Circular Economy At Work in Kenya

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The world is changing fast, and the traditional business models that follow an almost “straight line to the rubbish dump” no longer make sense, says Karin Boomsma, project director of Kenya’s Sustainable Inclusive Business (SIB-K), a  knowledge centre.

SIB-K pushes for a new “circular business” model which recognises that natural resources are running short due to burgeoning human population growth and demand, and that more people and businesses can benefit if resources are valued and used more wisely instead of wastefully.

Many people still think of the “circular economy” mainly as a waste management and recycling strategy, but Boomsma says the economic opportunities are much more diverse. The circular economy encompasses broader concepts on how to rethink, redesign, reduce, reuse, repair, refurbish and remanufacture wherever possible.

She is adamant that the model cannot be mere window-dressing or corporate “greenwashing”, but must rather involve a fundamental restructuring of the global economy to phase out wasteful production, while also creating new jobs.

The Nairobi-based centre got off the ground in 2015, following a partnership between the Kenya Private Sector Alliance Foundation (KEPSA Foundation), the Dutch “new economy” group MVO Nederland, and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Kenya. Collectively, KEPSA and its affiliated associations represent more than one million businesses.

“At the moment, the linear economy is short and fairly destructive,” Boomsma commented, noting that current business models based on never-ending growth are not in harmony with nature. Nor do they guarantee “fair, just or decent jobs”.

She emphasised that SIB-K is not judgmental about the business imperative to generate profit, but points to the growing push from consumers that will drive corporate behaviour. One example of this is the massive consumer campaign against single-use plastic products and packaging.

“We are a neutral platform that works with the government, civil society, academia, businesses, start-ups, youth, and business experts with four focus areas: the circular economy, climate change, people power, and redefining business values.

“The circular economy is still quite a new concept in Kenya, but there is certainly appetite and I think we are going to see shifts quite quickly because a lot of businesses understand that there is an obligation around the corner that is driven by consumer push,” she explained.

“When we started seven years ago, people did not always see that push factor and some were just waiting to see what would happen. Now they are starting to act so that they can be ahead of what consumers demand and also remain relevant.”

She says the Kenyan government, through the Ministries of Environment and Forestry, and of Trade and Industrialization, are also making the circular economy possible by developing new legal and policy frameworks to ensure a smooth transition from a linear economy.

“Kenya is one of the leading circular economy hotspots in East and Central Africa and will provide a completely new system with tremendous opportunities for a future-proof society.”

Published by African Legal