How Can We Make Economy More Sustainable?

What are circular economy and sharing economy? How is couchsurfing and cycling infrastructure related to sustainable development? How do EU countries strive for sustainable use of resources and why are green models effective for business only in partnership with NGOs? Participants of the 'Environmentally Sustainable Lifestyle: Small Steps, Big Change?' seminar compared Belarusian and European experience. Leading experts from Belarus and Sweden took part in the event, which was organized by the Association of European Business (Belarus) and ODB Brussels (Belgium) supported by the Swedish Institute and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).

Matthias Lehner (on the right), researcher at International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics at Lund University (Sweden)

The participants of the seminar also had a chance to go on the first-ever public tour of used electronics and household appliances collection site at BelVTI OJSC, where Ihar Harbachou, the Deputy Chief Engineer, demonstrated how waste can literally be transformed to gold and silver. This company was established several decades ago to service electronic computer systems: today BelVTI disassembles electronic appliances to recycle and extract precious metals: these activities are overseen by the Ministry of Finance of Belarus.


More than 7 thousand organizations all over Belarus - in Minsk, Homel, Polatsk, Mahileu, Brest and Vitsebsk - bring scraps of electric appliances to BelVTI.  Precious metals are quite commonly used in microchips installed inside electronic devices: the enterprise statistics show that 4 to 10 grams of gold can be obtained per one ton of household appliances, and on average BelVTI collects 15 kilos of gold in Minsk every year.

 Ihar Harbachou

Ihar Harbachou, Deputy Chief Engineer at BelVTI OJSC: "Since Belarus doesn't have any gold ore, this is the way we contribute to the State Fund, so this is actually one of the main sources, with the exception of official state purchases. And, by and large, we have already paid for this - as individuals, as legal persons we have already paid the manufacturer for this gold when we completed our purchase."
In addition to the precious metals, the company extracts plastic. Since 2012 BelVTI has even been exporting it. As a rule, the Belarusian government buys precious metals for prices lower than on commodity exchanges. Despite the low return on investments, BelVTI continues to develop its services; e.g. in 2013 the company established BelVTI taxi, a free-of-charge service that picks up household appliances from individuals. The taxi collects about 80 tons of waste every month. According to Ihar Harbachou, in 2015 the first processing company with two production lines was opened in Smaliavichi (Minsk region, Belarus). This year, BelVTI for the first time ever will start accepting energy-saving lamps that contain mercury. Every month Minsk residents bring about 15 tons of electric appliances to the collection point.


According to the Swedish expert Matthias Lehner, when creating a product in the modern economy it is important to understand how it will later be recycled. Such an approach is related to the concept of "sustainable design" ("from cradle to cradle"), as well as the "circular" economy - one where all the participants seek to re-use existing resources and reduce the consumption of natural resources. In the opinion of Matthias Lehner, practices like ones that could be seen at BelVTI, allow us to go in that direction. The expert cited the example of two economic recycling models: Allwin (Sweden) and Befesa (Germany-Spain).

Matthias Lehner (on the right), researcher at International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics at Lund University (Sweden)


Allwin is a distributor of food for the needy: the company collects products that retailers want to dispose of as waste. The retailers pay a fee for the food disposal. According to Allwin statistics, around 30% of food in Sweden is considered waste. This scheme helps to provide food to the vulnerable and underprivileged groups of population: since 2006 more than 1.6 million people have received assistance from Allwin.
Befesa deals with recycling: they extract aluminium from aluminium waste, with manufacturers paying for the production. The company utilizes a cutting-edge aluminium alloy manufacturing technology that reduces salt slag waste. European commission cited the company's technology among the best in modern non-ferrous metallurgy.


Services like Uber, CouchSurfing, AirBnB are public initiatives that have been given a commercial footing. To Matthias Lehner, these initiatives are a prime example of the sharing economy, where actors make decisions collectively and share responsibility for the consequences.
A lot of such initiatives are developing rapidly thanks to the potential of information and communication technologies. For example, Germany's FoodSharing service appeared as a local community initiative and then grew to become popular in many German cities, now attracting more and more supporters. Spanish book-sharing service Donaz helps people save money on buying new books while reducing consumption of natural resources.
Matthias Lehner, researcher at International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics at Lund University noted that the concept-indicator of GDP is no longer sufficient for the economy and that alternative indices may be used, such as the Happy Planet Index.

Matthias Lehner

"You become part of the sharing not because you are an idealist! Rather because this is the best solution for you. Because it's cheaper. When you are carpooling, you no longer need to buy a car because it's more convenient, you don't have to look for a parking space. Because it's just fun and you don't have to spend several hours in the car alone. 
Couchsurfing is cheap and social: you can go to another city, meet locals and it's fun more than anything else".
In Belarus there is a number of sharing economy projects, such as the Kali Laska charity shop and Dobry Rovar free bicycle rental. According to Daria Chumakova, Deputy Head of the Center for Environmental Solutions (Belarus), the Kali Laska charity shop combines the principles of circular economy and sharing economy: 50% of the "unwanted" goods is given to the needy, about 4-5% is sold in the shop and at the markets, about 1% - rags - goes to an animal shelter. Only 4% of sales goes to pay the employees' salaries and to support the daily operations of the shop.

Daria Chumakova, Deputy Head of the Center for Environmental Solutions (Belarus)

Daria Chumakova gave an example of a popular online tool for a sustainable lifestyle: the Green Map, which shows places that recycle or accept various items (automobile waste, clothes, books, etc.).
First Belarusian free-of-charge bicycle rental Dobry Rovar has already attracted a lot of supporters: 2,450 people have already signed up for the project, which at the moment only has a couple dozens bikes to rent.



Pavel Harbunou, Center for Environmental Solutions (Belarus)

According to Pavel Harbunou, Center for Environmental Solutions, cycling movement in Minsk is growing rapidly, almost doubling every two years. According to the Concept of Developing the Cycling System in Minsk, which was adopted back in 2011, bicycle paths in the Belarusian capital should be 500 kilometers long, while by the end of 2015 the number will be five times smaller (about 100 kilometers). Bicycle is a sustainable and recreational method of transport. However, in the opinion of Pavel Harbunou, it is important to build the "priority pyramid" in the local transport infrastructure: "pedestrian - cyclist - public transportation - moving cars - parked cars".

Pavel Harbunou

"This is a mobility matrix. It means that whenever you are designing a crossroads or a new block, you need to have a perspective of priorities."
In August 2015, Pavel Harbunou took part in a round table organized by Minsk Cycling Community, where he made a presentation on the current problems of road traffic on Minsk crossroads. Participants of the event were introduced to the architectural design of the intersection between the airport and the city in Eindhoven, Netherlands.

Hovenring Eindhoven (the Netherlands), concept and design by ipv Delft from ipv Delft on Vimeo.

According to Valiantsina Liaonchyk, First Deputy Chairman of the Republican Public Association "Belarusian Union of Transport Workers", traffic can be reduced by one third if urban planning methods are used correctly. In her opinion, transport sustainability is what defines convenience and accessibility of travel for all citizens. The Belarusian expert cited the example of Berlin authorities, who discovered that the majority of trips in their city are made to distances up to 3 kilometers, which is why they decided to encourage people to switch to bicycles or walking.

Valiantsina Liaonchyk, First Deputy Chairman of the Republican Public Association "Belarusian Union of Transport Workers"

Several years ago, the Belarusian Union of Transport Workers in cooperation with ODB Brussels developed a plan of aligning Belarusian transport legislation with existing European norms and methods. In the opinion of Valiantsina Liaonchyk, Minsk residents at the moment are only conscious of the quality the city public transport, while the Belarusian Union of Transport Workers is focused on achieving comprehensive mobility (one which involves various methods of transportation) and revising documents adopted by the city with the transportation mobility plan in mind.


A sustainable lifestyle predetermines a number of choices everyone makes: where to live and which resources to used. Mikhail Anufryeu, energy and climate project assistant at Ecopartnership (Belarus), shared that Belarus has recently introduced a system for energy certification of buildings. In the EU such a certificate is a prerequisite to obtain state subsidies, rent or sell property. Ecopartnership provides consultation services on energy audit and heat loss reducing modernization of buildings.

Mikhail Anufryeu, energy and climate project assistant at NGO "Ecopartnership" (Belarus)

 As the Swedish expert Matthias Lehner noted during the seminar, a sustainable lifestyle requires a change in our attitude towards consumption: Britain has already introduced a definition of "ethically responsible consumers", when the person's choice of transport, products or services is determined by their responsible attitude to the environment and not by the society. In such cases, says Lehner, citizens vote with their dollars. In his opinion, environmentally responsible consumption is the factor that can stimulate demand for products of sustainable companies.

See photos.