By Catherine Chevauché
The circular economy is a growing phenomenon, so much so that a set of specific International Standards which define it, set out how to transition to it, and how to measure its success – is currently being developed. Catherine Chevauché is leading the charge on this and explains the scale of the challenge and how we can rise to it in this article.
The circular economy is considered a pillar of climate action. As opposed to the linear model of production and consumption which evolves along the stages of “take, make, dispose”, circularity aims to minimize depletion of raw resources by reusing and reducing waste, water and energy. Moreover, it is an alternative way of production and consumption to tackle climate change and biodiversity depletion.
Chevauché was working to establish the circular economy long before it became a well-known concept. Her background spans standards and sustainability, working with corporations and local government to ensure that heat and wastewater can be captured and reused. At Suez (and prior to its merger with Veolia), she has been developing an organization-wide strategy to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 in line with international climate targets.
The possibility of working with ISO arose when the French government proposed establishing a set of International Standards for the circular economy – and Chevauché jumped at the chance. Now, she is leading the development of ISO standards that aim to help organizations use less, use longer and use again materials; implement circular design out waste and pollution, while also getting them to think of current waste as a resource.
Speeding things up
Chevauché proposed a different approach to drafting a new package of standards. She believes the committee must act urgently in response to the environmental “emergency”. Therefore, rather than drafting the three standards one after the next, she is working with ISO to have the standards drafted in parallel. The first defines the principles of the circular economy; the second explains the transition from linear to circular business model for organizations; and the third sets out how to assess circularity at different levels. ISO is supporting the development of this full package of standards within an accelerated time frame of three years.
Chevauché knows it will be a challenge to align dozens of countries behind the new standards package in just three years. Also, the circular economy is a relatively new concept with limited real-world implementation. Evidence of this is shown in the latest Circularity Gap Report. This found that we reuse just 8.6 % of resources that we extract from Earth.
Transitioning from a linear to a circular economy is a new paradigm. This means asking organizations to change the principles on which they have been operating since the industrial revolution. This makes it difficult to implement because it changes a lot of things within an organization’s life.
Getting all onboard
In leading the work, Chevauché emphasized the importance of ensuring that the standards are fair and relevant to all countries by having a geographical spread of representatives in leadership roles. A total of 92 countries from five continents sit within the technical committee and many are expected to attend the next meeting that will be held later this year in Kigali, Rwanda.
Chevauché believes international collaboration is key to drafting a suite of standards for the circular economy. She is focused on aligning experts and getting the package of standards published by early 2024. This will enable her to put something new and worthwhile on the table, while also encouraging the global community to take action towards creating a sustainable and environmentally sound future.
According to Chevauché, once the standards have been published, ignorance about what the circular economy is and how it works will no longer be an excuse for organizations not shifting away from the unsustainable linear model of production and consumption. The challenge ahead is considerable – but this will be a milestone in the transition towards circularity.
About the author
Catherine Chevauché works on the contribution to carbon neutrality of industrial activities, particularly in the water and waste sector.
She also chairs the international work underway at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) on the circular economy, whose objective is to propose an alternative to our current modes of production and consumption that undermine planetary limits.