Circular economy in Europe: alliance building on the radar

One of the main buzzwords that resonates from the talks about circular economy is the term “collaboration” on multiple fronts, among different actors and at various levels of governance.

Building bridges is indeed an extremely crucial engine in the creation of a well-oiled circular machine. However, turning this principle into a pragmatic action is not that simple and some territories might be better equipped or with ideal existing conditions that favour the development of a strong network worldwide, while for those that are new to the concept, there might be possible hurdles.

In this article, we are going to dive into what collaboration in circular economy entails, and what are the first steppingstones to kickstart actions to foster circular economy strategies and trigger synergies among the different actors involved.

There are different ways in which a joint collaborative effort can operate.

Collaboration on a vertical level

Within the same industrial sector, similar value chains located in different territories would foster the cooperation between different geographical areas and create new opportunities to learn about closing material loops and promote knowledge exchange about new circular models. In this way, even areas with a strong cultural diversity, can find common grounds in sectoral and economic terms and players focused on circular economy can learn from existing good practices.

Policymakers should play an active role in finding sectors that are underrepresented, so as to allow them to have a say to revolutionise their business models.

Horizontal Collaboration

Collaboration on a horizontal level means addressing simultaneously multiple industrial sectors and focus on building links between segments of different value chains.

The parts falling within the framework of a whole value chain range from technical aspects to closing material flows, network building, regulatory interventions and so on.  

This form of support is more compatible with cross-territorial cooperation, as it is more easily transferred across territories. The role of Regions is critical for the pursuit of adopting a new economic system, as they are the actors that can communicate with one another and tackle the challenge of offsetting expertise asymmetry in circular economy issues. In this way, Regions at the early stage of circular development, can learn from strategies adopted by the leading ones, and follow their examples to replicate and adjust such models to their own reality.

Policymakers are once again called upon to act to raise citizens’ awareness and participation and foster stakeholder engagement through the design or adjustment of local policies to embrace the new concepts of repairing, reusing and refurbishing. 

Of course, the business environment is only one of the legs that will help build our ambitious spider web.

Collaboration at the European level

At the EU level, endless are the initiatives and programmes focused on supporting any sort of collaboration: workshops, conferences, seminars, policy labs are all extremely important tools to promote the exchange of knowledge, expertise, and information on how to adapt circularity in each territory and how to overcome the challenges that go along with it.

The European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform (ECESP) is an excellent example of coordination and support delivered by its members and targeted at players willing to expand their network and develop the right competences to turn challenges into opportunities. The role of bridging and fostering policy development between EU, civil society organisations and businesses is fundamental to turn insurmountable obstacles into feasible possibilities.

Other cooperation programmes, such as Interreg, also provide different form of support in the development of inclusive circular economy strategies. And to top it off, the Ellen McArthur’s Foundation’s Toolkit for policymakers is also a valuable guide providing tools and methods needed to embark on a circular economy transformation.

As showed, there are different starting points on which it is possible to build brick by brick, the house that, soon, will host us all.

What needs to stick in our mind now is that regardless of any form of cooperation, more networking between actors is essential for the discovery of existing value chains and opportunities to draw on for the design of new ones, and all levels of governance must be involved and called upon to act to make all of this become reality.


Salvatori G., Holstein F., Böhme K., Circular economy strategies and roadmaps in Europe: identifying synergies and the potential for cooperation and alliance building, 2019

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