Interview by UnternehmensGrün with Arthur ten Wolde, Circular Economy Expert for Ecopreneur.eu

Could you tell us something about Ecopreneur.eu?

UnternehmensGrün is a founding member of Ecopreneur.eu, the European Sustainable Business Federation. Ecopreneur.eu is the political voice in Brussels of sustainable businesses all across Europe, amplifying the national efforts and activities of our member organisations. Ecopreneur.eu unites seven green business organisations across Europe representing over 3000 companies, mostly SMEs, which makes it the largest company network commited to sustainable economic development in Europe. It is a non-profit non-governmental organization based in Brussels with member associations in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands and Spain. The members are all green business networks: non-governmental organizations, non-profit associations, networks and alike that are dedicated to sustainable development and represent green SMEs and pioneering companies.

The aim of Ecopreneur.eu is to support and shape the transition to a sustainable economy by joint advocacy and projects. Circular Economy principles and the Sustainable Development Goals are the main guidelines for our work. As 30 to 50 percent of all regulation in Europe comes from the EU, determining many of the economic framework conditions, the European institutions are vital for enabling a systems change towards a sustainable economy.

Could you highlight what has been done so far?

One focus area for the advocacy of Ecopreneur.eu in Brussels is the Circular Economy. Personally I have been advocating EU ambitious circular economy policies since 2014. Initially I did this for the Dutch green business network De Groene Zaak, that joined forces with current Ecopreneur.eu member MVO Nederland in 2018. As a member of the coordination group of European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform and theEcodesign and Energy labelling Consultation Forum, Ecopreneur.eu has now growing visibility in Brussels. Many of our policy recommendations were already adopted. For instance, procurement, financial incentives, and regulation have been acknowledged as cornerstones circular economy policies. To further work out the polluter pays principle, the European Commission will develop Guidelines for Extended Producer Responsibility as part of the Revised Waste Framework Directive. The construction of waste incinerators will no longer be subsidised by the EU.

Could you generally explain Ecopreneur’s VAT position and recommendations concerning the VAT?

The European Commission and Parliament have proposed a revision to the EU VAT directive that we hope will allow VAT differentiation on the basis of circularity. Sustainable businesses all over Europe ask for low VAT rates for circular end goods and services to overcome the barrier of lacking demand. Given the choice between two otherwise equal goods or services, even a moderate VAT difference can effectively nudge consumers to purchase the circular option rather than the linear one. In view of this huge potential to accelerate the circular economy, Ecopreneur will on the European Council to vote for adoption of the current EU proposal. In the meantime, we are looking into the possibilities of the VAT to actually differentiate between circular and linear products.

Could you describe Ecopreneur’s position about the EU plastics strategy?

The Plastics Strategy contains many good elements. And finally, the recently approved single-use plastics directive is in agreement with Ecopreneur.eu’s advocacy to ban the worst products from the market, such as oxo-degradable plastics.

What are future plans/current activities of Ecopreneur.eu?

Now it comes to implementation. More awareness is needed that creating a circular economy is good for your economy. Without more support for the circular economy in all member states, the Council of Ministers will continue to block all kinds of excellent proposals coming out the Commission and Parliament. For instance, existing resistance against mandatory Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes will only end if more people acknowledge that they can bring jobs and economic growth besides waste reduction. Growing support is thus needed to pass more ambitious legislation, such as opening up the VAT, a ban on all intentionally added microplastics, and ambitious policies for Circular Procurement and Ecodesign. For instance, promoting Green Deals for Circular Procurement in all member states could kick-start circular business, as it has done in the Netherlands and Flanders. Products generating lots of waste can be made more expensive by adding a tax or an EPR fee. Circular products (such as cradle-to-cradle) and services (sharing, maintenance, repair, resell & recycle) can be made cheaper by introducing low or zero VAT rates for them, or an EPR bonus. EPR can also stimulate circular design. Extra taxation of resource use can be compensated by lower taxation of labour, creating a tax shift. The worst products can be banned from the market by introducing mandatory minimum requirements for circular design for all end products in all sectors. Finally, Ecopreneur.eu has launched a Circularity Check, is working on a project to align advocacy in the fashion industry, and prepares a position on EU product policies.

Ecopreneur.eu’s circular economy work is supported by pioneer companies Werner & Mertz, REMONDIS (Germany), Tarkett (France), ROCKWOOL (Denmark) and Interface (the Netherlands) as well as two grants. More companies are currently invited to join this advocacy group. Members of UG are wholeheartedly invited to apply!

The year 2019 is the year of the transition from this European Commission to the next. What the next 5 years will bring depends to a large extent on the outcome of the upcoming elections of the European Parliament in May, that will appoint the new Commission in November. Like many, if not all stakeholders, Ecopreneur.eu advocates to keep the Circular Economy as a priority for the next European Commission. If that works out well, important changes in the business environment favoring circular & sustainable business models should be possible during the coming years!