An interview with Eva van Woersem, Deputy Ambassador of the Netherlands in Sri Lanka.
What is your role within the Embassy?
“The role of the Embassy is very diverse because we are involved in policy, economic affairs, water, agriculture, infrastructure, politics, human rights and cultural heritage. Also the circular economy is within our duties.”
What are the challenges Sri Lanka faces concerning Sustainability and the Circular Economy?
In Sri Lanka, awareness around the topic of sustainability is increasing. Especially in the creative and textile sectors, where a lot of companies want to get started right away. But becoming circular goes a step further than being sustainable. For example they use less disposable goods than in Western countries, but besides that the use of plastic bags is unprecedented, resulting in seas of plastic waste on the streets. The opportunity lies within the change of rules and regulations that promote circularity, but unfortunately the government lags behind, as well as consumer awareness. However, Sri Lanka is a country very sensitive to disasters related to climate change, and feels a strong sense of urgency to act proactively on this matter.
What opportunities lay in circular thinking? Particularly in the Dutch Conception of it?
The Embassy primarily acts as a facilitator. If we see opportunities, we try to establish connections, also concerning circular entrepreneurship. The Netherlands is already strong within this field and we see many opportunities in collaboration with Sri Lanka.
For example in its textile sector, a number of large, reputable companies produce clothing for high-end brands. These international companies receive worldwide negative attention about the amount of waste they produce and what needs to be changed, which reflects on the Sri Lankan suppliers. They are looking into innovations to recycle polyester as a solution. Sri Lanka must remain the frontrunner in this area to distinguish itself from countries such as China and India. Besides that, a number of things are happening in the agricultural sector in the field of sustainable farming.
How did the Embassy get introduced with CIRCO?
About a year ago, with the support of the Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland (RVO), an innovation partnership was established between the Dutch Embassy and the Academy of Design (AOD), which is a private institute in the field of sustainability and circular design. Through this partnership, we hope to establish connections, which the companies can follow-up themselves. As part of that partnership, we brought ten circular economy experts from the Netherlands, CIRCO was one of them.
How does the cooperation with CIRCO contribute to your own (circular) ambitions?
Besides the proposition of the Dutch knowledge about circular design in Sri Lanka, the collaboration helps to expand our business network and in establishing the Embassy profile. The workshops create great momentum to meet new potentials for our network as for maintaining existing partners.
How did the cooperation with CIRCO in Sri Lanka subsequently take shape?
The AOD has the ambition to become the Circular and Sustainable hotspot in the region. CIRCO wanted to strengthen its international profile, resulting in a perfect match. The Embassy facilitated the follow-up sessions, followed by an inspiring and extensive workshop with collaborative participants, conducting very important and impressive presentations. They also gave a mini CIRCO workshop for the employees of the Embassy to raise awareness and increase knowledge about the topic. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was then signed by AOD and CIRCO, and the first CIRCO trainers got certified.
What do you think is the power of the CIRCO method?
The method is hands-on and combines solutions that have both an environmental and a positive business impact. Making the world a better place by earning money, appeals to companies, especially since it is accessible and can be applied very easily. A few companies stood out during the workshop and got quite far with for example circular packaging, sustainable distribution solutions and the reuse of materials in their products. Many of these companies were engaged to go circular but explained that they had no control over the implementation.
What is your ambition in the field of circular economy?
The focus on the Circular Economy has increased, and the Embassy uses it as a cross-cutting philosophy throughout everything they do. AOD becoming a Circular hotspot here could have a spill-over effect on other sectors and the rest of the region. We hope and expect that the cooperation between CIRCO and AOD will be rolled out further. The Dutch Embassy will continually facilitate this collaboration.