Centre d’études et de recherche intersectorielles en économie circulaire
Melding the economy and the environment? Yes, it can be done!Thursday, October 1, 2020
The economic restart is stirring up numerous environmental concerns: On the one hand, there are those who champion growth at any cost; and on the other hand, those who think the way forward must be based on a new economic approach. The team at the Centre d’études et de recherche intersectorielles en économie circulaire (CÉRIÉC – Centre for intersectoral study and research into the circular economy), which was recently created at École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS), believe that it is possible to reconcile the two visions by adopting a new model: the circular economy.
Daniel Normandin, Director of the CÉRIÉC and a recognized expert in the circular economy, firmly believes in the merits of this model for producing increases in gross domestic product (GDP) and new jobs while reducing global impact on the environment, including greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The circular economy is an economic model that seeks viable compromises between economic development and protecting resources and the environment, taking into account the finite nature of resources and planetary limits.
Toward this end, the circular economy aims to optimize the productivity of resources that are already present on the market in such a way as to reduce the need to exploit untouched resources. This a accomplished by analyzing the flow of materials at the value chain and territorial scale, along with the “circularization” potential, or in other words, the capacity for reinserting materials back into the economic system so that their final destination is neither underutilization nor a landfill site.
Better known in Europe and some Asian countries, this commercial model is slowly gaining traction in North America. This is an issue that the CÉRIÉC must face head-on by enlisting the efforts of more researchers, companies and governments in promoting this economic model from the perspective of sustainable development. In light of this, it is important to exercise patience, because the transition toward the circular economy is only in its infancy. Experts believe that it will take 15 to 20 years before this model becomes predominant and replaces the current linear model of extraction, consumption and disposal.
In the meantime, Daniel Normandin and his Assistant Director and right-hand man, Benjamin Laplatte, have plenty of work to do. Their goal is to bring together professors-researchers from a number of universities and fields of expertise to accelerate the development of knowledge and the competencies required for the transition toward the circular economy.
To achieve this goal, they will be organizing workshops with professors-researchers from ÉTS and other universities in order to develop an interdisciplinary research program. In addition, they plan to raise awareness among companies and governments with respect to the circular economy while mobilizing other practitioners in the field around this common project. There is even a webinar planned for this fall, which will be promoted on ÉTS digital platforms.
A number of living labs will also be organized over the next five years, made possible by a $2 million donation from Desjardins. These living labs will bring together all of the main stakeholders from a single value chain around the same table with a view to accelerating “circularization” and consulting “closed loops”. Through this approach, manufacturers, distributors, citizens-consumers, cities and researchers, among others, will be able to work together to develop solutions based on the circular economy. The sectors to be targeted by these living labs will include construction, renovation and demolition (CRD) waste, plastic waste and forestry, to name but a few.
For the researchers and engineering students at ÉTS, the circular economy represents an ideal sandbox for technological innovation. According to the Director of the CÉRIÉC: “By way of example, aircraft carcasses are piling up in deserts, like the one in Arizona, because we still don’t know what to do with the metal alloys that are used in fabricating them. The same holds true for numerous modern consumer goods, like cell phones. If a team of engineers could develop a technology that would allow for recovery of the original metals that went into the composition of these alloys, we could tap into a veritable gold mine of raw materials.”
The climate changes that we are currently experiencing have an impact on natural resources in the same way that world population growth has an impact on demand. We can no longer rely on the existing linear economic model. The circular economy may be our only hope.
“More than 90% of extracted resources either end up in landfill sites, dissipated into the environment in the form of pollution or inefficiently stored within the market. That has to change”, the Director concluded. He also pointed out, in passing, that we extract more than 100 billion tons of natural resources annually around the world, and that this number is expected to increase if things don’t change.
About Daniel Normandin, Director General
Daniel Normandin is recognized as an expert in the circular economy and a specialist in assembling research groups with an industrial interface, including the International Reference Center for Life Cycle of Products, Services and Systems (CIRAIG), the BIOPRO Research Centre and the NSERC Industrial Chair in Site Remediation and Management at Polytechnique Montréal. He holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from HEC Montréal and an MS in Biological Science (Environmental Biotechnologies) from Université Laval. He was Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Institut de l’environnement, du développement durable et de l’économie circulaire (IEDDEC – Institute for Environment, Sustainable Development and Circular Economy) on the Université de Montréal Campus (2014-2019), after being involved in the establishment and deployment of Quantis (2009 2014), an international consulting firm that specializes in life-cycle analysis. Daniel is a member of the Expert Panel on the Circular Economy for the Council of Canadian Academies, and the “Circular Economy Leadership Coalition”. He is also Co-Founder and has headed the Pôle de concertation québécois sur l’économie circulaire (Québec cluster on the circular economy) since 2015, and has been Co-Founder and Manager of the quebeccirculaire.org web platform since 2018.
About Benjamin Laplatte, Director of Operations
Benjamin Laplatte is a manager with solid experience in the area of public and government relations related to sustainable development and innovation, especially in the energy, climate change, mobility and land use planning sectors. He holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the UQAM School of Management and a Master degree in Oceanography (Ecotoxicology profile) from Institut des sciences de la mer in Rimouski. He has committed nearly 12 years of his life to organizations devoted to education and science (FEUQ-CNCS, ACFAS), the development of engineering practices (RéseauIQ, Polytechnique) and major changes to the industrial sector and labour market (Copticom, Conseil du patronat du Québec).
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