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The butterfly effect is the idea that small things, ideas, and events can have non-linear impacts on a complex system, e.g., today’s society, mainly based on linear economy thinking. The circular economy is often illustrated with the so-called butterfly diagram; however, I also claim that the circular economy idea really acts like a butterfly effect.

The circular economy, the butterfly, is the idea of an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources, crafted by a few people with a vision to make a real impact on society and at the same time enable a more sustainable development.

The butterfly, especially since the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s report in 2013, has become a world-recognized, rapidly growing phenomenon that has managed to impact and cause numerous and increasingly important real-world effects in our society. The circular economy is now at the top of agendas all around the world, e.g., within the EU and its companies.

It is not an understatement that since the spring of 2020, it has been a strange and challenging time due to COVID-19 that hit the world. However, without neglecting the very tragic loss of lives and economic difficulties, this time has also shown us several promising things.

In order to tackle the situation, we managed to unite and develop our society in unbelievable time. Society managed to adapt to the situation, e.g., develop vaccines at a record-breaking pace and change our way of traveling and work. We transformed our society and way of living at a speed that has never been seen before. We adapted in ways that just one year earlier, many would have thought was not possible.

Huge resources were mobilized via, e.g., states and companies to support the covid situation. Even though this most likely was not enough, it showed that – to borrow former president Barack Obama’s slogan – Yes, we can! We can change our society. If we can change our society because of the COVID pandemic, what can we then not do against the even greater threats caused by climate change, resource challenges and the need for a more sustainable development?

Even though last year’s focus was mainly on COVID, much focus was also on the climate issues that became even more visible, such as the EU’s strategy for a circular economy and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. At the beginning of 2020, I was afraid that the focus on circular and sustainable solutions would decline, but happily, it has not. On the contrary, many issues have seen continuous interest during the pandemic, and there is a great opportunity to restart all of society in a more sustainable way. The number of companies that want to move towards more effective, resource-efficient and circular business models has, in fact, continued to increase during the year.

It is in the rapid and dynamic context described above that Mistra REES is evolving and contributing. We want to support the restart of society and companies and help them in their endeavor to turn environmental challenges into business opportunities. Our starting point remains: to identify what is effective – that is, “do the right things”, and then focus on spending resources to do these effectively, or rather, “do things right”.

Even though we have started, most of the work is ahead of us, and we need to do much more in order to transform our linear world into a more circular and sustainable world – one as beautiful as a butterfly!

We hope you want to join us and become a part of the circular economy butterfly effect – and contribute to a more circular and sustainable society!

Mattias Lindahl,

Mistra REES Programme Director

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