Talking in Circles

Sometimes one of the greatest barriers to moving the low-carbon agenda forward seems to be the language being used. Sometimes this language barrier masks the fact that the interested parties are actually talking about the same thing.

Take the language of policy-makers for instance. This can be nearly impenetrable to the average citizen who is, incidentally, very often affected in some way by these policies. But strangely, when a situation is looked at from two different perspectives, the astute observer will point out that though both parties have attacked the issue from their own starting point, they actually met in the middle: even if they didn’t realise it.

In this scenario, the Interreg IVA 2 Seas-funded SAFE-ICE Cluster project is the astute observer. This project was funded to look at good examples of sustainable business parks across NW Europe and to explore the type of language that is being used to talk about the Low Carbon Economy. Through research carried out during the project’s Phase 2, certain themes began to emerge about how people, businesses, academic institutions and governments were talking about the Low Carbon Economy.

One theme that we identified is around the Circular Economy. Taking as a working example, the industrial park, Vijfsluizen, in Schiedam, the Netherlands, we can see a circular economy developing, though nobody is calling it that.

Vijfsluizen began as an experiment in how a Business Investment Zone (BIZ) might bring about cooperation and collaboration between businesses located in a defined commercial area. This experiment took place in accordance with an experimental law in the Netherlands in which the local authority collected the association fees on behalf of the park and used these fees to release payments for work being done to improve the business park.

Foto1Figure 1 Vijfsluizen view from the canal

Foto2  Figure 2 Vijfsluizen view from the canal

This system worked incredibly well, with the park achieving its goals of improved safety and enhanced environmental quality within the BIZ. The achievement came over the course of 5 years. During this time, an official BIZ-law was passed in the Netherlands and further ambitions at Vijfsluizen began to develop; including a closed-loop renewable energy system and efforts to improve the local eco-system through the refurbishment of an old canal.


What this case study shows is an economic driver that resulted in the development of circular systems of operation in a business park. The economic driver was a catalyst for the businesses on this park to realise the benefits that come from looking at the whole picture and at how each player, in this case, each business, can affect that bigger picture for the good.

Circular systems are all around us if we care to look for them. It’s the language that confuses the issue. Lately, governments are all about growth. Are we growing the economy? How can we grow the economy? How big can it get? How do we get companies to want to grow? Equally, the EU has fully committed to transitioning to a low-carbon economy by 2050.

Growth and low-carbon do not need to be mutually exclusive. Circular economy models may just be the thing that will spur growth on whilst meeting low-carbon targets. But policymakers need to tune into this and not dismiss circular economy as a fringe idea. We can all be accused of being lazy about language. But if we take the time to look past the words, we may discover that we are all in violent agreement with each other.

Author: Alisa Yingling