The culture and arts industry in creating a circular economy

The winner in a circular economy is the one whose product is more popular than a regular product. Regardless of being a pioneer in the circular economy, Genelec is good at being the best in its field. What music lover wouldn’t want a set of Genelec speakers? Ecological sustainability is merely a wonderful plus here.

Why do anything at all that wouldn’t be miraculous, stunning and exceptionally great? Stunning stands out above the rest. Art, artistic vision and the creative skills of artists help companies become stunning.

The transition to a circular economy is a significant opportunity for Finland. Circular economy offers a way for Finland to strengthen its export-driven economy and employment. Creative content, such as cultural goods and creative know-how, is a policy for growth and employment that supports a carbon-neutral transition. 

Circular economy reduces the consumption of natural resources and the resultant CO2 emissions and other environmental impacts. Circular economy is not just about economics and technological solutions. The transition to a carbon-neutral circular economy requires a holistic change in both decision-making and planning in society, as well as the attitudes and behaviour of businesses, households and consumers. It has to be formulated to be lovely, something that is narratively important. So far, most people consider circular economy to be something that is boring and distant. How could we dress up this entity into inspiring actions that every industry could contribute to?

Intangible added value solves the problem of decoupling 

Economic growth must be decoupled from growing environmental damage and accelerating climate change. This should be done in such a way that the economy is able to grow while environmental damage is rapidly reduced. Circular economy promotes the decoupling of economic growth from the overexploitation of natural resources. Intangible added value is a crucial tool in this change. 

This idea has been condensed as early as the 1940s in the slogan “less is more” by architect guru Mies van der Rohen. Ways must be found to get “more from less”. Generate growth by making things smarter, more beautiful, more admirable, and, thus, more productive.

First, however, we must have a deep understanding of the value of material. Today’s materialism can be wise and beautiful. We need to know and want to cherish what is there. It is a question of the immaterial value of natural resources and tangible property. An understanding of why nothing should be discarded and destroyed, and to look for even “nutty” ways to preserve and dress in a new form.

The mother of a friend of mine from Ostrobothnia collected all the haystacks from her hometown in her own barn in the year in which Finnish farming switched from making haystacks to “tractor eggs”. I thought that this was the craziest hoarding that I’d ever heard of. Now I suspect that the old woman was actually wise: you never know what old haystacks could still be used for.

Cultural heritage and commitment to material

According to research, vibrant cultural heritage sites are a resource for the nature of their surrounding areas. The interest of local people and tourists in cultural heritage reinforces the desire to preserve the culturally valuable nature and the landscape, and to protect it from overconsumption. At the same time, the maintenance of cultural heritage sites prevents emissions, waste generation and material consumption when demolitions and new constructions are not required. 

It is cultural heritage work and cultural heritage education that help to tell the story of circular economy in a way that ignites emotions: love and local pride, knowledge and a sense of one’s own roots that one wishes to hold on to. As a species, we must want to preserve so that we can reuse and recycle. To give material new life and lives. Cultural heritage creates a connection to the timeline of history: there were times before us, and there will be times after us. For those who come after us, we want to leave something more than just a microplastic island in the ocean vortex.

As stated in the government’s circular economy strategy, the real estate and construction sector consumes about half of the resources of the global economy and produces about a third of its CO2 emissions, so its solutions, thus, have enormous potential. The design of the built environment plays a great role in the implementation of circular economy solutions. Preserving cultural heritage is part of this, as is improving the quality of construction through the artistic percentage principle. The involvement of artists in construction projects has also given rise to new, original products in the construction industry.

The new European Bauhaus

The Commission’s opening of the new European Bauhaus is based on an understanding in which, through architecture and design, we must create an ecological way of life that is attractive to us all. Finland has the opportunity to be one of the pioneers and creators, but it also requires investments in creativity. Bauhaus was a success precisely because of its interdisciplinary approach that created the spirit of freedom around invention.

A circular economy starts out with planning. In addition to traditional material design and energy efficiency, the starting points in Design for Circularity are recyclability and solutions that support longevity, upgradeability and remanufacturing. However, Finland can only move to a carbon-neutral circular economy when enough people are involved. The change must be pleasant.

Design of circular economy

Many internationally known Finnish companies compete, above all, with their high-quality design and the longevity, repairability and even resale value of products based on it. An ambitious extension of the Ecodesign Directive would support the position of these Finnish pioneering companies in their own markets. 

However, in addition to better objects, Finns also have tremendous know-how in service design. A great change needs to be formulated so that everyone can get along with the change and also accept the need for it. Circular economy must be formed so that it does not remain a distant and cold, tedious obligation, but becomes a practical and inspiring matter.

Ornamo ry, which promotes design, has recently published a business cycle and industry review of design, which shows a significant increase in the use of design in business in various sectors. If players in the circular economy wish to succeed in this competition, it is important to be original and also a pioneer in terms of design.

According to Ornamo, design is increasingly integrated into the operations of companies. 70% of design work is done in-house. According to the respondents, the main benefits of design relate to the improved quality, usability and quality control of products and services, as well as their appearance. Design has had a major positive impact on the competitiveness of companies, which has made it possible to increase market shares. The greatest obstacle to utilizing design is the lack of procurement expertise.

So let’s develop procurement skills. For example, hiring a front-line artist for the design process is unlikely to succeed unless he/she is offered the opportunity to work on his/her own work. For example, a dance artist can be hired to embody a product if his/her contract includes the opportunity to spend 20% of his/her working time making their own art. For artists, freedom is most important. 

Even if a product has some kind of eco-label, it may remain mediocre and lukewarm to most consumers. Think about which artist’s work has touched you and contact him/her.

Creative know-how in creating circular economy solutions

This also works the other way around: circular economy should be included in the roadmap for Finland’s creative economy. I propose that the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of the Economic Affairs and Employment, and the Ministry of Education and Culture prepare a joint Creative Know-how in Creating Circular Economy Solutions program.

Creative know-how is part of the roadmap for the creative economy, as it is the strategic increase of creative skills in any industry that can create intangible added value – and also create new solutions in the context of the circular economy. 

We know that robots and artificial intelligence will replace human labour in many areas. People will continue to need social skills and creative skills. An original, rule-breaking new creation is the core of making art that cannot be replaced by a machine. Art-based methods should, therefore, be integrated into all lifelong learning programs. Everyone can learn the tools and artistic methods of art and, thus, develop their own creative skills.

Craftsmanship and material understanding

What skills, services and products do we lack? The waste footprint of the textile and fashion industry is huge. The skills of the individual consumer to patch, parse and style up their clothes are absolutely key to the functioning of the circular economy in this sector. In addition, we require professional training for practical experts who know the materials and manual skills enough.

Spinnova is a good example of a company that is able to reuse fibres for top products in the textile and fashion industry. The key word is top: if you have a clumsily tuned product on offer that is almost like new, why would anyone other than a hippie buy it? When I was once excited about Globe Hope’s products, the reason was the surprise of the products and a new kind of female image, where gender is not massaged into your face, but the products still flattered the forms of one another. Globe Hope’s net sales are now EUR 3.7 million and it has grown by 229% over the last three years.

That is how, as a nation, we must also be honest with this: do we, in Finland, have all the necessary repair skills and craftmanship that a circular economy requires? However, digitalisation will not solve everything. 

On the vocational education side, those areas of education that provide information for repairing training have been lost all the time. We need to have adequate training in repair and fashion. Question: Do we have enough lines of vocational training to train practitioners in the circular economy?

Significant consumption

In addition to sustainable product design and service life extension, an important phenomenon that strengthens the circular economy is the servitization of consumer products. Digital services have already replaced most consumer goods, such as many music and image recordings, magazines and books. Thanks to digitalisation, the distribution of goods is much more efficient than before. That is why, together with the trade union for the service sector, we have suggested that Finland requires a strategy for growth and employment in the service sector. This also supports the rise of the circular economy.

The shift in the focus of consumption and production from goods to services is part of a carbon-neutral turn and, thus, the culture and art industry is a service-intensive sector that is on the right side of history. Goods and services need to be really specific and meaningful so that when consumed, they produce a sense of satisfaction, and one does not just spend, for example, saved euros on a trip to Thailand and fast fashion, which only creates a desire to consume more and more goods. That is why we need to take care of the quality of the circular economy. Only that which is stunning deserves access to production. 

The current accounts of European cultural goods are strongly on the positive side, and the sector is growing strongly. So, it’s going well.

Circular economy in the field of culture and art

The culture and art industry, as well as the events sector, can, themselves, improve their own circular economy. We also have practical challenges to solve. All business models in circular economy, services that extend the life of the circular economy, products as service solutions and distribution platforms must be utilised. These include, for example, repair services, digital content streaming services and mobility services. As some of these challenges relate to IPR rights, copyright organizations need to be involved in considering issues to be addressed in circular economy from the perspective of copyright law. Copyright is the basic structure of the creative economy, which cannot be scrapped. Copyright is also protected by the UN Convention on Human Rights.

The potential of the circular economy in the culture and art industry is also related to longer performance curves, reusability in sets and costumes, stage and auditorium structures, and the general degree of circular economy in the events sector. The goal in every sector must be to double the circular economy of materials by 2035. 

We are all part of the shift towards a circular economy. Do not make anything that is just lukewarm, but something that will endure time. Think of artist stars: movies, literature, music. Get inspired by them! Why be just a classic – when you can be a legend!

Rosa Meriläinen

Secretary General



Kulttuuri- ja taidealan keskusjärjestö KULTA ry on vuonna 2018 toimintansa aloittanut kulttuurin ja taiteen edunvalvoja. Järjestön tehtävä on parantaa kulttuurin ja taiteen yhteiskunnallista arvostusta ja taloudellisia toimintaedellytyksiä.
KULTA rf är kultur- och konstområdets centralorganisation. Vi arbetar för att stärka kulturens samhälleliga uppskattning och ekonomiska förutsättningar.
KULTA ry is a central organization for support and producer associations operating in the Finnish arts and culture industry. Its purpose is to advance the overall economic growth, operating conditions and social standing of the arts and culture industry.