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Slovenia takes a pivotal turn towards circularity

Slovenia has decided to actively combat climate change by transitioning its entire economy towards circularity. The Slovenian government is kickstarting this unprecedented shift by participating in Deep Demonstrations, led by EIT Climate-KIC.

Multiple Slovenian ministries and local stakeholders from businesses, industry, research institutions, and local communities are taking an active role in the process, learning from each other and working together to become fully circular. 

Slovenia may be one of the smallest European countries, but their ambition to fight the climate crisis is inspiring. Circularity is one of the key elements of a sustainable global future and the Slovenian government has decided to take radical steps to make it central to their economy. Thanks to its unique features, this Mediterranean country can serve as a testbed for climate innovations that can be scaled in other locations.

In November 2021, the Slovenian government signed an agreement with EIT Climate-KIC to participate in the Deep Demonstrations of Circular, Regenerative Economies, a programme that aims to introduce circularity by activating a coordinated portfolio of innovation actions in key economic sectors and selected value chains. Since then, the Slovenian government has articulated its vision of “Slovenia as a European leader in harnessing circularity to transform and decarbonise its economy while fostering a green economy and designing and promoting the smart and circular transition of local communities through a coordinated and coherent national approach based on local needs and international best practice”.

Slovenia has taken on an unprecedented challenge of coming to the fore in Europe’s fight against climate change. The country has decided not only to introduce the principles of circular economy, but also to adopt a systems approach. Transforming a system requires knowledge, capabilities and capacity. To reach circularity by mid-century will also involve critical structural and exponential changes that must occur both rapidly and simultaneously on multiple fronts. So now is the time to step out of our comfort zone and start sharing our best practices, break down the silos and amplify our successes to deliver this ground-breaking change. 

Bart Stegeman, Slovenian Orchestrator of the Circular Economy and Value Chains Transformation at EIT Climate-KIC 

The Deep Demonstration process in Slovenia applies a cross-sectoral and cross-disciplinary approach to work across boundaries, silos and departments to build partnerships with a range of stakeholders (from local communities and businesses to academic institutions and policymakers) and focuses on creating an accessible, open platform for knowledge transfer.

A portfolio approach to transform the entire system

The three-and-a-half year project has two phases, running firstly from November 2021 to June 2022 and subsequently until June 2025. The first phase was aimed at establishing relationships with local stakeholders and identifying their needs. The objective was to move away from incremental solutions and to create and implement a portfolio of strategic, coordinated innovative interventions that will have a strategic impact on the entire Slovenian economy.

The Slovenian government and a variety of stakeholders started by collectively mapping their activities in the climate context. EIT Climate-KIC facilitated a series of activities such as training and capacity building sessions on circular economy for policymakers and capacity building workshops on systems innovation and circularity topics. Challenge owners (governments, local authorities, city mayors) had the opportunity to learn practitioner perspectives through case studies from other countries or organisations facing similar challenges to spark inspiration and new insights.

The participants identified foodforestrymobilityconstruction, and manufacturing as five key supply chains that can be simultaneously transformed from three overarching dimensions: EntrepreneurshipPolicy and Education.

The goal is to impact all five value chains in these three dimensions one by one to achieve real transformative change across the whole system. The process includes sensemaking and constant feedback loops, which help the next stages and enable future replication to other European locations and contexts. Another key element of the project is to find a balance between addressing the concrete and actual needs of ministries while focusing on the longer-term climate challenges that might not be visible yet, but will impact the citizens in the future.

Transformative pillars to accelerate systems transformation

The Deep Demonstration focuses on systems innovation and creating a portfolio of interventions that will serve as a vehicle to drive Slovenia’s national transformation to a circular economy. Using the research and stakeholder input from the first phase, in the second phase of the project, these portfolios will be created sequentially for each area (i.e., a selected value chain or sector) to focus initially on a smaller portfolio before being combined into an overall portfolio of interventions.

The Slovenian government, together with EIT Climate-KIC will work on a portfolio that consists of:

  • Enhancing capacity building in systems innovation and circularity thinking to build a deeper systems mindset across a spectrum of stakeholders and further develop knowledge of systems innovation practice.
  • Developing a Policy Lab to enable policy experimentation and pilot innovation actions in the public sector. The Lab will aim to create a ‘sandbox’ environment where policymakers and stakeholders can collaboratively design, prototype and test innovative policies to promote the transition to a smart, circular and low-carbon economy and society. The architecture of the lab will draw on lessons learned from best policy practices.
  • Supporting research and academic institutions in the transition to a circular economy, as they are vehicles for knowledge transfer in society. The Deep Demonstration team is working with the Ministry of Higher Education and Science jointly with all Slovenian universities to create action plans for new strategies to incorporate the systems innovation and portfolio approach and the use of sensemaking tools to create shared knowledge. The goals are to make the circular economy and sustainability topics more visible in curricula, to encourage collaboration between different higher education institutions on climate-related projects, to manage circular knowledge between science, higher education, public institutions and the business sector to cover innovation capacity and competence building in climate-related areas and to encourage experimental projects in both higher education and science.
  • Developing a funding strategy and investment plan to unlock the potential of portfolio activation. With a balanced financial architecture, multiple funding mechanisms could be integrated into the portfolio to accelerate the outcomes.

Combining these interventions into a portfolio helps identify and understand interdependencies, causes and effects, unexpected consequences, obstacles and barriers to transformation, potential multipliers, change dynamics and ways to scale. Learning and decision making then take place at each level of the portfolio and across levels.

For more information, read this interview with Bart Stegeman.

Thanks to these continuous efforts to aim for carbon neutrality, the cities of Ljubljana, Kranj and Velenje were selected by the European Commission to join its Mission on Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities and will receive extensive support from NetZeroCities, a platform led by EIT Climate-KIC that will enable 100 European cities to learn from one another and support each other on their transition to net-zero. The other selected cities include Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Madrid, Malmö, Milan, Lisbon, Frankfurt and Kraków. The full list of cities is available here