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The Circular Economy: Redesigning our Planet’s Future

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Circular Economic Model

Think about the last item you threw away. Did you consider where that product ended up, once you threw it away?

The Earth’s growing waste problem can be traced back to a culture that treats virtually every item we buy and own as disposable. Rapid urbanisation, population growth, and industrialisation are key contributors to the burgeoning volumes of waste that humans are producing each year.

But what if there was away to get around that?

Introducing the Circular Economy

Today’s post from BlackRock highlights the key benefits of adopting a circular economy, and examines the factors that will make the biggest impact in the years to come.

Circular Economy

A Culture of Consumption

Mass production is making products cheaper, more readily available, and more readily disposable, bringing levels of material comfort unimaginable to previous generations.

Companies are making new products at a frenetic pace to keep up with global demand─consuming finite resources as if the Earth had an infinite supply.

The intense effects of this mass consumption are visible across multiple industries:

  • Construction: Construction waste alone is expected to reach 2.2 billion tonnes annually by 2025.
  • Fast Fashion: Roughly 87% of clothing is discarded or burned each year, costing US$100 billion.
  • Plastics: Over 95% of plastic packaging value is wasted every year, costing up to US$120 billion.

As natural resources decline and waste continues to pile up, our society is at a crossroads.

A Tale of Two Economies

Today, most of the world follows the Take-Make-Waste practices of the linear economy, with little regard for future use of these resources and products. Unfortunately, most of this ends up in landfills─by 2050, we could be producing 3.4 billion tonnes of waste each year.

The circular economy, by contrast, is focused on redesigning our systems, processes, and products to enable goods to be used longer, repurposed, or recycled more efficiently.

The circular economy is a major transformational force that will last decades…investors are increasingly considering sustainability factors when making investment decisions.

—BlackRock

Companies and governments that choose to adopt a circular economic model could end up saving €600 billion (US$663 billion) annually─and potentially add €1.8 trillion (US$2 trillion) in additional benefits to Europe’s overall economy.

Designing a Better Future

Three major factors are driving the gradual, global shift to a circular economy.

  1. Economic

    Companies will need to switch from wasteful to sustainable practices, and many are taking steps towards a better future. The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment was signed in 2018 by over 400 organisations to eliminate plastic waste and pollution.

  2. Regulatory

    Regulations such as bans on single-use plastics and international waste imports are growing more stringent, and some governments are also offering tax incentives for corporations that follow sustainable practices.

  3. Society

    More consumers are actively researching and questioning the impacts of the products they buy, and consumer demand is showing a preference for reusable products and practices.

While few public companies today are actively using a circular economy, several major brands are leading the way in sustainable business practices.

  • Philips: Light-as-a-service that provides access to lighting rather than ownership of lightbulbs
  • Levi Strauss: Repurposing old garments into building insulation, upholstery, and new clothing
  • Toshiba: First multi-function printer, heat-sensitive erasable toner can do up to five reprints per page
  • Renault: Revamped old vehicle drive trains, engines, and gearboxes to almost-new condition

Companies and governments in the circular economy have a structural advantage to solve some of the world’s biggest economic issues ─ giving them a strong, long-term market for goods and services, the potential to lower costs, and open profitable new business streams.

Lasting Impact on People, Planet, and Profit

In order for the circular economic model to achieve widespread adoption, both sustainable investment and partnerships across sectors are needed.

This rally for change is making an impact on financial markets─sustainable investments around the world grew from US$13.3 trillion in 2012 to US$30.7 trillion in 2018.

Healthy economies rely on a healthy environment, and building a circular economy is integral to the future health of our economy, planet, and society.

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Demographics

An Investing Megatrend: How Demographics and Social Changes are Shaping the Future

As societies evolve, demographics and social change also evolve, reshaping the world and resulting in new investment opportunities.

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Demographic Megatrends preview

For millennia, people have found support and community through defining factors, ranging from age and race to income and education levels.

However, these characteristics are not static—and drastic demographic changes are starting to create powerful ripple effects in the 21st-century economy.

The Impact of Demographics and Social Changes

Today’s infographic from BlackRock delves into the significant impact that demographics and human rights movements have on global markets. Of the five megatrends explored in this series, demographics are predicted to have the farthest-reaching impact.

Megatrends - Demographics and Social Change

What are Demographics?

Demographics are the characteristics of populations that change over time. These include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Birth and death rates
  • Education levels
  • Income levels
  • Average family size

As a result, major demographic trends offer both unique challenges and opportunities for businesses, societies, and investors.

The Biggest Shifts

What are the biggest shifts in demographics that the world faces today?

1. Aging Population

The global population is aging rapidly─as fertility rates decline worldwide, those in the 65 years and older age bracket are steadily increasing in numbers.

2. Future Workforce

As the population continues to age, fewer people are available to sustain the working population. For the first time in recorded history, the number of people in developed nations between 20 to 64 years old is expected to shrink in 2020.

3. Immigration Increase

Immigration has been steadily increasing since the turn of the 21st century. Primary migration factors range from the serious (political turmoil) to the hopeful (better job offers).

In particular, areas such as Asia and Europe see much higher movement than others, causing a strain on resources in those regions.

4. Consumer Spending

A steadily aging population is slowly shifting the purchasing power to older households. In Japan, for example, half of all current household spending comes from people over 60, compared with 13% of spending from people under 40.

How Does Social Change Play a Part?

Demographics are the characteristics of people that change over time, whereas social change is the evolution of people’s behaviours or cultural norms over time.

Strong social change movements have often been influenced by demographic changes, including:

  • Ending poverty and hunger
  • Expanding healthcare in developing nations
  • Reforming education quality and accessibility
  • Championing gender and racial equality

Examples of major human rights movements include creating stronger environmental policies and securing women’s right to vote.

Opportunities for Investors

These changes pose some exciting opportunities for investors, both now and in the near future.

Healthcare

Global healthcare spending is predicted to grow from US$7.7 trillion in 2017 to over US$10 trillion in 2022. To meet the demands of age-related illnesses, companies will need solutions that offer quality care at much lower costs—for patients and an overburdened healthcare system.

Changing Workforce

With a declining working population, adapting a workforce’s skill set may be the key to keeping economies afloat.

As automation becomes commonplace, workers will need to develop more advanced skills to stay competitive. Newer economies will need to ensure that automation supports a shrinking workforce, without restricting job and wage growth.

Education Reform

By 2100, over 50% of the world will be living in either India, China, or Africa.

Global policy leadership and sales of education goods and services will be shaped less by issues and needs in the U.S., and more by the issues and needs of Africa, South Asia, and China.

—Shannon May, CoFounder of Bridge International Academies

In the future, education and training in these growing regions will be based on skills relevant to the modern workforce and shifting global demographics.

Consumer Behaviour

Spending power will continue to migrate to older populations. Global consumer spending from those over 60 years is predicted to nearly double, from US$8 trillion in 2010 to a whopping US$15 trillion in 2020.

Investing Megatrends

Demographics and social changes are the undercurrents of many economic, cultural, and business decisions. They underpin all other megatrends and will significantly influence how the world evolves.

As demographics shift over time, we will see the priorities of economies shift as well─and these changes will continue to offer new opportunities for investors to make an impact for the future of a global society.

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Chart of the Week

Ranked: Which Economies Are the Most Competitive?

The world’s top countries excel in many fields—but there can only be one #1. How have the most competitive economies shifted in the past decade?

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Ranked: Which Economies Are the Most Competitive?

What makes a country successful from an economic perspective? Many think of this in terms of GDP per capita—but in a rapidly changing world, our definitions of progress have evolved to encompass much more.

This animated Chart of the Week visualizes 10 years of global competitiveness, according to the World Economic Forum, and tracks how rankings have changed in this time.

How Do You Measure Competition?

The WEF’s annual Global Competitiveness Report defines the concept of ‘competitiveness’ as an economy’s productivity—and the institutions, policies, and factors which shape this.

This year’s edition unpacks the national competitiveness of 141 countries, using the newly-introduced Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) 4.0 which looks at four key metrics:

  1. Enabling Environment
    Includes: Institutions, Infrastructure, ICT Adoption*, Macroeconomic Activity
    *Refers to information and communications technology
  2. Human Capital
    Includes: Health, Skills
  3. Markets
    Includes: Product Market, Labor Market, Financial System, Market Size
  4. Innovation Ecosystem
    Includes: Business Dynamics, Innovation Capability
  5. Each country’s overall competitiveness score is an average of these 12 main pillars of productivity. With that out of the way, let’s dive into the countries which emerge triumphant.

    The Most Competitive: Movers and Shakers

    The world’s top countries excel in many fields—but there can only be one #1. In 2019, Singapore wins the coveted “most competitive economy” title, with a 84.8 score on the GCI.

    The nation’s developed infrastructure, health, labor market, and financial system have all propelled it forward—swapping with the U.S. (83.7) for the top spot. However, more can be done, as the report notes Singapore still lacks press freedom and demonstrates a low commitment to sustainability.

    How have the current scores of the most competitive economies improved or fallen behind, compared to 2018?

    RankEconomy2019 Score2018 Score2018-2019 Change
    #1🇸🇬 Singapore84.883.5+1.3
    #2🇺🇸 United States83.785.6-2
    #3🇭🇰 Hong Kong83.182.3+0.9
    #4🇳🇱 Netherlands82.482.40
    #5🇨🇭 Switzerland82.382.6-0.3
    #6🇯🇵 Japan82.382.5-0.2
    #7🇩🇪 Germany81.882.8-1
    #8🇸🇪 Sweden81.281.7-0.4
    #9🇬🇧 United Kingdom81.282-0.8
    #10🇩🇰 Denmark81.280.6+0.6

    Finland (80.2) and Canada (79.6) are notable exits from this top 10 list over the years. Meanwhile, Denmark (81.2) disappeared from the rankings for five years, but managed to climb back up in 2018.

    Regional Competitiveness: Highs and Lows

    Another perspective on the most competitive economies is to look at how countries fare within regions, and how these regions compete among each other.

    Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has the widest gap in competitiveness scores—Israel (76.7) scores over double that of poorest-performing Yemen (35.5). Interestingly, the MENA region showed the most progress, growing its median score by 2.77% between 2018-2019.

    The narrowest gap is actually in South Asia, with just a single-digit difference between India (61.4) and Nepal (51.6). However, the region also grew the slowest, with only 0.08% increase in median score over a year.

    RegionBest Performer2019 ScoreWorst Performer2019 ScoreRegional
    Gap
    Europe and North America🇺🇸 United States83.7🇧🇦 Bosnia & Herzegovina54.729
    Latin America and the Caribbean🇨🇱 Chile70.5🇭🇹 Haiti36.334.2
    East Asia and Pacific🇸🇬 Singapore84.8🇱🇦 Laos50.134.7
    South Asia🇮🇳 India61.4🇳🇵 Nepal51.69.8
    Eurasia🇷🇺 Russia66.7🇹🇯 Tajikistan52.414.3
    Middle East and North Africa🇮🇱 Israel76.7🇾🇪 Yemen35.541.2
    Sub-Saharan Africa🇲🇺 Mauritius64.3🇹🇩 Chad35.129.2

    Across all regions, the WEF found that East Asia’s 73.9 median score was the highest. Europe and North America were not far behind with a 70.9 median score. This is consistent with the fact that the most competitive economies have all come from these regions in the past decade.

    As all these countries race towards the frontier—an ideal state where productivity growth is not constrained—the report notes that competitiveness “does not imply a zero-sum game”. Instead, any and all countries are capable of improving their productivity according to the GCI measures.

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