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Interview with Serge Orru : "Environmentally safe food production - the challenge of the circular economy"

Written by David JOSSEROND Modified on the

  • Serge Orru (Author : Zoé Fisher)
  • Schéma de l'économie circulaire (Source : Institut de l'économie circulaire)

Director General of WWF France from 2006 to 2012, Serge Orru led the roundtable on the circular economy organized by the French Government for the September 2013 Environment Conference. He is also director of the Circular EconomyInstitute.

What is the circular economy ?

- The circular economy could be defined as having the least impact on our economy, our environment and our health. Also, the circular economy is an asset for both the economy and ecology. Currently, consumer goods and food are produced in a way which causes massive destruction of biodiversity. It is urgent to reconcile our economy, which is a menace to biodiversity, with the planet. We are in an autophagic system, a world that devours itself. The motto "Producing without destroying" as is now the challenge put forward by the circular economy challenge.

Is the challenge to "produce without destroying" compatible with successful business?

- The circular economy already existed until the mid-twentieth century, long before the 1992 concept of sustainable development. Agriculture, for example, was underpinned by a circular economy. However, for several decades, we have been living in a throwaway society. The circular economy asks us to move from a throwaway society to a sustainable one. But how ? By producing goods and services while drastically reducing consumption and waste of both raw materials and non-renewable energy sources. We would then be closer to the "happy sobriety" popularized by Pierre Rabhi. Each product must be conceived and designed according to the ecological, economic and social impact. A product of the circular economy will eventually be fully recycled or will be returned to the soil. However, this does not change production and consumption models. To do this, we must rethink product designs, favour eco-design and consider industrial ecology, ecologic features of products, their life cycle, reuse, repair, recycling. These are the key principles, and they require audacity and imagination !

You emphasize the need to work together. Who will that involve ?

- All of us ! Citizens, businesses, SMEs, large groups, unions, politicians, local authorities, researchers, associations. The first priority is to work together towards another future. Environmentalists, even if their role is essential in our society, can not alone decide what is good and what is not for the planet. Ecology is first for me the "art of human relations". Beyond the postures and stances of the different actors involved, it seems tome essential to show a certain cohesion. By improving, each enhances the other. Leave competition behind, bring about emulation by imagining other avenues of life. "To unite we must be different" said Teilhard de Chardin, French scientist, theologian and philosopher. Diversity, let alone biodiversity on the island of Reunion thus represents a real opportunity for the development of a circular economy. I hereby invite Réunion to organize a consultation exercise on the circular economy.

The Circular Economy aims to bring together all those who want shift to a new model of materials movement. What might this new model change for agriculture and agro-ecology ?

- Bagasse, which is used to generate electricity, is a good example of this new model of materials movement. A residue from the processing of sugar cane, bagasse is today used to produce energy in Réunion. Two dual-fuel coal-bagasse power plants are also already operational : BoisRouge and Le Gol. But Reunion Island, with its small-scale island model, already possesses the mix needed to establish a circular economy, including a pooling of resources and expertise with the surrounding islands so that one island’s waste becomes another island’s raw material.

What do you think could be an obstacle to the development of a circular economy?

- Only outdated ways of thinking could slow its development. France is unfortunately very slow to advance in this field unlike northern Europe and the Netherlands, which are particularly active in developing their circular economy. A circular economy requires a change in habits and a change in our way of seeing the world. Nazim Hikmet, Turkish poet, sums up the mentality of a circular economy: "Living like a tree, alone and free. Live as brothers like trees in a forest. This dream is ours!".

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