How circularity can help tackle biodiversity loss


Johan Schoonhoven, Senior Circularity Specialist, and Cat Hemmingsen, Senior Biodiversity Specialist

The first Earth Day was in 1970 – two years before the publication of John Sawyer’s Man-made Carbon Dioxide and the "Greenhouse" Effect. Fifty-three years ago, businesses could still claim ignorance of the effect of their activities on the natural world.  

Not anymore.  

Today the scientific consensus is clear: we are not living in harmony with the planet – and if we continue our current trajectory, the earth will be unable to sustain humanity.  

One critical aspect of this predicament is biodiversity loss. Biodiversity is a key element of functioning ecosystems and is central to sustaining life as we know it. But it is in crisis, with wildlife populations plummeting 69 % since 1970.  

The extraction and processing of natural resources drives over 90 % of biodiversity loss.

In 2020, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation published a report addressing the link between biodiversity loss and the circular economy. The report states that “our extractive, wasteful, and polluting linear economy is increasingly recognised as one of the main underlying causes of this crisis.”  

The report also concludes that the extraction and processing of natural resources drives over 90 % of biodiversity loss, mainly through activities such as deforestation that change land and sea use.  

If we are to reverse biodiversity loss, we need to leave behind our linear approach to resources, in which we take, make, use, and waste them. Instead, we need to build a circular economy where we use our materials again and again, for as long as possible, and at the highest quality possible.  

The goal of the circular economy is to lower our dependency on virgin resources. In turn, this would decrease today’s unsustainable extraction and processing activities and allow for nature to regenerate itself while it still can.

For Ørsted, circularity is critical to our overall sustainability efforts. Our core business of developing and operating renewable energy assets is one of the most important ways to fight climate change and biodiversity loss. But manufacturing renewable energy infrastructure relies heavily on natural resources. So how can Ørsted help incorporate circularity principles into the renewable energy industry?  

Our strategy for circularity goes beyond waste management and recycling assets under our direct control. We look for every opportunity to minimise the extraction and processing of new raw materials across our whole value chain. Through this strategic approach we have identified three key areas to create a more circular business model.  

  • We aim to reduce our use of virgin resources by rethinking our design and sourcing strategies. For example, we were recently able to reduce the amount of steel needed to construct Sunrise Wind in New York by around 6,000 tons, through design modifications.
  • We work to optimise the use of our assets and key components. For example, in the UK, we have signed a partnership with Renewable Parts to increase the volume of items such as gearboxes and bearings that are refurbished or remanufactured for offshore operations. The longer we use existing materials, the fewer new materials we need.
  • We strive to ensure full recyclability of all materials from our assets when they reach their end-of-life. In 2021 we banned landfilling of blades from our wind turbines. Instead, blades can be shredded and reused in industrial processes or repurposed intact as noise barriers on highways or bicycle shelters in cities. Earlier this year, our Americas region made a similar commitment to reuse or recycle 100 % of end-of-life solar modules. 

At Ørsted, we believe in exploring as many options as possible for increasing the circularity of our activities and of our industry. We have made some progress, but more work is needed – including collaboration with partners across our value chain. If we are to live in harmony with nature and revive biodiversity, we need to build circularity into everything we do – as a business, as a sector, and as a society.  

We like to say that one rotation of a wind turbine can power over two thousand cups of coffee or over two hundred kilometres in an electric car. But for a sustainable future, it’s not just our wind turbines that need to keep going round. We need an industry-wide effort to make the solution to the climate crisis a circular solution.