Interview with Dr. Nicole de Paula: The lack of female voices at the table leads to a deeper crisis

Dr. Nicole de Paula is the founder of Women Leaders for Planetary Health and Inaugural Klaus Töpfer Sustainability Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, Germany. She was a speaker at parallel session 5: Sustainability, climate protection and resource efficiency in the health system. After the inspiring talk by Dr. Nicole de Paula about planetary health we asked her for a short interview to get more insights into her background and work. Find out more about the linkage of human health and ecosystem health and the important role of women in leadership roles:

During your talk, you stated that health solutions are not only found in hospitals or the health sector itself. Could you give an example in which way other sectors could contribute to health solutions?

De Paula: Human health is intrinsically connected to the health of our natural ecosystems. Although this seems logical, there is still little awareness in public health and within environmental experts about the importance of taking environmental determinants of health into account. New emerging infectious diseases, for example, can be prevented if we take care of nature, meaning combatting, for example, the climate and the biodiversity crises; empowering people in local communities to adapt to the negative effects of environmental change. I presented the concept of planetary health because I think this is a more integrative way to conceive sustainability solutions. The debate of circular economy deserves to discuss the co-benefits for human health, which is still weak.

You highlighted that women are not equally represented in meaningful positions yet. You have founded “Women Leaders for Planetary Health”. Can you briefly explain the idea of this platform and in which ways it contributes to developing women’s leadership?

De Paula: Have you ever seen a girl, or a woman hesitate to take center stage or to speak their mind, even if they have all the knowledge and legitimacy to do so? Women Leaders for Planetary Health (WLPH) is a network, knowledge, and advocacy hub that operates at the intersection between human and ecosystem health, focusing on gender equity. Our mission is to bridge the gaps between environmental and human health through gender-just solutions, ultimately influencing social and behavioral change for planetary health. By reducing the gap that remains for women in leadership roles, we aim to harness their voices to be able to influence just planetary health solutions, focusing on the Global South. We are unique because we are the first organization to concurrently focus on planetary health and gender equality, emphasizing the importance of acting on interlinked themes that remain tackled in a fragmented way: environmental and human health. WLPH addresses two systemic problems directly related to the SDGs: i) under-representation of women in leadership on issues of planetary health ii) and the dominance of businesses that disregard externalities causing dangerous environmental degradation. Both problems undermine key development and human health progress achieved in previous decades with a disproportionate impact on women. The WLPH digital community and capacity development hub breaks down borders and targets those who need it the most: women from the Global South. WPLH tackles inequality, discrimination, and dangerous environmental degradation. We do this by offering an empowering network and mentoring program that is combined with specific planetary health science knowledge. These resources enable us to harness the untapped potential of smart and creative women that would benefit hugely from being a part of a collective that is respectful, shares knowledge, and inspires women to lead with courage.”

Which is your take-home message for the ERF audience?     

De Paula: The lack of female voices at the table leads to a deeper crisis that tends to enhance rather than dismantle existing inequalities. By supporting women of all backgrounds to have an equal chance to get an education, make decisions, control resources, and shape policies, we can transform the world faster and leave no one behind, as aimed by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Importantly, solutions for the planetary crisis as well as gender inequity exist, but advocacy and empowerment are still needed to propel more women into positions of leadership. Only an integrated approach to crisis response, considering gender equality and a planetary perspective, can lead to a healthy and sustainable future.

Thank you for your answers, Dr. de Paula!

Conducted by Miriam Thiemann, University of Bayreuth, Germany

For those wanting to learn more about Women Leaders for Planetary Health, the website can be found here:

Voices from ERF 2020 participants

What is your main insight of today so far? Which message do you take from the forum?

“We need to consider the climate-resource nexus both in policy and in lifestyles.“

“The forum, in my view, sends out several messages: There is a lot that each and everyone can do to make lifestyles more sustainable without having to wait for others. Creating a level playing field internationally through the use of economic instruments, e.g. resource taxation, is important to encourage uptake and scale-up of circular business models.”

“It’s apparent from a number of different presentations just how outdated our classification/definition of wastes is, and it is very much hindering achieving a circular economy.”

“There will not be a golden bullet and we’ll need to rely on combining all the technologies (wind, solar, EV, green fuels, bioenergy, …) that are available to achieve net-zero, not just because of the scale of the ambition but also because many of the technologies we plan to rely on will add to the resource load of technology metals (and there will only be so many wind turbines and EVs that we can realistically produce).”

“We’ll make the biggest impact at the start of the chain, by designing products and services better. However, better design needs to go hand in hand with better behaviour to make it useful.”

“My main insight is that the experts exactly know the ways to reduce our resource use and so carbondioxide emissions as well, but politicians fail to implement these actions now. The message I take from the forum is that individual electric vehicles will be an impossible solution.”

“To be honest, I’m worried. It seems that the politicians are giving up. Just now the chair of the running session has mentioned, that NGO’s have to develop the policies for the discussed challenges. The NGO’s are working on these topics and they are earning their daily bread with it. They are important to create awareness but to develop policies they don’t have the democratic legitimation. What I mean, the NGOs can’t be objective on it. They will not balance .”

How do you experience the ERF in a virtual format?

“I find it very challenging in a virtual format, mostly owing to mobile working/home office including interruptions (e.g. kids coming home and requiring attention), which in a physical conference you would not have. Furthermore, there seems to be much less interaction possible despite submit question functions. Hence, it feels more frontal and input-driven.“

“My experience of the virtual platform: surprisingly pleasant, easy to navigate between sessions, the best virtual conference experience I’ve had since we’ve been confined to the virtual space.”

“I am okay with the virtual format. In fact the best virtual conference I have taken part and I’ve already taken part in many. But this one is so well programmed with the lobby and different rooms and stable connections. Very fine!”

Interview with Malin Pettersson-Beckeman, Head of Sustainability Communications & Engagement at IKEA

Malin Pettersson-Beckeman is Head of Sustainability Communications & Engagement at the Inter IKEA Group in Sweden. She was a speaker during parallel session 9: Sustainable lifestyles for the resource efficient and circular economy.

In your talk you have demonstrated a lot of improvements that IKEA was already able to implement like substituting meat balls with a vegetarian alternative and using more and more recycled polyester. Is IKEA still currently facing any challenges in offering sustainable products to their users? If so, which are those? Which strategies would/do help IKEA to overcome them?

Pettersson-Beckeman: Some of the areas that are key to support the IKEA transformation into a circular and climate positive business include increased availability of clean recycled materials and more harmonised legislation and common definitions supporting a circular society – such as making sure waste is considered a resource. We would also like to see an infrastructure that makes it easy for customers to repair, recycle and prolong the life of their products. In all these areas we are committed to working closely with decision makers across society. Within IKEA, we have created material roadmaps and circular design principles to help us reach our goals and have done a detailed assessment across the value chain and set ambitious goals to drastically reduce our climate footprint in absolute terms. Overall, we actively advocate climate action and the transition to a circular society.

Is there a topic you miss in the ERF forum’s agenda or in current political discussions about resource use?

Pettersson-Beckeman: It was a really good event, and a good agenda. We would say that in future the Forum could consider inviting even more businesses to join. In key related topics such as the biodiversity crisis and the role of nature in tackling climate change, businesses have a key role to play and are more actively taking part in the policy debate. These topics go hand in hand with the climate agenda and circularity, where the business community is already very active. Companies like IKEA recognise that now is the time to act and are helping to shape the strong momentum on these topics.

Which is your take-home message for the ERF audience?

Pettersson-Beckeman: Collaboration across sectors is needed to make sustainable living accessible, affordable and attractive to the many people. Sustainable living shouldn’t be a luxury for the few. By working together, we can make it the default option. It is a huge opportunity for the future.

Thank you for your time, Ms. Pettersson-Beckeman!

Conducted by Miriam Thiemann, University of Bayreuth, Germany

Parallel session 10: Resource efficient buildings, infrastructures and building solutions

Construction industry are resource intensive. 50% of resources used in various activities during construction are extracted from Earth. The industry cumulatively releases 40% of greenhouse gases and 50% of waste generated. Therefore it becomes important to tackle the vices in the industry for a green future.

The session was chaired by Alexa Lutzenberger. The first speaker Cédric de Meeûs, Vice-President, Group Public Affairs & Government Relations, spoke about reinventing the construction industry. The goal set by him was a net zero carbon industry. Shelter is an essential necessity yet 1.6 billion people in the world lack adequate housing. When looking at the solutions, resources that are flexible and efficient are the need of the hour. Policies framed that are needed for resource efficient construction should look into: material neutrality, life cycle performance and demand pull measures.

The second speaker was Hubert Rhomberg, Managing Director of Rhomberg Holding introduced the work of digital twin. The digital twin of the building is an AI based optimisation process considering several scenarios and parameters and also allows to extract exact amount of material and costs. It can be utilised by the people working on a new project saving their time drastically. A new funding model proposed in which a building is considered as a material bank and while dismantling all the material can be reused.

The third speaker Klaus Dosch, Director of Factor X talked comprehensively about three turnarounds in construction as energy, climate and raw materials. Each project needs to look into design, list of resources and dismantle manual. Each new building should have a Resource-Score, consisting of three components- climate-score, material-score and energy-score. The session concluded with a QnA answered by all the speakers.

Akshaya Paul, TERI University, India

Parallel Session 9: Sustainable lifestyles for the resource efficient and circular economy

Achieving carbon footprint reduction requires a change in energy sources, increasing building and appliance efficiency, and changing lifestyles. According to Detlef van Vuuren, Professor in Integrated Assessment of Global Environmental Change, Utrecht University, individuals and households adopting a sustainable lifestyle is the least considered option applied to climate prediction models.

However, studies show lifestyle changes, such as decreasing meat consumption, not only reduce emissions, but are also responsible for predicted reductions in water, energy and land use requirements, subsequently allowing for biodiversity restoration. Lifestyle changes are therefore integral to meeting ambitious climate targets and limiting global warming to below 2°C by 2030.

Dr Lewis Akenji, Executive Director of SEED, highlighted the need for personal carbon footprints to reduce to 3 tonnes by 2030. Industrialised countries such as Finland, currently at 10.4 tonnes per person per year, will need to reduce by more than 70% to achieve the goal, whilst China, at 4.2 tonnes per person per year, will only have reduce carbon emissions by 30% per person.

However, challenges to achieving sustainable lifestyles exist in the ‘layers of influence’ surrounding personal needs. Uncontrollable factors relating to personal situation and socio-technical conditions predetermine how lifestyle needs are met, and so act as barriers to changing them. Akenji further held brand owners, the power players in production systems, responsible for influencing consumption. Targeting brand owner habits and increasing understanding of where power hotspots lie in industry, alongside institutional change, will allow progression towards lifestyle change.

Speaking last in the highly engaging lecture, Malin Pettersson-Beckeman, Head of Sustainability, Communications & Engagement at the Inter IKEA Group, demonstrated how IKEA are answering calls for brand owner responsibility. The brand has taken considerable steps to achieving a goal of becoming climate positive and inspiring and enabling 1 billion people to live healthy and sustainable lives by 2030. They aim to do this by becoming circular, and making sustainable products and services both affordable and attractive to as many people as possible.  IKEA are starting to design every product from the very beginning to be repurposed, repaired, resold and eventually recycled, sourcing 97% of their wood from FSC certified sources and working to develop bio-based glue.

The overriding message is that individuals and companies must work together to integrate sustainable living into daily life, that is accessible to all, and contributes to a circular economy. However, government policies must also be put into action to strengthen sustainable approaches and optimise the adoption of future measures to considerably improve carbon footprints.

Rachel Fishman, University of Bristol, UK

Plenary Session III: outlook and next steps

What a day! The European Resources Forum 2020 has come to an end, but I am sure its results will stay in our heads for a while. The closing session was coined by the thought that civil society plays a very important role in achieving resource efficiency and that, of course, includes every single one of us.

When thinking about policy decisions and their impact on communities, we must not forget those communities in the global south who are directly involved in material flow processes. Our economy has to be modelled in a way that enables every community in the world to be resilient in the wake of crises and ensures social stability. Dr. Ashok Khosla, member of UNEP International Resource Panel, reminded us that there are two sides of the important term “sufficiency”: What has been discussed a lot during today’s conference is sufficiency as a maximum, meaning our ability to limit our consumption to what we actually need. Resource efficiency, however, also has to do with sufficiency as a minimum, ensuring that every human being has enough resources to lead a healthy life.

To this end, non-governmental and civil society organisations, social enterprises and think tanks need to be strengthened so they can successfully assume their vital role as powerful actors in policy making. At the same time, we need to rethink our economic system in a way that fulfils our basic needs and equally respects planetary boundaries.

The ideas of paving the way towards a green economy while not leaving anyone behind have also been reflected in our fellow student reporters’ contributions live on stage. I think I can speak for all of us student reporters when saying that this conference with its rich and insightful discussions has strengthened our belief in a sustainable future. Share your impressions from the conference with those around you and make sure to check into this blog over the next days for exclusive interviews with both panellists and participants!

Have a good rest of the week and stay safe.

Rebecca Harms, University of Erfurt, Germany

Parallel Session 11: The international dimension of resource efficiency- Policies and best practice examples from all over the world

Dr. Detlef Schreiber of GIZ GmbH, Germany, the Chair of this session, introduced the audience to MoniRess, a collaborative project partnership between UBA (which is the German Environment Agency) and GIZ (Deutsche Gesselschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit) which surveys countries on a global scale and monitors international development policies and raw resource policies amongst other things. This session was all about looking beyond Europe, particularly towards the East, the necessity of international cooperation and systemic learning from each other. A poll was posted in the beginning in which it was asked of the audience to choose how much percentage of the world’s countries they think have resource efficiency policies in place. 57% of the audience voted for 25% of the world’s countries to have such a policy into place but surprisingly, Dr, Schreiber informed us that about 75% of the countries have such a policy into effect to varying degrees in the form of waste management, circular economy and policy of manufacturing segments. The Indian speaker, Dr. Khosla, said that to better foster international policies, the European Resources Forum could have a convention to which the panel could report back to, as is the case with the UNDP and UNFCCC.

We start off with Russia with Prof. Dr. Olga Sergienko from ITMO University, who talked about indicative characteristics such as adoption of UNEP SDGs, strategy characteristics such as waste management and climate change and about institutional support, and the need for documnetation of best available techniques, and circular economy reforms. Russian example of waste management policies and practices was highlighted where the territorial waste management as well as ban on waste disposal containing useful components were key aspects and food waste reduction within the food supply chain was stressed upon. Dr. Sergienko stressed upon scientific research, awareness of consumers and increasing interest in business ciruclar models as areas to focus on going forward.

In the Indian context, we are illuminated on the resource efficiency/circular economy policies and approaches by Dr. Ashok Khosla, a member of the UNEP International resource Panel, who says that India’s resource productivity, despite being a developing country, is increasing and not bad in comparison to China and Germany. He expounds on the fact that the country being people rich and resource poor, it had already had to effect into place laws and regulations for resource efficiency as early as 1958. One of the key players of bringing about a change in the resource efficiency and circular economy system has been the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who have contributed, and continue to contribute, significantly to land and water management, energy provision for cooking and lighting, reycling, construction material innovations. Development Alternatives, founded by Dr. Khosla in 1983, is a good practice example of the construction material innovation use in that the building of his organisation has been built using 50% of recycled materials and used foundry slag, fly ash, etc. as materials as well. In collaboration with the Swiss Government, they have come up with a first new cement in 200 years, LC3 which is a very good low carbon building material. Dr. Khosla closed his session by saying that “Efficiency is meaningful only if it is built on sufficiency” and “Resource productivity is meaningful only if it raises human productivity and well-being as well”.

From India, we moved on to China which is the third economy to include circular economy laws after Germany and Japan, Prof. Dr. Bing Zhu, Director and Professor of the Institute for Circular Economy, stated. The Chinese policy has three main components of industrial recycling system, urban recycling system and resource recycling industry. It also has an ‘evaluation indicator system of circular economy’ in which the good practice example of Industrial Parks (IPs) in China were taken. Within the circular economy, such industrial parks would be key to resource efficiency implementation and sustainable development by the three parameters of circular transformation, establishment of eco-industrial parks and pilot projects of national low-carbon industrial parks, in-short, a circularity of circular economy, green economy and low-carbon economy. The circular economy policy is also reported by Dr. Zhu of supporting China’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2060. He was most enthusiastic about plastic policy collaboration between China and Europe.

Lastly, Ms. Chika Aoki-Suzuki of the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, presented to us the case of Japan’s circular economy policies. ‘Policy for sound material cycle society’ which has been in effect since 2001 has the fundamental approach of 3Rs i.e. reduce, reuse, recycle coupled with renewables, alongwith various indicators, investment guidelines, labelling to help effectively implement the policies laid out. One of the fundamental measures introduced into this policy was the measures for marine plastic. Material flow in Japan has seen an increase in circular usage rate and reduced waste productivity and in turn, increased resource productivity. Public-Private Partnership (PPP) is also an important incorporation for the effectiveness of a circular economy policy and it brings under its belt initiatives such as Plastic Smart and CLOMA (Japan’s Clean Ocean Material Alliance). Two best practices examples that she has highlighted are those of UNIQLO’s measures of recycling their own products and Kao and Lion, a toiletry goods company, that is to be commended for its efforts at recycling material and packaging redesign.

Reported by: Shelly Debbarma, The Energy and resources Institute, India.

Parallel session 7: Resource efficiency and circular economy indicators and targets.

The session started with Barbara Bacigalupi, Policy Officer, Directorate General for Environment, European Commission. The general idea was about monitoring progress on circular economy in the EU.

Moving from linear to circular economy requires a systematic change across the economy. Hence there is no one circularity indicator. 10 individual indicators were identified covering 4 main groups:

*Production consumption

*Waste management

*Secondary raw material

*Competitiveness innovation

By doing so, the entire loop of circular economy has been covered, capturing the main circular economy elements. Some suggestions on how to improve the EU monitoring frame work by 2021 were also mentioned.

Prof. Dr. Hans Mommaas Director, Netherlands Enviromental Assessment Agency gave some insights on how in the Netherlands they are trying to handle the complexity of monitoring and evaluating the circular economy. He also mentioned the critical elements target setting, the indicator sets and stakeholdernetwork. To conclude he mentioned the faced challenges like availability of data of private sector for instance, and creating comparable data across countries.

Dr. Melanie Haupt Institute of Environmental Engineering, ETH Zürich, Switzerland talked about the waste disposal indicators and their applications as well as the national target settings for waste management.

Dr. Philip Nuss from Section Fundamental Aspects, Sustainability Strategies and Scenarios, Sustainable Resource Use, German Environment Agency, highlighted the development of science-based target. The general idea was that it is necessary to provide industry and governments with targets for orientation on sustainable resource use. The footprint-based indicators and targets can be integrated into management. Besides, Proxy targets allow learning starting with today s knowledge informed by science considering context.

Naoures Hmissi, ELTE university, Budapest Hungary.

Parallel sessions 1: Resource efficient and circular design- from niche to mainstream

The session started with Harri Moora from Stockholm Environment institute who pointed out the most important elements when it comes to policies that should support transition toward circular economy and design. These elements are :

  1. The whole life cycle of clean and clear material
  2. Design and production
  3. Policies that support long use and consumption of products
  4. High quality of recycling to allow the clean and clear material to enter product cycle
  5. Well-functioning waste material

However, there are not enough legal pressure on consumption side. There is a lack of developed legislation mainly voluntary instruments like public procurement. This is the biggest gap of the circular policies.

For the future, the new circular economy action plan will take into consideration the approach looking on the previous gapes and barriers.

He ended up by saying that “understanding the political and legal system is amongst the essential skills if you want to be successful in circular design”.

Aino Vepsälainen from design forum Finland and Ronja Scholz from technical university Berlin, talked about the importance of design for the circular transition and product and service design. To talk about circular design, we should also take into consideration sufficiency and consistency. The idea is to keep every single product and component of the material in its highest potential of the value. Products are used as long as possible, maintained, recycled and therefore, they need to be designed differently because all these procedures need different handling.

Aino added that If a product is supposed to be mainstreamed it also has to be attractive, appealing and to bring value to the customers. That cannot be achieved without good design.

Joan Prummel from Rijkswaterstaat Environment, The Netherlands, said that the aim of the design in the system is to influence the use phase by creating the proper product that can be used as long as possible and also influencing collecting and recycling industries by using the right material. A product is circular when we arrange it to be circular, designed in the right way. So, design is as important as other domains. However, a product is not circular by design but by our own behavior and what to do with it. Behavior enables circular economy.

Naoures Hmissi, ELTE university, Budapest Hungary.

Session 8: Global implications of a country’s water footprint-the case of industrialized countries

Most of the consumed goods that are daily consumed come with a water footprint (flowers, milk, meat), 6000L/d are consumed by a person every day.  This consumed/polluted water, supply chains of products, organization, or nations:

-Blue water: Ground and surface water (« loss » from river basin by evapotranspiration, product integration, or discharge in other basins or the sea).

-Green water: rainwater (« loss » is due to evapotranspiration of rainwater by plants).

-Gray water: polluted blue water (measured by the required volume of water to dilute wastewater).

In order to explain the water footprint of Germany and its impact on the world, Mr. Jonas Bunsen mentioned the importance of combing the global hydrogeological data with input-output (EE-MRIO) analysis in helping us to approximate and to investigate the water footprint of Germany in the world.

Dr. Masaharu Motoshita from his side showed that 60% of Japan depends on other countries for 60% of the total demand of freshwater, while all of the overconsumption occurs in other countries, especially the developing ones, that irrigation water demand is critical in overconsumption, but other industrial activities also matter and that small amounts of overconsumption in some watersheds can not be disregarded in the context of local sustainability of freshwater.

Reported by: Hana Ben Mahrez, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest