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Stefan Metzger appointed new Managing Director

Nicolas Bürer, Managing Director of digitalswitzerland, is leaving the initiative at his own request as of January 2022. His successor is Stefan Metzger.

Zurich, 23. December 2021 – Nicolas Bürer, Managing Director of digitalswitzerland, is leaving the initiative at his own request as of January 2022. His successor is Stefan Metzger, who for the past 13 years has been responsible for the Swiss operations of the IT consulting company “Cognizant”. Diana Engetschwiler, Head of the Swiss Digital Day, becomes Deputy Managing Director and succeeds Sébastien Kulling, who is moving to the digitalswitzerland Foundation.

After five successful years as Managing Director of digitalswitzerland, Nicolas Bürer will be taking a new professional direction. Bürer will leave the initiative as of January next year. Bürer joined the organisation as Managing Director in 2016, which has expanded nationwide under his leadership and now counts 240 organisations as partners. Last year, Bürer was also responsible for the operational merger with “ICTswitzerland,” the umbrella organisation of the Swiss ICT industry. The goal of digitalswitzerland is to position Switzerland as a global leading digital innovation hub.

“I sincerely thank Nicolas for his commitment to digitalswitzerland,” says President Sascha Zahnd. “He has successfully developed the initiative and transformed what was once a regional vision for Zurich into a nationwide and now even global movement – putting us in a solid position for the future. For his next professional chapter, I wish Nicolas nothing but the best and I am pleased that he will continue to support digitalswitzerland in an advisory capacity.”

The management of digitalswitzerland will now be taken over by digital expert Stefan Metzger. Most recently, Metzger was responsible over a period of 13 years as Country Managing Director for the Swiss operations of the globally active IT consulting company “Cognizant”, which serves major clients from the banking and finance, insurance, life sciences and pharma, as well as retail and consumer goods sectors. Metzger has been involved with digitalswitzerland for a year and was a member of the Executive Committee.

“A country’s digital competence and innovative strength are becoming central to any country,” says digitalswitzerland Founder and Ringier CEO Marc Walder. “With Stefan Metzger, we are gaining a proven expert in the field of digital transformation, especially one with global experience. digitalswitzerland has grown to become Switzerland’s most relevant initiative in the past six years. Stefan Metzger will help drive this development further.”

Diana Engetschwiler, Head of the Swiss Digital Day, which was launched five years ago, will become Deputy Managing Director of digitalswitzerland at the beginning of 2022. She succeeds Sébastien Kulling, who is moving to its supporting digitalswitzerland Foundation as Managing Director. Over the past four years, Kulling has been instrumental in expanding digitalswitzerland in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.

Media contact
Eliane Panek
Director of Communications
digitalswitzerland
+41 76 559 07 70
eliane@digitalswitzerland.com

The planned amendment of Ordinance 2 to the Labour Code should have enabled managers and skilled workers in so-called knowledge professions to work in a more self-determined and flexible manner. Unfortunately, the present consultation draft misses this goal completely: It is a fake solution, without any actual contribution to more flexible working.

Statement (only in German)

Press release (in German)

Press release (in French)

At the Swiss Digital Day, all population groups should come into contact with digitization so that they can strengthen their level of participation in the digital world. The Digital Transformation will be experienced in all its various facets; this applies to both the opportunities and the risks. The focus, however, will be on strengthening skills for the digital future. All activities during and before the Digitaltag serve this goal. Discuss, learn, experience and discover.

Read the full press release in German, French or Italian.

Learn2Leap is a self-paced learning programme, which features practical insights from leading academics and innovation experts in order to help you to initialise and advance collaborative innovation in Switzerland. Learn more about the programme and how to sign up by reading the full article.

Today’s challenges can be extremely complex and to find creative solutions, we need to bring different organisations together. As the Swiss platform for multi-stakeholder innovation, Leap enables organisations to harness the power of collaboration to create value for the economy and society. Teamwork is the key. But what does it take to get the most out of it? Read on to find out.

Two megatrends leading towards a Switzerland of the future – the interplay of circular economy and digitalisation

A joint whitepaper by digitalswitzerland and sanu durabilitas

Circular economy (CE) and digitalisation are the two megatrends that are shaping the 21st century, influencing the way economy, society and the environment develop and interact. For a long time, these two trends have been seen as divergent or even conflicting. On the one hand, our world is becoming more and more digital. Digitalisation saturates and changes almost every aspect of our lives. And on the other side, it is becoming ever more apparent that the way we live and do business is having a negative impact on our planet. It is obvious that we cannot continue as we have so far; we need more sustainable development in all areas of life. This whitepaper explores the ways in which digital technologies could become key enablers of the circular economy, bringing important benefits to companies, consumers, and the environment. While this potential remains largely untapped, possible ways to bridge the gap between theory and practice are also discussed, particularly when it comes to developing innovative solutions, supportive policies and framework conditions.

The transition to a circular economy is both a necessity and an opportunity to create stable long-term economic, social and environmental benefits. Circular economy and digitalisation are increasingly being studied, developed and adopted by a growing number of academics, policymakers and companies. Although some stakeholders are beginning to make the connection between these two innovative approaches and explore them, they are still mainly treated as separate fields. This creates a knowledge gap between the theoretical potential of linking CE with digital technologies and the expected but largely unrealised potential in practice.

For this reason, this whitepaper aims to understand the links between these two megatrends, highlighting the challenges and opportunities that could arise from their convergence. It presents how a sector that is a priori considered as an issue can be integrated instead as part of the solution, with digital technologies enabling CE by improving the collection, organisation and analysis of data and information, helping companies by increasing flexibility and optimising processes. The analysis is enriched by exploring such links in the current European and Swiss policy fields, presenting case studies of enterprises that are already putting into practice such connections and highlighting collaboration opportunities to engage in the further development of CE.

As two recognised organisations in the fields of circular economy and digitalisation, digitalswitzerland and sanu durabilitas decided to join forces to develop this whitepaper, answering to issues identified as central for the future of Switzerland.

1. What is Circular Economy and why does it matter?

An image showing six circles in a straight line. Each circle contains an illustration of the label below. The labels read from left to right: Source, Refine, Produce, Sell, Use and Dispose.

Today’s conventional understanding of the economy relies on a so-called linear system, often described as “take-make-waste”. This model implies an ever-increasing extraction of natural resources, demand on energy and labour and the disposal of massive amounts of waste – resulting in impacts along the entire value chain (e.g. CO2 emissions, biodiversity losses and social impacts). It fails to recognise the high economic, environmental and social costs associated with the extraction, processing and disposal of resources and must therefore be regarded as unsustainable in the long term.

A concept quickly gaining momentum in the research and policy fields as a solution to the issues mentioned is circular economy (CE). The core idea of a CE is to maintain the value of products, materials and resources in the economy for as long as possible and to minimise the generation of waste, pollution and emissions through eco-design and the development of new business models. Overall, CE offers a set of strategies to contribute to sustainability, in particular by helping reach the Sustainable Development Goal 12 (Sustainable consumption and production), established by the United Nations, mitigating and adapting to climate change, and protecting biodiversity. CE promotes sustainable development in all its dimensions, fostering cooperation and partnerships among a wide range of stakeholders.

This image is a progression of the image above. Arrows lead from the far right circle labelled "Dispose" to all other circles, showing that they are or can be connected.

2. Digitalisation as enabler of Circular Economy

The transition to a CE applied to all product categories and sectors can create real and far-reaching opportunities to build an innovative, prosperous and sustainable economy for decades to come. Yet, this potential remains currently largely untapped. One of the main reasons for this is the lack of tools and access to information¹, which are fundamental to implementing circular business models. 

Illustration of two a male and a female read person looking at a trash can overflowing with electronic waste.
On average, the total weight of global electronic and electrical equipment consumption increases by 2.5 million metric tonnes per year – which produced 53.6 million metric tonnes of e-waste in 2019 (of which 82.6% not treated in an environmentally-sound manner) (Forti et al., 2020)

If, on the one hand, home appliances and electronic products are part of the problem, on the other hand, integrating digital technologies can be part of the solution. Indeed, information and communication technologies allow for an increased interconnection among actors at all societal levels. They can increase and improve collection and analysis of information, facilitating network creation and promoting flexibility. Digital technologies can support companies in becoming more innovative and competitive, making them resilient to new challenges. The transition of many companies towards digitalised models has been recently observed as a response to the Covid-19 crisis and is expected to help overcome other challenges in the future (such as optimising agriculture and making it more resilient to climate change²). With the above characteristics, digitalisation presents a strong potential to help achieve CE and thus get a step closer to sustainability goals. Opportunities come with risks that have to be taken into account and cared for, such as data-misuse, privacy issues, cyberattacks, and others³.

For circular business models to work, data, information and knowledge about material flows are needed. This includes information about what products are made of and in what quantities, where they come from, where they are located, what their state and quality are, etc.

On the manufacturing side, for example, transparent access to data can inform about processes throughout the value chain (e.g. resource consumption of a product, usage details, end-of-life treatment, product condition, etc.), making it possible to optimise the product lifecycle using smart solutions to reduce resource consumption, energy use, logistics routes, and waste production. Digital technologies can also help improve product design and attract target consumers. Such optimisations not only contribute to circularity and thus sustainability but can also decrease the companies’ costs. On the customer side, digitalisation can simplify and automate the provision of technical support and maintenance. Moreover, digital technologies can distribute ownership and knowledge across different levels of society, promoting the development of more connected and durable relationships with customers and end users⁴. This can be done by enabling sharing models and product-service systems⁵.

Illustration of a male and a female read person looking at two stacks of blocks of different sizes. The smallers stack reads 1970, the taller stack is three times the size of the smaller stack. It is labelled 2018. This image visualizes that the global material consumption has tripled since 1970.
Global material consumption has more than tripled since 1970 (OECD, 2018)

Digital paths to a Circular Economy

There are different ways how digitalisation can enable CE, which require different digital technologies. “Collect” and “understand” (I & II) form the necessary starting point that makes the other paths 1. to 4. possible.

I. Collect

Because of the global reach of value chains and the variety of stakeholders involved in them, collecting data is a necessity for improving transparency and thus generating the necessary set of data for circular business models to work. Thus, digital technologies such as sensors, chips, QR codes and barcodes are essential for tracking and tracing of materials and products along the value chain, and providing data about the time, location and quality of the scanned item.

II. Understand

Once all the raw data is collected, digital technologies are needed to integrate and make sense of it. Innovative systems such as big data, cloud, fog and edge computing allow the data to be aggregated and contextualised to prepare it for further analysis. Once the data is processed into information, data analytics technologies can give it meaning by transforming it into knowledge upon which decisions can be made. To do so, techniques such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning combine the data with insights and foresights.

1. Connect

CE involves a variety of stakeholders and products along the entire value chain. For this reason, digital technologies play a central role in building networks by connecting data, devices and partners. 

Indeed, technologies such as distributed ledger technologies (such as blockchain) can register transactions between different stakeholders along the value chain, making knowledge highly available and transparent. 

Digital materials / products passports can connect and present all collected data about the origin, durability, composition, reuse, repair, dismantling possibilities, and end-of-life handling of a material or product. The digital product passport gives each item a unique ID so that it can be identified and information about its properties is readily available.

Also, thanks to the Internet of Things, devices can be connected within and to users: Internet connection allows devices to share real-time data, coordinate and optimise their functioning (e.g. the coffee machine turns on when the alarm goes off) and allows users to monitor and control the appliances remotely. Through online platforms, digitalisation simplifies the connection between different and distant partners, and enables relationship building and knowledge sharing with stakeholders on the other side of the world.

2. Create

Innovative technologies allow transforming production into a more participative process. Online platforms make it possible for consumers to help shape the product they purchase, making it more closely tailored to their needs. They can also facilitate access to local products and stakeholders in the production process by connecting consumers with local producers. Moreover, technologies such as 3D printing distribute manufacturing by bringing consumers closer to the origin of their products.

3. Optimise

By collecting and understanding data along the entire value chain, artificial intelligence and machine learning can be integrated into electrical and electronic devices to automate part of their function and optimise processes. Applications for this include automated manufacturing processes, sensors and machine learning to optimise the use phase (e.g. matching energy and detergent to the amount of laundry in a washing machine), or robots for optimal waste separation. Digital technologies that optimise the use phase of products make it possible to extend the life of products, a central strategy of CE.

4. Virtualise

Moving activities from the material world to the virtual world can allow dematerialisation of the economy and, ideally, decreasing resource demand. This can also be seen in a larger sense through sharing models and product-service-systems, where digital technologies can simplify the transition from products to services (examples are car sharing, which is made possible thanks to online applications and digital sensors, or the virtualisation of rooms, which removes the necessity to use physical rooms by allowing instead to organise full events and conferences online).

Illustration of a minimalist city scape. The image shows three people standing together, a tree with a bird in it, a skyscraper, a single family home and a car.
Today, global human-made mass (such as buildings, plastics, etc.) exceeds all living biomass (Elhacham et al., 2020)

3. Challenges hindering digital technology-aided CE

Besides opportunities that digitalisation can provide to CE, there are also some challenges that make the implementation of digital technologies more complex and decrease their sustainability potential.

Technological challenges 

Coupled with the complex and innovative character of circular business models, a missing interoperability between different technologies, a lack of infrastructure and a general risk aversion make it less likely for stakeholders to experiment in the fields of CE and digitalisation. Moreover, many actors are reluctant to embrace digitalisation for fear of security and privacy issues⁶.

Policy challenges

A general challenge of both digitalisation and CE are their ambiguous definitions⁷ and the existing gap between theoretical knowledge and their actual implementation⁸. 

Besides, the definitions and the norms that accompany these two innovative approaches are often shaped by private stakeholders. This can create conflicts or inconsistencies with public norms and legal framing coming from governments. Developing a coherent framework with consistent definitions within a process that involves a wide variety of actors is therefore important to benefit from all the opportunities that digital technologies can create for a circular economy.

Globally, 2.01 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste are produced annually, with at least 33 percent of that not managed in an environmentally safe manner (Kaza et al., 2018). Switzerland, with 709 kg of municipal waste generated per person in 2019, was Europe’s fourth biggest waste producer (Eurostat, 2021). 
Sustainability challenges

Another critical challenge of digitalisation is that, depending on how it is implemented, it can bring adverse effects on sustainability and therefore counteract circular economy goals.  

Indeed, digitalisation is sometimes used by producers to increase consumption through planned obsolescence. Moreover, the rise of digitalisation can lead to increased demand for electronic devices, increasing in turn resource consumption and waste production. Energy demand is also expected to increase. Depending on the energy mix used, this could cause negative impacts on the environment. 

One of the main issues of digital products is their need for rare minerals (and in particular of scarce rare earths) and the complexity of treating them at the end-of-life. Even though digital devices are mainly consumed in industrialised countries, the mining of primary resources and the treatment of e-waste are often delocalised to developing countries, where they have significant social and environmental impacts⁹.

Another risk associated with digitalisation are rebound effects: as already mentioned, the optimisation of processes could decrease final costs, which in turn could motivate more consumption, negating the benefits enabled by digital technologies¹⁰.

a male and female read person standing around a disc that looks like a flat version of planet earth. Above the disk is a weight that reads "100 billion tons" to symbolize the weight of materials entering the global economy every year. To the right is a weight in red with a white cross to symbolize Switzerland. The weight reads 87 million tons and represents the weight of materials entering the Swiss economy every year.
100 billion tonnes of materials enter the global economy every year (Circle Economy, 2021), of which 87 million tonnes enter the Swiss economy (Empa, 2021)

4. The need for guidelines and clear frameworks

Digitalisation can have a positive or negative impact on the development of sustainable CE depending on how it is implemented. Specific measures and framework conditions are therefore necessary when making CE and digital technologies converge.

One fundamental element, however not the only one, for a coherent and sustainable development of digitalisation and CE is the establishment of clear legal frameworks and guidelines. They are important for the standardisation of products or parts, as well as for providing reliable definitions and metrics in view of the future developments of these concepts. Institutions at different levels of governance (e.g. supranational or national) can define rules and targets to ensure that the market develops in a way that is beneficial for society, the economy and the environment¹¹.

A male read person sits on a small stack of three differently colored and patterned squares. Below it is the number 2015. To the right is a man standing besides a larger stack with 6 differently colored and patterned materials. Below the stack is a figure that reads 2060.
Under current trends, it is expected that global material extraction would double by 2060 compared to 2015 (OECD, 2018)

Developments in the European Union

From a conceptual perspective, digitalisation must be seen as a means to an end of a circular economy and not as an end in itself: innovation has to be done to solve existing concrete issues and not for the simple sake of it. This applies in the same way to a circular economy, which must be seen as a means to achieving sustainability. Doing so can help set the right path to integrate the two principles from the outset and to develop innovative business models in the right way. In order to be sure to have an effect from the implementation of digitalisation and circular economy, it is important to implement a thorough assessment of the potential to minimise environmental impacts along the entire value chain. This can be done, for example, by systematically applying impact assessment methods (such as Life Cycle Assessment, carbon footprint, or greenhouse gas protocol) to estimate possible adverse effects¹².

In the past, policies concerning CE and digital technologies mainly targeted the issues linked to hardware (i.e. the physical parts of electronic devices) – tackling for example eco-design, planned obsolescence, and repair possibilities. However, policies are now evolving to also include digitalisation as an opportunity, promoting its innovation and its role as enabler of CE.

The European Union represents a good example of such policy progress: over the last years several directives and strategies combining CE with digitalisation have been developed.

Two people look at two stacks of blocks. The block to the left consists of two equal sized squares featuring the flag of the european union. The stack on the right consists of three squares. Two of them are equal in size, the top one is much smaller. All of them feature the Swiss flag. Above the stack hovers a red number. The number reads 110%.
Switzerland’s material footprint was equivalent to 110% of the European average between 2000 and 2012 (EEA, 2015)

Indeed, how to make Europe greener and more digital were recognised by the European Commission as the two critical challenges of our times – deciding to target them as the main priorities between 2019 and 2024. This was done through two leading initiatives: the European Green Deal and the Digital Strategy.

The Green Deal contains a variety of points highlighting the central role of digital technologies in supporting a green transition, while at the same time pointing out the need to avoid adverse effects from digitalisation. 

From left to right: Illustration of a bald person with glasses trading stocks on an ipad-like device. Next to that person is a female read person grilling a steak. A large gray cloud if smoke rises above the grill. Next to her on a blue block is an illustration of a male read person in a cap watching the grill. Next to them is a Car, front facing the grill. A person is looking out of the window and a big cloud of exhaust fumes comes from the car. Above the scene is a circle that represents the planet and the number: 1.1°C
Until 2020, human activities caused 1.1-degrees of global warming (IPCC, 2018)

Under the European Green Deal, a number of resolutions targeting European SMEs, consumers and future CE developments were adopted between 2020 and 2021. These texts propose several actions tackling CE and digitalisation, such as: 

The Digital Strategy complements and overlaps with the Green Deal by setting rules that ensure a safe development of digital technologies while respecting the climate-neutrality objectives. It also provides financial support to make digital technologies accessible to European businesses and citizens¹³.

The actions proposed by the leading initiatives are expected to develop into legislation with binding power. Indeed, the Commission is looking into the possibility to amend existing directives (e.g. the Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Directives, the existing consumer protection legislations, etc.) or propose new stand-alone legislation. Such propositions should be presented in the following months¹⁴.

Despite binding regulations that have yet to be defined, it is obvious that the European Union is taking important steps forward in setting the ground for a sustainable and digital future economy, targeting all the different facets of these innovative models.

Why is this relevant for Switzerland?

In 2018, 60% of the goods consumed in Switzerland came from Europe, making it one of the most important trading partners. To maintain a competitive advantage, Swiss companies have a strong interest in adapting to the European policy progress¹⁵. Swiss stakeholders also have an interest in following policy developments in the European Union, as it is easier for them to be inspired and emulate such developments at the Swiss level, as the way is already paved, rather than having to “reinvent the wheel”.

Developments in Switzerland

In recent years, Switzerland has made important progress in the field of CE. In fact, since 2017, there have been many parliamentary interventions targeting this topic. In line with these developments, the Parliament is now developing an initiative for the development of CE in Switzerland, with the goal of including the efficient use of resources and an improved end-of-life treatment of waste in the Environmental Protection Act. 

In 2019, there were also several interventions on the topic of extending the life cycle of products, calling for clearer information on the expected life and repairability of products, prolonging warranties, improving access to spare parts, and tackling programmed obsolescence. The Federal Council will answer these demands by presenting a draft act, subject to developments of the European law.

Like the European Union, Switzerland also has a digital strategy¹⁶. Yet, despite the demands in recent parliamentary interventions, the latest 2020 strategy does not address the link between CE and digitalisation, CE is not even mentioned.

Recently, an interpellation directly linking circular economy and digitalisation was deposed by Adèle Thorens Goumaz – representative at the Swiss Council of States (Greens), demanding for clarity on how Switzerland is going to move forward concerning material and product passports.   

Clearly, Switzerland is lagging behind compared to the developments in the European Union when it comes to developing a clear framework for a sustainable and circular digitalisation. Future developments in Switzerland should get inspired by the many policies at European level. It is hoped that the next digital strategy will finally consider the convergence of CE and digitalisation.

Illustration of two female read people looking at a factory with exhaust fumes coming out of its chimney. In front of it is a pile of trash, consisting of a piece of meat, an oil barrel and squares representing different types of materials. Below is an image of a crossed out water tap.
The extraction and processing of resources into materials, fuels, and food represent half of global greenhouse gas emissions production, and is responsible for more than 90% of biodiversity loss and water scarcity (IRP, 2019)

5. Pioneering circular business models

There are many compelling reasons for companies to integrate the principle of the circular economy into their business models. Currently, this market model is still lived with restraint, but there are exciting initiatives already underway in Switzerland that are certainly worth mentioning.

Swisscom’s Buyback Business

The use of electronic devices is part of our everyday life. Naturally, e-waste is constantly increasing¹⁷. With its Buyback Business, Swisscom is giving mobile phones and tablets a second life and combating the rising number of electronic waste. To do this, Swisscom has partnered with Recommerce Solutions Switzerland. Together they offer a circular solution for all commercially registered companies in Switzerland, including non-Swisscom customers via their commercial platform. An online platform facilitates the exchange of information between customers and service providers. Any owner of an old mobile device can simply share information about its condition with Swisscom, which can then develop an offer.

Not only fully functional devices are considered, but also damaged ones, as these still hold value. Thanks to certified software, all data is deleted entirely and securely once devices are sent to the Recommerce Solutions Switzerland processing center. There the devices undergo a thorough check-up to define the remaining value resulting in offers to the selling parties. The organisation selling old devices has the choice of either receiving the agreed payment or donating the amount to SOS Children’s Villages. In other words, Swiss Companies can benefit monetarily themselves or use it to help others while contributing to a more circular Switzerland.

Eon & Microsoft: digital product passport for fashion

Eon’s Internet of Things (IoT) platform is another great example of a circular business model. Aiming for exactly the opposite of “take, make, waste,” Eon is leveraging digitalisation to redefine the business of fashion.

The circular business model of Eon’s IoT satisfies the needs of today’s digitally-oriented customers for an entire industry. The New York-based tech startup aims to tag each piece of clothing with a digital ID. This digital twin is generated by Eon’s IoT platform. Thanks to the clothing’s ID, they become connected products, and brands or retailers can build relationships with their customers that last a very long time, because the data gives them new insights into customer demand. The connected products platform is also built to provide additional services such as rental, resale, peer-to-peer exchange, and recycling, to name a few.

But how does all this data become accessible? When Eon creates a product on their platform, each piece of clothing receives a digital birth certificate and product passport. This gives clothes a label – similar to the tag we already know, which gives us information on how to wash an item – with an embedded tag, such as a QR Code. This code makes it possible to track the lifecycle of, say, a pair of jeans or a jacket. The collected information is stored and summarised in a product dashboard on Eon’s IoT platform. A digital ID, and with it, this platform, allows fashion industry players to track and retrieve clothing so that it is not “lost” after the sale. Eon believes that being able to track and monetise the lifecycle and current value of a piece of clothing can lead to less environmental and economic waste. Microsoft plays an important role in this, with Microsoft Cognitive Services enabling the collection, sorting, and storage of every record. Eon’s circular approach to the fashion industry can be a leading example for other industries as well.

Madaster Platform: a central register for building materials

Madaster’s mission is to reduce waste in the construction sector by giving building materials an identity. They believe that with an identity, the material cannot go to waste. That’s why they created a central register – a digital library – of materials: The Madaster Platform. Aiming for a circular economy, Madaster supports all real estate and construction stakeholders in their transition.

Among other innovative organisations, Raiffeisen Schweiz, SBB, Swiss Prime Site AG, and Swiss Re AG are on board and will contribute significantly to the development of the Madaster Platform in Switzerland.

The platform is designed to store, manage and share material data such as quality, origin and location, as well as their circular and financial value. Based on this, Madaster can create material passports containing information on all parts of a building. The insights gained help evaluate the reuse potential of real estate. The Madaster platform is a service provided to various stakeholders in the real estate and construction industry; from designers and architects to construction and demolition companies, private real estate owners and governments. The platform creates value in five areas:

  1. Design: When designing a building, the platform can help architects and designers to consult their clients in choosing circular materials.
  2. Construction: Construction companies can consult the platform to search for used material which they can buy in the right quantity at a fair price.
  3. Use: Instead of depreciating the value of a building to 0 or even below, it can be depreciated positively, representing the reuse value of all the materials in that building. Thanks to Madaster, the material flow during the building’s use is fully tracked – data that supports multiple uses of those same materials. 
  4. Dismantle and Sales: Madaster also supports deconstruction companies. By helping with inventory when a building is demolished, it supports the resale of materials.
  5. Reuse: Providing detailed material information, Madaster supports business models that follow a reuse philosophy. The central register fosters and simplifies the use of digital marketplaces. Thanks to detailed information long before the material becomes available again, supply and demand can be matched.

With all this information, Madaster believes in making the recycling and reusing of material simpler. Building scraps should no longer go to waste, but can be reused. With the introduction of their material passport, they are using digitalisation to enable a circular economy in the construction and real estate industry.

On Running introduces rentable running shoe

Subscriptions to streaming or mobile services are widely popular. Even grocery boxes are delivered to our doorsteps, and with this, the list of possible subscriptions is not conclusive. On Running offers a circular system that is not so different from other subscriptions. With their new Cyclon running shoes, they introduced a zero-waste product that no one but On will ever own. The circular and fully-vegan shoes are only available by subscription. Users pay a monthly fee and once the shoes reach the end of their current life cycle, the subscriber can request a new pair and return the current pair of shoes for recycling. The shoes are roughly designed to last six to nine months, so subscribers can exchange their Cyclon twice a year.

On Running is breaking new ground with the material used, as they are replacing synthetic plastic with bio-based plastic, which is derived from the beans of a castor bean plant. One of the material’s benefits is that its resource regenerates naturally. Also, unlike other agriculture resources, the castor plant grows extremely well in a meager landscape. This is beneficial because growing castor beans does not reduce the amount of land needed for farming. On top of that, all parts of the Cyclon are made from the same material family, which makes recycling easy. In one piece, the shoes can be returned to their raw material, from where they are given a new life in the form of a new pair of Cyclon running shoes.

With this circular approach, On Running leads the way towards becoming a more sustainable retailer and setting an example for other industry players. At the same time, On encourages consumers to throw away less and rent instead.

6. Call for Collaboration: the ecosystem approach

Engaging in innovative multi-stakeholder ecosystem approaches can help create synergies and address the challenges of CE and digitalisation to achieve  a more sustainable future. To do so and avoid undesirable negative impacts, cooperation among actors is needed to further develop innovative business models and favorable policy frameworks that drive sustainable development.

Collaborative Innovation with Leap

The Leap platform a digitalswitzerland programme aims to bring together diverse stakeholders from the Swiss ecosystem who share sustainable challenges and exchange ideas on possible solutions. The joint goal is to develop concrete innovations that contribute to solving the challenges addressed.

This year, as part of a workshop series, Leap addressed sustainability challenges and innovation potentials with a special focus on Circular Economy and Decarbonisation. Such workshops support the exchange of perspectives and knowledge on sustainability and digitalisation, creating an open forum for stakeholders. The implementation-oriented approach of Leap enables new ways of collaboration on sustainability through innovation and project management support, communication and the digitalswitzerland network. Participating stakeholders drafted ideas on how smart digital technologies such as the Internet of Things can contribute to the transition towards a circular economy in Switzerland. Here you can find these initial project ideas that have been co-created.

Do you want to participate in our workshops to co-create more ideas on how to leverage digitalisation to create sustainable business models? Join us here for the upcoming workshops on tourism, food & retail systems aiming at delivering forward looking solutions! 

Leap is currently working on the WISER flagship proposal for Innosuisse, which focuses on streamlined sharing of knowledge on decarbonisation efforts with the co-creation of digital services. Against the backdrop of the Paris Climate Agreement, we are taking a closer look at the ambitious net zero goals that Swiss organisations have set for themselves.

“With the WISER flagship, we intend to address and solve two transversal challenges that need to be considered on the way to a net zero Switzerland: simplifying the analysis and exchange of data on GHG emissions from various stakeholders to then  enable more efficient, informed & automated actions to tackle climate change.”

Didier Beloin-St-Pierre, Scientific Lead from Empa

The initiative counts private companies, cities and research institutes as partners who will jointly design use-cases to implement the proposed solutions. 

These are just a few examples of multi-stakeholder innovation projects yet about to start. If you are interested in getting involved or want to address the challenges of the digital age, do not hesitate to contact Leap. Whether to learn more about the platform, or discuss a pressing challenge in your industry, there are many opportunities worth considering. Find a starting point and the network you need to get started. Find all the information you need here

Knowledge transfer with sanu durabilitas

Circular economy and digitalisation are topics that are constantly evolving and consequently reveal over time innovative and complex new angles in which they can be analysed and understood by different actors. In this context, sanu durabilitas organises roundtables as part of the Circular Economy Switzerland Movement, designed to start the conversation on complex topics. The idea of these events is to bring together a variety of practitioners who are not normally involved in the CE domain and who usually do not collaborate with each other. Gathering a number of key players around a table to discuss pioneering CE topics allows them to move away from the “silo mentality” and stimulate the development of new collaborations. Such discussion can provide the impetus to innovative ideas that can then result in political engagement and business initiatives. 

Roundtables are held with a group of selected actors involved in the field under discussion to develop meaningful conclusions. These conclusions are collected and summarised in take-home messages to deepen the discussion and also begin the conversation with a broader audience.

Another project applying a collaborative approach is the Circular Innovation Ecosystem Sessions. This project, organised by sanu durabilitas thanks to the support of Innosuisse, aims to close the existing knowledge gaps between science and business in the domain of CE and to foster the transition from theory to implementation.

The first Circular Innovation Ecosystem Session addresses the complex topic of methods for measuring and evaluating a circular economy. The event wants to face this challenge by merging theory and practice. More information on the event and on the subscription can be found here.

Authors

Nils Moussu
sanu durabilitas

Martina Rapp
sanu durabilitas

Stephanie Tauber Gomez
digitalswitzerland

Eliane Panek
digitalswitzerland

Melanie Holenweger
digitalswitzerland

Notes

1 Kristoffersen, E., Blomsma, F., Mikalef, P., & Li, J. (2020). The smart circular economy: A digital-enabled circular strategies framework for manufacturing companies. Journal of Business Research120, 241-261. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2020.07.044

2 Healthy agriculture regards food production as a biological cycle of natural resources. Circular economy strategies help make our food and agricultural sectors more resilient and sustainable. For more details see: https://circular-economy-switzerland.ch/arguments/?lang=fr

3 Seele, P., & Lock, I. (2017). The game-changing potential of digitalization for sustainability: possibilities, perils, and pathways. Sustainability Science12(2), 183-185. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-017-0426-4

4 Antikainen, M., Uusitalo, T., & Kivikytö-Reponen, P. (2018). Digitalisation as an enabler of circular economy. Procedia CIRP, 73, 45-49. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.procir.2018.04.027

5 The key idea behind product-service systems is that consumers are provided with the utility of the products, instead of the product itself. By using a service to meet consumers’ needs rather than a physical object, more needs can be met with lower material and energy requirements. (For more details see: https://docplayer.net/331811-The-role-of-product-service-systems-in-a-sustainable-society.html)

6 Antikainen, et al., 2018.

7 Kristoffersen, et al., 2020. 

8 Pagoropoulos, A., Pigosso, D. C., & McAloone, T. C. (2017). The emergent role of digital technologies in the Circular Economy: A review. Procedia CIRP64, 19-24. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.procir.2017.02.047

9 Pohl, J., & Finkbeiner, M. (2017). Digitalisation for sustainability? Challenges in environmental assessment of digital services. INFORMATIK 2017. https://dx.doi.org/10.18420/in2017_199

10 Itten, R., Hischier, R., Andrae, A. S., Bieser, J. C., Cabernard, L., Falke, A., … & Preist, C. (2020). Digital transformation—life cycle assessment of digital services, multifunctional devices and cloud computing. The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 1-6. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-020-01801-0

11 Osburg, T., & Lohrmann, C. (2017). Sustainability in a digital world. Springer International. https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/978-3-319-54603-2.pdf

12 Konietzko, J., Bocken, N., & Hultink, E. J. (2020). A Tool to analyze, ideate and develop circular innovation ecosystems. Sustainability, 12(1), 417. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12010417

13 For more information on the intended measures and fields of action: https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/europe-fit-digital-age_en

14 The whole process has been delayed because of Covid-19.

15 PwC and WWF (2021). Circularity as the new normal – White paper. Future fitting Swiss businesses. Zürich: PwC, WWF. Available at: https://www.wwf.ch/sites/default/files/doc-2021-01/Circularity-as-the-new-normal_whitepaper-EN.pdf

16 Swiss digital strategies have been published every two years since 1998. They contain action plans and specific measures to tackle the development of digitalisation in different sectors, such as education, infrastructure, security, political participation, economy and environment. The focus of the environmental measures has been mainly on energy and mobility.

17 https://www.bafu.admin.ch/bafu/en/home/topics/waste/guide-to-waste-a-z/electrical-and-electronic-equipment.html

digitalswitzerland and sanu durabilitas logos

Climate change remains the greatest unresolved challenge, but the efforts made possible by new technologies can become game-changers. It is therefore no surprise that both digitalisation and climate have become the two decisive driving forces of our time. Using new technologies to protect the environment, reduce CO2 and achieve climate neutrality is crucial.

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, this very topic took centre stage at digitalswitzerland’s WEF Breakfast event, which was held on 22 January during the WEF 2020. We hosted a session on “Tech for Climate” in cooperation with UBS. Renowned experts shared how technology is leading us to new climate change solutions. Guests began arriving at the UBS branch in Davos well before 7 a.m. and the room quickly filled up.

Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer advocates a pragmatic way forward

The event was kicked-off with opening speeches by Sergio P. Ermotti, Group CEO of UBS Group AG and Marc Walder, founder of digitalswitzerland.

“Technological solutions and advances offer great opportunities to combat climate change. They also offer major investment opportunities”, Ermotti stated.

In the opening statement of Federal Councilor Ueli Maurer, he called for more facts, more innovations and a pragmatic legislator. He acknowledged that climate change will demand long-term efforts, the question is how the challenges of climate change can be tackled. In his view, Switzerland has everything it takes to be successful and to make a valuable contribution. “Ultimately, we must see ourselves as a team – as Team Switzerland”. 

“Tech for climate” was discussed by a high-ranking panel consisting of a pioneer, a startup, corporates and an investor, who had a lot to share:

Going beyond awareness and using existing solutions to protect our environment

“Clean technologies exist to protect the environment. The good news is: they have become profitable. It is not science fiction. It is not the future – it is the present. If a company was run today the way the world is run, the CEO would be in prison. In the fields of water, energy, agriculture and industry we already have everything we need to halve CO2 emissions without any additional innovations”, the visionary and global pioneer Bertrand Piccard declared. Solutions must be pulled to the market and not just pushed forward. This requires the support of the government. Regulations are needed for the threats we face. His strong concluding remarks were: “Today, in most parts of the world and in most sectors, it is more profitable to protect the environment than to destroy it. The people who do not understand this are either ignorant, so we have to inform them, or selfish, and we have to oblige them.”

Investing in clean tech can make a difference

According to Sabine Keller-Busse from UBS, climate change is more than just a trend. Banks and financial institutions can play an important role. Where the money flows, innovation can be turned into reality. “At UBS, we are already actively using technology to positively impact climate action, and I expect exponential opportunities in the future for tech in this field“, Keller-Busse added.

More than just mitigation and elimination

“Science has concluded that even if we do everything we can to reduce emissions, there are still about 15 billion tonnes of C02 that we need to remove from the air every year by mid century if we want to be able to restore global warming to 2 degrees or even 1.5 degrees. We have already gone too far, so we need more than just mitigation and elimination”, Jan Wurzbacher, CEO and Founder of Climeworks stressed. Despite the alarming words of the entrepreneur, he concluded his address on a positive note: “I am fascinated to see how quickly the technology can be scaled and be part of the solution to this challenge we are facing”.

Not without economic pressure

Gina Domanig has been investing in “Tech for Climate” for many years as Managing Partner of Emerald Technology Ventures. These technologies have been around for over 20 years. The problem is the market. “Today we are experiencing a shift that either regulations are being introduced or being threatened because many large companies are not quite so altruistic. They will not shift their core business to cleaner technologies to save the world – they have to be under economic pressure to do so.

Together we are stronger

Cedrik Neike, Member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG and CEO Smart Infrastructure summed up that the fight against climate change is essential, it is crucial: “We need to work together with startups, with investors and with financial institutions. In other words, we have to create an ecosystem to address the problem. No one can do it alone. Switzerland has a huge opportunity to contribute to this.”

Stop talking, start acting

At the end of the event, Ivo Furrer, President of digitalswitzerland, echoed the main message of the panel discussion and summarised that we must not only talk about these environmental issues, but also take action.
While WEF 2020 is still ongoing, we are already looking forward to the next edition of our WEF breakfast with inspirational contributors.

Covid-19 has accelerated digital transformation, changed working habits and threatened livelihoods. In fact, it has accelerated trends that were incipient and slow to take off before the pandemic. Now, more than ever, with scarce resources and threatened business models, companies should be building capabilities and a dynamic workforce. Lifelong education is an integral part of keeping people active and skilled.

The business case for re-and upskilling

There is a great business case to be made for re-skilling and upskilling people, or as one expert called it “retraining and redeploying” rather than firing. Beyond the humanist arguments that must be taken into account, as a rule of thumb it costs one-third of an annual salary to make a person redundant and manage the subsequent change process within the organisation. To recruit with headhunters can cost another 20% of an annual salary or more, depending on the position and the company. That is just cash out.

If the adage “Time Is Money” is worth anything then it is a no-brainer to try and retrain staff. Retraining and redeploying costs much less; no payouts, no runway needed to high performance. Employees that are retrained remain in the company and already have organisational knowledge, fit into the culture and can hit performance at speed. Particularly as online, mobile, short and long courses are widely available and not necessarily costly.

Changing job functions

As technology is deployed, job functions tend to change. Whereas pre-Covid companies were implementing technology at a sedate pace, now this has accelerated dramatically as companies try to keep their business sustainable. This is having effects on each worker, as automation can deal with routine functions, whereas humans can respond to the more complex issues

In the job arena, one example of much faster processes in with artificial intelligence (AI), which can scan millions of job descriptions in a short time and is therefore able to change job taxonomies quickly. Before this, job experts took ten years to review and change job taxonomies. More and more companies are using AI to analyse and chart their employees’ progress through different job areas; not enough are using the know-how that AI could offer to transfer and upskill people.

A moral and ethical conundrum

While the discourse is that humans have to be at the centre, the pace of change is such that humans risk begin laid by the wayside. The only way for this not to happen is to ensure that every single person in the working world, employed or not, can have access to lifelong learning that is appropriate, accessible and adds value to a professional profile. Organisations must become more flexible in the way they move people across jobs to retain existing knowledge and create new applicable skills that serve both the individual and the organisation. It is only by a joint effort by all players that jobs will be retained and business supported.

Boost Programme |co-financing digital training

The Boost Programme for SMEs aims to support the acquisition of digital skills by Swiss workers. The programme covers up to 50%, or a maximum of CHF 1,000 of the costs of digital training and lifelong learning per applicant. Apply today. This Programme is made possible by digitalswitzerland, the Gebert Rüf Foundation and the Hirschmann Foundation.

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IMD recently published its World Competitiveness Yearbook 2020. First published in 1989, the study uses benchmarking, statistics and data on economic, political, social and cultural dimensions to analyse and rank countries’ abilities to achieve long-term value creation.

After years of consistent improvement, Switzerland has moved up the ranking to third place – particularly encouraging given that this study takes such a holistic view of competitiveness factors.

Future success factors

I believe that Switzerland has much to offer in our times of volatility and uncertainty. But even more important in my view is to consider what we can do to build on existing strengths and position Switzerland in an increasingly digital/hybrid future. Here, I explore how Switzerland is performing based on four competitiveness criteria.

Infrastructure

Switzerland is a nation of engineers. Our winding roads, breath-taking bridges and dense rail network are the envy of many a larger country. So it’s no wonder that Switzerland once again has a podium position in IMD’s ranking for the criteria infrastructure. But what kind of infrastructure should we be building now in readiness for the future?

Already, we understand the importance of digital aspects like fast and reliable fibre-optic broadband and wireless hotspots in rural areas. If smart cities are to become a reality, digital infrastructure will need to keep pace. Switzerland is making a concerted effort to build a future-proof network with stakeholder buy-in from government, telecommunications companies, electricity providers, cable operators, landlords and the public.

For me, infrastructure also includes non-physical aspects like a robust legal framework for digital activities, and strategies to ensure data integrity, sovereignty and security. We need to take a proactive approach to ensure our legislation does not lag behind technological developments.

Health

Switzerland’s health system enjoys a global reputation. As a country, we spend a higher percentage of our GDP on health than any of our bordering neighbours. And we’re the only ones to have increased spending significantly (by around 15%) over the past decade.

I believe that our excellent healthcare reflects other strengths in Switzerland: we’re the life sciences hub of Europe, meaning that cutting edge research and development is happening on our doorstep. We attract the brightest minds from around the world, and some of them naturally find their way into our healthcare system.

Looking forward, I would like to see greater digitalisation of patient data and records as a way to enhance communication between players in different healthcare settings.

Education

The Swiss education system is much lauded for its dual focus on academic and vocational tracks. It’s a recipe that has worked for many years. The quality of Swiss education has been singled out in various studies as exceptional, including in various WEF Global Human Capital Reports.

I believe that we need to capitalise on this outstanding quality and maintain it as educational needs and learning formats shift. Here at digitalswitzerland, we’re vocal supporters of #LifelongLearning. Our children will work in new professions like Ethical Technology Advisor, Personal Content Curator or even Robot Liaison Officer. Some will have job titles we can’t yet even imagine.

Today’s workforce will also have to upskill and adapt to new digital tasks and novel ways of working. And SMEs and multinationals alike will have to embrace change and empower their people to move with it. New learning formats and an explosion in the number of online courses will revolutionise the breadth and depth of learning opportunities. Let’s ensure Switzerland leads this revolution.

Economy

Having said in my introduction that it doesn’t all boil down to GDP, I think it’s important to note the strength of Switzerland’s economy. We have fantastic global trade links – partly because we’re an attractive location for international organisations, but also because we cultivate innovative home-grown business.

Particularly impressive, however, is the way we manage public finances. Switzerland’s national debt pales in comparison to that of its peers in Europe and around the world at around a third of GDP. As public spending reached new heights due to COVID-19 bail-outs, Switzerland is one of the few countries that won’t be devastated by this unpredicted financial expense.

Going forward, I have confidence in our political system to make decisions that balance the needs of our economy, health and individual businesses. In our turbulent times, this is a key resilience factor.

What’s next?

At digitalswitzerland, our mission is to position Switzerland as a leading innovation hub. I’m consistently impressed by the agility and adaptability of stakeholders in Switzerland’s ecosystem – not least during the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

Switzerland has many of the strengths needed to build resilience in a digital/hybrid future but it’s important to continue our progress. In cooperation with Wissensfabrik, we recently developed a whitepaper outlining five ways of how digital transformation can be continued.

I believe the foundations are in place and it’s up to all of us to build a future that benefits all.