This article is part of the Regioportret Utrecht (article 3/3). With it we visualize how educational institutions, companies and governments in the Utrecht region work together on 'circular skills': the skills needed in the circular economy of the future. We hope to inspire other regions and thus accelerate the transition to the circular economy.
They ascribe a modest role to themselves; Maartje Bodde and Greg Bruininkx, as employees of the municipality and province of Utrecht respectively, "do not want to be pushy" in promoting the circular economy. At the same time, they have a considerable drive to bring companies and educational institutions in Utrecht along in the transition to circular working and learning. "It took forty years for the energy transition to gain momentum. We don't have that much time for the circular economy."
Greg, as a circular economy policy officer with the province of Utrecht, is pushing for more circular entrepreneurship in the region. "My goal is to increase the percentage of circular entrepreneurs compared to linear businesses. We do this by conducting campaigns, conducting research and supervising projects." In particular, he sees a role for the province in scaling up and connecting initiatives. "If a circular initiative proves successful in the municipality of Utrecht, it is my job to say: maybe that is interesting for the entire region. Then I bring the right parties together. As a province, we also take up issues when companies and organizations in the region do not get around to them themselves, but they do need to happen; think of the connection between education and the labor market."
Essential that everyone moves along
According to Maartje Bodde, consultant circular economy and circular building at the municipality of Utrecht, we are still at the beginning of the transition. "We would have liked to have reached the 'acceleration phase' already, but that is not yet the case. The number of circular companies in the city is really still small. Steps are being taken, however, for example in construction. There, companies that want to do circular business have recently formed networks and made cooperation agreements. That suits the phase of the transition we are in now." She emphasizes how important it is to address this transition integrally. "I regularly encounter entrepreneurs who would like to do more circular business, but encounter obstacles - for example, around permits. For the transition to succeed, everyone will have to move along. This is not always easy; we are used to working from a certain system and in a certain way. But to make the circular economy possible, you have to be open to change and experimentation. That also means looking for solutions that we don't yet know about."
Disassembling is different from demolishing
In addition to impeding laws and regulations, entrepreneurs who want to do circular business also face a labor market mismatch. "There is a quantitative and a qualitative mismatch," Greg explains. "We know the quantitative one: there is a shortage of personnel in all kinds of sectors, such as healthcare, education and engineering. But there is also a qualitative mismatch when it comes to the transition: the knowledge and skills of the current workforce often do not match well with what is needed in a circular economy. For example, sales organizations in this new situation become service organizations - that requires different, more technical knowledge to repair or restore stuff. Or take construction. You need certain knowledge and skills for that: knowledge of materials, knowing how to put something together and how to demolish something. But to build circularly, you need to know a lot about renewable resources, how to use secondary materials and how to disassemble parts. Even though it's not a world of difference, it requires slightly different knowledge and skills. Disassembly is really different from demolition."
Intermediary between education and business
A labor market that matches what is needed in business is a precondition for the circular economy, Maartje agrees. The role she takes in this is to get education connected to municipal construction projects, for example. "As a municipality, we do not deal with the curriculum of educational institutions, but we can connect them with practice. Schools often need internships for their students ánd they want to know what is happening in the business world. By involving them in concrete, circular projects in the city, they see what is needed for that in education." For example, ROC Midden Nederland is hooked up to a project on upcycling at two waste recycling centers in the city. "The project involves all kinds of companies that can do something with the collected products; so the students come into direct contact with them. There are internships at the workshop, including sorting out products and materials and repairing products. There is also a research project associated with it in which ROC students play a role."
Circular high on the agenda in Utrecht
Although we are only at the beginning of the transition to a circular economy, Maartje and Greg say a lot is already going well in the Utrecht region. For example, the municipality and the province are working with partners from education and business in the Consortium Utrecht to increase circular skills. Maartje: "The subject is high on the agenda here, that alone is positive. It is also not surprising: sixty thousand houses will be built in Utrecht in the coming years, so more jobs will also have to be created. Then it is important to prepare for the type of labor needed in the future. One advantage is the high concentration of educational institutions in our region. When schools start working well with each other and with companies on training for the circular economy, the transition gets a boost." Specifically, Maartje suggests expanding the concept of "the Occupational Garden. "Through the Occupational Garden, job seekers and workers from other sectors are directed to construction and engineering. They can undergo abbreviated training to become, among other things, charge pole or solar panel mechanics. The Vocational Garden can thus accelerate the energy transition in Utrecht; something like this can also be useful for the circular economy." Greg thinks the financial sector can also play a big role in accelerating the transition in Utrecht. "Banks and insurers are well represented in this region. It is important that they look into forms of financing that fit new, circular business models."
Getting started today rather than tomorrow
The same banks and insurers increasingly view companies that do not go along with the transition as a risk; after all, they will not be "sustainable" in the future. In addition, raw materials are becoming increasingly expensive and sometimes difficult to obtain. And also from Europe entrepreneurs are influenced to make the transition to circularity: there is increasingly strict legislation, such as CSRD, the mandatory sustainability reporting. Maartje: "Many entrepreneurs do see the urgency, though. But they often focus on the here and now - most of them live from week to week. And right now, for example, CSRD is not yet mandatory, so they often continue with business as usual." Still, Greg and Maartje advise them to prepare for the circular economy. "For example, the municipality and the province are increasingly including requirements for bio-based materials in tenders. Companies that already have experience with these materials now benefit from this." Their advice to entrepreneurs is therefore: don't wait on the sidelines, but get started now. "Start looking now with your colleagues, customers and suppliers to see what is needed to work and produce circularly. Otherwise you will soon be behind the times."
Author: Annemarie Teuns
Photography: Pim Geerts
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As an advisor on circular economy and circular building at the City of Utrecht, Maartje emphasizes the importance of tackling this transition integrally. In Utrecht, the circular economy is high on the agenda and in this it is important to work together with entrepreneurs and educational institutions.
Greg, as a circular economy policy officer with the province of Utrecht, is pushing for more circular entrepreneurship in the region. "My goal is to increase the percentage of circular entrepreneurs compared to linear businesses. We do this by running campaigns, conducting research and supervising projects."