Over time, one approach to sustainable development has gained traction among economists, policymakers and business people, and has also caught UNIDO’s attention. It’s called the circular economy. Although there are many conceptions of the circular economy, they all describe a new way of creating value, and ultimately prosperity, through extending product lifespan and relocating waste from the end of the supply chain to the beginning - in effect, using resources more efficiently by using them more than once.
By and large, today’s manufacturing takes raw materials from the environment and turns them into new products, which are then discarded into the environment.
It’s a linear process with a beginning and an end. In this system, limited raw materials eventually run out. Waste accumulates, either incurring expenses related to disposal or else pollution. Additionally, manufacturing processes are often themselves inefficient, leading to further waste of natural resources.
In a circular economy, however, materials for new products come from old products. As much as possible, everything is reused, re-manufactured or, as a last resort, recycled back into a raw material or used as a source of energy.
Governments are encouraging - and, in some cases, requiring - the adoption of circular economy principles that would lead to higher resource efficiency and less waste. At the global level, the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by the United Nations Member States in 2015, include many related ambitions.
Many of UNIDO projects already address various building blocks of circular economy. Some support resource efficient and cleaner manufacturing of products, others help develop safe, easy-to-recycle products with longer lifetimes and still others deal with the recovery or safe disposal of resources at the end of a product’s life.
Moreover, UNIDO promotes industrial energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy for productive uses, by optimizing energy systems, developing international energy management standards and bringing sustainable energy solutions to industries. Since economies are still far from phasing out the need for raw materials extraction altogether, some of UNIDO's projects work to make parts of the mining process, for example the processing of ores and other extracted materials, safer and more environmentally responsible.