The father of the circular economy visits the Circular Valley Forum

As Germany's Environment Minister and Executive Director of the United Nations, Klaus Töpfer did a lot to encourage businesses and individuals to act in a circular rather than a linear way. Now, as a guest at the Circular Valley® Forum dinner, he is curious about the latest progress on his topic.
Klaus Töpfer. Copyright: Töpfer.
On November 18th, two circles will come full circle. The Circular Valley® Forum is taking place in the middle of Germany, the very country that became a global role model 30 years ago with its Dual System. And, appropriately enough, one of the guests at this major conference on the Circular Economy is the man who significantly advanced the topic here and internationally: Klaus Töpfer, former German Environment Minister and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme. Klaus Töpfer will be one of the approximately 600 decision-makers and experts who will discussing current challenges and solutions on the way to a true circular economy at Circular Valley® Forum.

It all started with the Packaging Regulation in 1991, which obliged industry to take back packaging after use and recycle it in the best way possible. Previously, all waste was disposed of by local authorities. This was changed from the ground up by the "Grüner Punkt" and the "Gelbe Tonne". This, at the same time, formed the basis for the Circular Economy Act, which came into force in the mid-1990s and underscored Germany's pioneering role in this field.

Klaus Töpfer was Federal Minister for the Environment from 1987 to 1994 and played a major role in turning this idea into reality during the time. He is therefore now considered as being one of the fathers of the circular economy. "We were global market leaders in the development of the circular economy and exported the German model to many countries," Töpfer says today. "Finally, people were talking about resources and raw materials, about the fact that we have to preserve them and about how we can do that".

In his role at the United Nations, Töpfer also witnessed international progress. For instance, much has happened in the United States, he says. In the US, the issue is viewed less from an ecological point of view. However, even from an economic perspective, it is clear that disposing of things that could otherwise be reused is nonsense.

Töpfer sees the topic in close connection with today's climate and energy policy issues. "Unfortunately, raw materials naturally limit the expansion of renewable energies. We will therefore have to think and work a lot more in cycles if we want to properly advance climate protection".

The today 84-year-old sees large companies and startups both play a central role in the further development of circularity. "The economy's demand for circular solutions is significant and it is precisely this demand that is advancing the entire topic. As is often the case, the ideas on how to implement this advancement in practice come "from the edges", i.e. from young founders," says Töpfer. This reminds him of the early days of the dual system. "We were considered fools to push for the Green Dot back then".

Despite all the setbacks and the ever-increasing urgency for solutions, Töpfer is optimistic about the future. "When you are 84 years old and have done this all your life, you simply can't imagine pessimism. But I'm not optimistic for optimism's sake, I'm optimistic because this is how good ideas move forward."

Töpfer is looking forward to visiting the Circular Valley® Forum with "great curiosity". He will meet representatives from politics, business, science and civil society in the Historische Stadthalle Wuppertal. Other guests include NRW Prime Minister Hendrik Wüst, his Flemish counterpart Jan Jambon, and numerous board members and CEOs from DAX companies, important SMEs and scientific institutions. The main topics of the forum are technology and research, communication, regulation and potentials - as well as a bit of history, of course.

The image of Klaus Töpfer (Copyright: Töpfer) can be used free of charge for reporting on the Circular Valley® Forum.

More information on the Circular Valley® Forum can be found here:

If you would like to visit the Circular Valley® Forum as a media representative, please reach out to us by email: press@circular-valley.org