include key players from politics, industry and civil society! Organising an event or workshop where inspirational best practices are located is relatively easy. Set it up as a workshop and networking activity and give the opportunity to discuss and get insight in joint issues;
  • CE initiatives often have the best “total cost of ownership” but might have a higher initial cost. An important role of hotspots is therefore to create access to funding and instruments for more intense collaboration, events, initiatives and projects;
  • CE Hotspots can be instrumental in capacity building. Organising competences, sharing insights and access to tools that make action at the local level possible;
  • Both their actions and voice can be powerful if they combine strength and resources in projects or in circular advocacy. At the international level CE Hotspots can create joint advocacy. At the World Circular Economy Forum in Helsinki in 2019, fifteen Circular Hotspots[7]came together and shared their collective insights about scaling up circular economies in cities[8];
  • The world is advancing at different speeds and value-chains are international. By working on joint projects between CE hotspots the lessons learned in one country can be shared and adapted to other countries. Stimulating circular hubs and hotspots to collaborate promises to accelerate time to market for new economic initiatives, give a boost to innovation and bring solutions for the societal goals within reach.


Make the network work
Setting up and bringing circular hotspots and hubs together has the power of a combined-circular-ideas network. It helps all of them, within each region and beyond, to swiftly take practical action to drive the transition to the circular economy.


It is an initiative that is worth replicating both at the institutional level for example at international Climate and Resource Conferences, UN forums, World Expo’s and future WCEF’s but especially at the actionable level of cities and regions!

The hotspots use a bottom-up approach and work in partnership with institutions like the Platform for Circular Economy PACE. PACE was launched during the 2018 World Economic Forum Annual meeting to drive public-private action and collaboration on the circular economy. From 2019, the World Resources Institute will support the scale-up of PACE and establish an Action Hub in The Hague, The Netherlands. We will actively seek how we can accelerate this process and invite all to think with us to make that happen.


[1]A Circular Economy in the Netherlands by 2050 – Government-wide Programme for a Circular Economy (September 2016). The Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment and the Ministry of Economic Affairs, also on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. Available at

[2]Transitieagenda’s: op weg naar een circulaire economie, available at:

[3]Uitvoeringsprogramma Circulaire Economie 2019 – 2023, available at:

[4]The interventions are brought and explained in detail by the document “A Circular Economy in the Netherlands by 2050”.

[5]Paul Polman praises historic Paris Agreement (12/12/2015), available at:

[6]The circular economy – a powerful force for climate mitigation (2018).Commissioned by Finnish Innovation Fund (Sitra) and the European Climate Foundation (ECF), and conducted by Material Economics.Available at:

[7]Holland Circular Hotspot, Circle Economy, Circular Change SloveniaCircular Norway, TCEN/ITRI, Exchange4Change Brasil, Polish Circular Hotspot (Innowo), Zero Waste Scotland, Amsterdam Economic Board,Circular Friesland, African CE Network, OREE, L’institut national de l’économie circulaire, and the Circular Economy Platform of the Americas (CEP-Americas).

[8]The session built on the themes highlighted in the “Circular Cities” brochure (April 2019). Holland Circular Hotspot and Circle Economy. Available at

12 voices on the transition to a Circular Economy

This blog is part of the series ‘12 voices on the transition to a circular economy’. 12 CEO’s, founders and thought leaders from our network who are (inter) nationally known for their work within a specific CE topic will share their perspectives on the transition and international opportunities looking at it from their field of expertise. 

Read more:

The Transition to a Circular Economy: A Joint Effort

By Jacqueline Cramer, president of the Supervisory Board of Holland Circular Hotspot and former Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment.

Humanity, climate change and biogas opportunities: a lacking sense of urgency

By David Newman, founder of the Bio Base and Biodegradable Industries Association UK and president of the World Biogas Association.

Solving a tech problem: circular electronics

By Joost de Kluijver, founder and CEO of Closing the Loop.