Circular economy

'The power of Luxembourg is that it can ask questions'

William McDonough
William McDonough
Photo: Barbara Tasch

The four speakers at the BGL BNP Paribas conference held as part of the Luxembourg Circular Economy Hotspot 2017 all had one clear message: the shift toward a circular economy is not something that should happen, but something that must happen.   

Architect and leader in sustainable development William McDonough, keynote speaker at the conference, stressed the importance of cooperation between different sectors for any circular economy models to be successful.

"Something very special is going on in [Luxembourg]," McDonough told the conference, emphasizing that co-creation in the country was very potent and that the country was at a size where "things can be done."

The circular economy event taking place from June 20 to June 22 is a "follow-up" from an event by non-profit organisation Circle Economy that took place in the Netherlands in 2016. 

 The three-day event aims to showcase Luxembourg's circularity during debates, meetings and conferences with experts in the field of sustainable development, business leaders and government officials. 

Luxembourg as a potent agent for change

"Luxembourg is a real hotspot at the moment," is how Francine Closener, secretary of state for the economy, started her remarks, referring to the canicular temperatures the Grand-Duchy is experiencing at the moment and the central role Luxembourg hopes to play in the field of circularity.

For McDonough, Luxembourg has the potential to be an agent for change in that domain. Asked by the Luxemburger Wort what the country's biggest advantages and disadvantages in terms of being a leader in that field were, he replied they were the same thing. 

"I think it's the same thing, I think it's the scale... the scale matters that's why I think the issue of Luxembourg is that its biggest weakness will be its size, it's not that big. It's greatest strength, will be its size, it's not that big. So that's always a good thing. When your weakness and your strength are one thing. You can find a place to think," McDonough said. 

To explain this thought he gave the example that thanks to Luxembourg's small size and spirit of co-creation and cooperation, changes could more easily be implemented: 

"You can say 'we believe packaging should be like this' and you actually don't look ridiculous because you are actually close enough to it to say that's what you want," McDonough said.

The weakness of the country then appears in terms of scale. To be a world leader in the circularity field, things implemented in Luxembourg need to be able to be reciprocated elsewhere in the world on a much larger scale, which could prove difficult considering the country's unique position. 

Yet McDonough still believes it can make a difference:

"The issue of how to get that done to scale is a bigger question, it has to go out in the world but it can come from somewhere that's willing to take a claim on their own local needs and ask a question for the global community. So I think that's the power of Luxembourg is that it can ask questions. It might be curious, but a country asking a question, is a country asking a question. That's a big deal."

An imperative, not an option

Co-creation and cooperation were some of the main themes addressed during the conference, during which it was pointed out that for circularity to be implemented in a successful way, different sectors needed to work together.

The different speakers all mentioned a willingness to work with other sectors and to do so quickly.

Carlo Thill, the chairman of the BGL BNP Paribas management board, said that clearly the path the world economy was following at the time was not going in the right direction and that rethinking how to do business was an imperative as the current model was reaching its limits.

He added that there was no "one size fits all" model in terms of circular economy, and that BGL BNP Paribas would continue to be an active player in the transition to a circular economy.

"Not acting is not an option anymore," Thill said. 

Closener put the same emphasis on the urgency of action, saying it had become clear that our current model of consumption, production and waste could not go on. She added that circularity was nothing new and that our current linear consumption model had only emerged a few decades ago. She acknowledged that one of the biggest problems in terms of implementing a new path for the economy was that people do not want to admit that things have to change. She called the transition a "long journey worth every effort."

Nicolas Buck, chairman of the Federation Des Industriels Luxembourgeois (FEDIL), concurred, saying that businesses in Luxembourg fully supported transitions to circular business model, but that sometimes some employees and shareholders, were harder to convince.

However, he said the businesses were dedicated.

"We believe the big wave really is a big wave and we want to be part of a solution."

 (Barbara Tasch,, +325 49 93 732) 

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