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Baseline analysis of Belgian circular economy labour market: 7.5% of jobs are circular

From shoemaker to wind energy park engineer: 7.5% of all jobs in Belgium are circular, shows new analysis by the King Baudouin Foundation (KBF) and Circle Economy. The baseline measurement of employment in the Belgian circular economy provides insights into the nature and number of jobs in the country’s circular economy.

What employment opportunities does a circular economy create? How are these distributed across society? In order to better understand how the job landscape is evolving, KBF and Circle Economy (ECESP Coordination Group Member), conducted comprehensive research.

Much like its linear counterpart, the circular labour market is comprised of all kinds of jobs in different sectors, from low to high skilled. It encompasses the solar panel installer, but also for example a data analyst who tracks and optimises resource use and strengthens connections between supply chain actors through digital platforms, or a manager of a car sharing platform, or an architect who designs buildings in such a way so that materials can be recovered once a building is no longer used.

The report distinguishes between 3 types of circular jobs:

  • Direct circular jobs in core strategies ensure that raw material cycles are closed and thus form the core of the circular economy. This includes jobs in renewable energy, repair, waste and resource management sectors.
  • Direct circular jobs in enabling strategies enable the acceleration and upscaling of core circular activities and thus form the supporting shell of the circular economy. This includes jobs in leasing, engineering and digital technology (albeit only those that actually contribute to circularity).
  • Indirect circular jobs are jobs that support directly circular jobs (education, logistics and the public sector).

262.239 jobs of all jobs in Belgium appear to be circular (7.5% of all jobs). Whereas in the Brussels Capital Region, 57.780 jobs are circular (8.1% of all jobs), this amounts to 148.049 jobs in Flanders (7.5% of all jobs) and 56.410 in Wallonia (6.8% of all jobs).

This methodology to monitor circular employment has been developed by Circle Economy in cooperation with the Erasmus Research Institute for Happiness Economics. The method was successfully applied in the Netherlands in 2017, establishing that 8.1% of jobs were circular. These numbers are largely comparable with the Belgian results. The goal is to develop an entirely standardised methodology that is replicable, producing results that are comparable through time and across national borders.

Nevertheless, the method is likely to underestimate the amount of circular jobs in the manufacturing sector. As the analysis is based on sector classifications of companies, it classifies all workers under the main activity their company is registered as. This means that the methodology does not take secondary activities into account. In the manufacturing sector, for instance, companies often internalise recycling or maintenance. This employment is, however, not represented in this method.

An extra analysis was carried out in cooperation with data processing company Inoopa, looking into the online communications of Belgian manufacturing companies about circular economy strategies. It showed that 25% of Belgian manufacturing companies communicate about circular economy strategies, and are therefore likely to incorporate such strategies as side processes. Lifetime extension is the most commonly applied strategy, followed by renewable resources and recycling.