Roundtable discussion: circular principles in business

Do environmental circular economy principles and social enterprise complement each other? How can local community enterprises address large challenges like climate change? These are some of the questions social entrepreneurs, public sector employees, and researchers discussed in Nabolagshager’s sunny, green offices one May afternoon.

The roundtable began with a presentation from Steve Ralf, founder of Inklusive in the UK, about how social enterprises can incorporate circular economy principles. “Circular economy makes economic sense as well as environmental sense, which is why it’s an effective way to run a social business,” he said.

Addressing big problems through local business ideas

Some in the room were critical that locally anchored social enterprises can address large challenges like climate change, but the social entrepreneurs present made a case for how acting locally can have a larger impact “You need to find your level of impact and act within your reach,” said Helene from Nabolagshager. Steve talked about the importance of sharing with competitors as a way to increase the positive impact. “If it’s that important, it’s even more important to give it away.”

“Circular economy challenges our criteria for success,” said Kate Milosavljevic, a researcher at OsloMet. “Do we care most about productivity? Social Engagement? Zero waste?”

The public sector can also help to scale up the impact of social enterprises, as Stephanie Degenhardt from Bydel Gamle Oslo stressed. “Social enterprises are valuable for addressing big problems because they provide local examples of what works that we in the public sector can then scale up to create systems change.”

Circular economy and social enterprise

Most of the social entrepreneurs agreed that circular economy and social enterprises complement each other, but that it is still rare to find businesses in Norway that combine them. “In Norway, environmental enterprise and social enterprise are usually quite separate,” said Katerina Eriksen from Circular Ways. “Environmental principles are driving businesses more than social benefits.”

How should social enterprises incorporate these principles into their business models? Unlimter and founder of Hagecrew, Mathias Storm Michelsen had some advice: “Have the social/circular in your DNA from the beginning so that loosing it will cripple your model.”