UnternehmerTUM and BMW Group are launching Circular Republic. The joint initiative aims to improve the circular economy in regards to content and communication.
We talked with Alexander Bilgeri, Head of Communications Human Resources, Production, Purchasing and Sustainability, and Karsten Peddinghaus, Head of Circular Economy Early Phase and Technology Funding, about the project.
How did the Circular Republic initiative come about?
Bilgeri: The initiative was launched by BMW AG in partnership with UnternehmerTUM, Europe’s largest center for start-ups. Both institutions have prioritized communications on current affairs for almost 20 years now, not least in the field of innovation. In keeping with this history, we put forward the idea that eventually led to Circular Republic, namely to create a joint platform for large and small circular initiatives. UnternehmerTUM picked up the ball and ran with it, connecting the different ideas across the board, which we support to the very best of our ability. The challenges of our time won’t be solved by one initiative or one company alone. We need to work together to bring about real technological progress, for example with joint platforms, something we have proved with the Catena X initiative, for instance. Both platforms, Catena X and Circular Republic, will help us take decisive action across the areas of the circular economy, carbon reduction and resilience.
What is the goal behind the initiative?
Peddinghaus: As an OEM, we believe the circular economy will be a key player in further reducing carbon emissions and conserving natural resources. But the project is also about resilience and robustness, including along our supply chains. A key point is securing resources, especially from high-voltage batteries. The BMW Group is committed to pushing the circular economy concept, a claim it communicated at the IAA Mobility 2021 with the BMW i Vision Circular vision vehicle.
Bilgeri: The idea behind the Circular Republic initiative is to set the ball rolling, laying the groundwork for a resilient and sustainable economy. While the immediate aim is to draw as many great ideas and initiatives as possible to the city of Munich, Circular Republic is so much more than just the one city. Ultimately, the joint platform stands for joining forces in the broadest sense. If we are to continue to promote innovation and therefore prosper as an attractive business location in the long term, we need to foster an ongoing collaborative process of knowledge transfer between business and science coupled with the courage and creativity of young minds from the start-up scene.
What is the BMW Group hoping to achieve with Circular Republic?
Bilgeri: We can only solve the challenges of our time together. We want to help bring new ideas to light, to let them grow and help scale them. The way we see it as an OEM, our future raw material mines are already on the roads. We want to work with our partners to gradually make our vision of a circular economy the reality, recycling raw materials from end-of-life vehicles as best we can.
Peddinghaus: Our new vehicles are already made of up to 30 percent secondary raw materials on average. We want to increase this percentage as a matter of course. But to get there, society as a whole needs to move away from a throw-away society by closing material loops. To our mind, Circular Republic is a platform for initiatives, companies, science and creative minds to promote circularity. It’s about developing creative ideas together and giving them the freedom to grow into inventive solutions.
What exactly does the partnership look like?
Peddinghaus: We cooperate on two levels. On the one hand, from a technical perspective in order to step up knowledge transfer with our research and innovation units within the framework of multi-stakeholder projects and other partner projects within our company focused on the circular economy. We want to share valuable ideas and initiate joint projects to the benefit of all parties. An example of a joint project is the cross-company design of recyclable material loops, particularly in the recycling of high-voltage batteries, where we want to work with start-ups and other companies to pilot a closed-loop solution.
Bilgeri: On the other hand, we cooperate from a communication standpoint in order to raise greater public awareness of the advantages of the circular economy and generate a buzz! The circular economy is a real megatrend. What carbon reduction is to the 2020s, circularity will be to the 2030s. The Circular Republic initiative aims to progressively grow international appeal to anchor the circular economy as a defining issue of our time on a broad scale.
Why is now the right time to launch a joint platform for the circular economy?
Bilgeri: Let’s be clear: if we as a society and as a company want to be successful moving forward, we have to think circular. The economic success of BMW AG has always been based on long-term thinking and responsible action, and the company made sustainability and efficient resource management central to its strategic direction at an early stage. As such, we believe the circular economy is the perfect fit for us, and current global challenges are only advancing the topic.
Peddinghaus: More than ever, we need a regenerative economic system where valuable resources are cycled in loops instead of being thrown away. This way, we are playing a key role in achieving greater environmental sustainability and a resilient, prosperous economy.