Circular Economy In Practice #7: Cooperate or Die

Produced by Camille Duran / Published by Eleen Murphy / Senior Editors Eleen Murphy & Camille Duran / Music Credits: License by Ins. Green White Space. Picture by MUSE – Science Museum of Trento in cooperation with Wikimedia Italia.

The ability to cooperate brought us to where we are today, and it’s what will help us change the world. Without cooperation, the Circular Economy will not be possible. So how will this work, practically? And what are the key principles of cooperation that we can start applying everywhere we go?

In this episode, we interview Annika Rosing, head of department at the Nordic Council of Ministers and discuss the role that international cooperation can play in driving sustainable production and consumption, as well the challenges and opportunities we face along the way.


wwf The Nordic Council is the official body for formal inter-parliamentary co-operation. Formed in 1952, it has 87 members from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland.
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Transcript from the Episode

Camille Duran [CD]: July has definitely started circular at Green Exchange, and we’re still hungry. Today we talk about cooperation. Not that kind of cooperation… More like voluntary cooperation, collaboration, working together.

We touched on this earlier in the series, but I think it’s time to dig deeper and work out some guidelines.

You’re listening to GREEN EXCHANGE, Circular Economy in Practice episode seven: Cooperate or Die.

Eleen Murphy [EM]: Wow, really? Cooperate or die?

CD: Wow, who is this?

EM: Surprise!

CD: Eleen! good to have you, I like it that you are coming on the show more often.

EM: You need some help, I can sense it /I thought you’d appreciate the company.

CD: Yes, I do.

EM: So…you were saying… cooperate or die?

CD: Let me explain… Of all species, the homo sapiens became the most powerful on the Planet. Have you ever thought about that

EM: The most powerful. Like even over cockroaches?

CD: Yeah, I can prove it. The international Union for Conservation of nature maintains a red list of endangered species and we, humans are ranking last on that list. So what does that mean?

EM: We rule the Planet?

CD: We dominate baby!

EM: That’s right!

CD: Don’t mess with us, you dolphins.

EM: Yeah, not sure how proud we should be about all that.

CD: You’re right, let’s calm down and think about this. It’s a good thing to meditate from the golf course.

EM: Yeah, in between two swings…

CD: Look around and ask yourself, how did we get to that level of domination of our environment?

EM: Well I’m interested actually, how on earth did we get this pathetic???

CD: Experts are still busy agreeing on the details but there are a few conclusions we can draw. Should I tell you the story?

EM: Well, that’s what we’re here for.


CD: There is a fascinating man called Yuval Noah Harari.

EM: Yuval Noah Harari?

CD: Right. And he writes fascinating books. One of them is called “Sapiens”. It explains how the homo sapiens came to dominate other species, to end up where we are today.

Homo sapiens go way back. Actually it’s the most recent evolution of the genus Homo. But still, we are talking about more than 150,000 years ago. You were not born Eleen.

EM: Yeah you might be right about that…

CD: So let’s rewind to 150 000 years ago: There is archaeological evidence of homo sapiens back then, their brains were the same size as we have today, even a bit larger.

EM: Yeah they were probably way smarter.

CD: We had a lot more hair though, overall.

EM: Moving on…

CD: Right. At this point we were clustered in East Africa, and we were living at the same time as other human species such as Neanderthals or the homo erectus.

Basically co-habiting. Nothing fancy happened. Picking berries, eating mushrooms, normal life with the crew.

Until 70,000 years ago. This is when we began to observe a real rise to power.  The homo sapiens started taking over. It starved to extinction all the other species around,

EM: Wow.

CD: We started dominating everyone, including our bro the homo rectus that had been around for over a million and a half years. Can you imagine?

EM: A million and a half??? How did that happen!?

CD: Well, Harari talks about an evolutionary flash, a superpower that was given to the homo sapiens by evolution – and that superpower was…

EM: Come on, don’t drag it out…

CD: Can we get a drum roll? Right. So this super power was: The ability to cooperate in very large numbers.


EM: Cooperation

CD: Other species could cooperate as well, but only up to a few dozens, like animals do. We started cooperating in hundreds, and then thousands, millions. Today if you think about it we cooperate in billions.

EM: Oh, that’s true.

CD: So How did this become possible? Because we don’t have an instinct for cooperating on a large scale,

EM: Right, for sure.

CD: This ability to cooperate had to be based on imagination. Harari says that we can cooperate with large numbers of strangers only if we believe in the same fictional stories. Fictional stories such as, “this tribe is trying to take our land, we should kick their ass”. Or, “this is the religion that will give you peace and protection, follow it and pray to this God, not to that one”.

“This is the man to vote for, because he is going to protect us from this happening. “

EM: That sounds familiar.

CD: Right? or stories such as “Circular Economy is the next mega trend and we need to make it happen before we run out of resources”.

EM: This is super interesting.

CD: Right? it’s this ability to follow a same vision and to cooperate around it that gave us the chance to dominate on a large scale.

I will stop here on the evolution part and the stories around it because i would really like you to read that book or listen to Harari – his work is fascinating and you’re probably going to understand many things about the world we live in – and about yourself as well.

EM: All right, I can’t wait to check this out!

CD: We put a few links on the episode page. So the point you’re trying to make here is that cooperation is at the core of how we operate as humans. And we tend to forget how important it is.

EM: Cooperate or Die, now I get it.




CD: Now back to circular economy, I talked to someone who works with cooperation everyday. Her name is Annika Rosing, She is heading a department at the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Nordic cooperation, and together we discussed the role that international cooperation can play in helping drive sustainable production and consumption. Countries working together towards a Circular Economy, challenges and opportunities.

EM: Let’s have a listen!


CD: Annika, I pushed the record button, now is the official start of the interview, you cannot escape anymore.


CD: Ok, just to set the stage before we dive in, Nordic countries consume way too many resources, way too many planets – and we have only one.

Annika Rosing [AR]: Yeah

CD: Fortunately, the Nordic Council of Ministers is on the case. Or?

[AR]: We have a large footprint and we need to find way to reach a more sustainable production and consumption. And I think all the Nordic countries agree that this is one of the challenges for the Nordic countries.

CD: Okay, good so Sustainable Production & Consumption is and important focus point in the Nordics – SDG 12 for the SDG nerds out there. So zooming into cooperation now: Why do Nordic Countries cooperate?

[AR]: I think it’s several different things. One is the geography: we’re close, or sort of close, and we’re in the outskirts of Europe. Secondly, we are all five very small countries in a global context. And thirdly, we have a similar welfare system and a similar system when it comes to taxation, etc. So I think it’s many different things that enables us to work together, but it’s important to mention that we have been constantly at war with each other for many hundreds of years. I think the last war was in the end of the 1700’s. So we have a history of constantly fighting with each other, and then finally after hundreds of years realising that it’s much better for all of us if we cooperate.

CD: Oh yeah? Cooperation is more productive than war? We should tweet this to a few people, no?

[AR]: [Laughing] No…

CD: Okay so the factors you mentioned are geography, a common welfare and taxation system, neighbouring cultures, and the fact that you are small countries that can not always face globalisation alone.

[AR]: There also has to be a good idea – a reason, a win-win context – for strong cooperation to start.

CD: Are you going to take Scotland if they break free from the UK?

AR: [Laughing].





CD: Ok moving on…I am going to play the devil’s advocate for a minute – Aren’t Nordic countries competing with each other on global markets? Isn’t it a little bit like “we cooperate in theory, we smile together to the media but I want the deal with the Chinese”?

[AR]: So when it comes to export initiatives, I think, since the Nordic countries are so small, they have a much stronger reason to work together than not work together. But the concept that we are competing with each other is actually an obstacle in my point of view. Going out on an international market together is something that is going to benefit all countries.

CD: Do we see that kind of cooperation on export markets yet?

[AR]: This is my personal comment: I don’t think we’re really there yet, but hopefully soon!

CD: So now, tell me how the cooperation works in practice, in terms of governance, maybe with the example of sustainable development and SDG 12…What’s the process like?

[AR]: The Nordic Council of Ministers is a voluntary cooperation between the Nordic countries, and it’s actually not one minister council, it’s actually eleven. All decisions are taken in consensus, and when it comes to sustainable development, the Nordic ministers for Nordic Cooperation are responsible for that, because it’s something that has to be done by all ministerial councils, all the other ten. And they have decided that we should put forward, within our Nordic Strategy for Sustainable development, a program for supporting the countries in implementing the 2030 Agenda.

And then we have this not very slow, but maybe complicated hearing process with all the other ministerial councils. So we now have a suggestion for a program that will be decided by the Minister for Nordic Cooperation in September. And when that’s decided, we have budget for a three year period and then we’ll go along with starting up the program. And then all the different sectors are on board.

CD: Okay so what I take from this: Decisions by consensus, you make program proposals in line with a vision, you go through a hearing process, make sure everyone is in line, maybe a bit of back and forth but once the program is approved   it is solid because everyone is on board. That’s the beauty of decisions by consensus, no?


[AR]: Yeah. The good thing with the consensus decision is that you have everyone on board saying, “Alright, this is what we’re going to do”. The negative thing with consensus is that it tends to be the countries that are the least ambitions are the ones that are setting the agenda, if you know what I mean. It’s a solid program, but it’s not as ambitious as it could have been.

CD: Yes that sounds familiar. So the programs are never really as ambitious as if it was one ambitious country operating alone of course. Annika we are going to talk more about cooperation at Green Exchange with a case study or two in the weeks to come, thank you for passing by and best of luck with SDG 12, you know we’ll be paying attention. You’re welcome back anytime.

[AR]: Yes, absolutely. Thank you!


EM: Okay, that was interesting.

CD: Yeah, I think so!

EM: And we should also remember that principles of cooperation apply not only to that kind of international cooperation but also to cross sector cooperation – for example, how can the textile sector cooperate with the fishing sector?

CD: Spoiler alert. Something is coming on that front!

EM: Nice plug right?

CD: Yeah. But you’re right, all types of cooperation are important – cross stakeholder groups, cross sector, North South etc. There is always some value in cooperation models.

EM: [To audience] Yeah guys, remember: that this is what got us to where we are today.

CD: You know we’ve talked about possibly featuring this case study from the Dutch circular economy roadmap. The one about the Green Deals.

EM: Yes I do.

CD: I think we should… It will show a very practical example of how cooperation can make miracles happen.

EM: Yes let’s talk about how we can do that. I know you have something cooking anyway around the ambitious Dutch circular Economy roadmap.

CD: Correct, to be continued… We should thank NCM for making this episode possible,

EM: Thank you.

CD: They are very active right now on the front of Sustainable Production and Consumption and I’m looking forward to digging into their upcoming strategies and roadmaps – and being constructively critical.

EM: Constructively critical?

CD: Although sometimes I like to be just critical.

EM: Oh do tell me more…

CD: Well, just criticising you know? Sending negative comments, negative energy…

EM: Is that right?

CD: Pointing fingers, judging, you see what I mean? Sometimes without really understanding. Feels really good.

EM: Yeah, I should try that one day. Let off some steam…

CD: And it’s quite easy actually.

EM: So you receive an idea, or read a report, or hear something…

CD: Yes, and you directly start to criticise, without any context. It’s journalism, after all.

EM: Alright I’ll keep that in mind. Great tip.

CD: You’re welcome. Eleen, thanks for today, should we plug anything?

EM: Yes! As usual, leave us a rating and comment on your podcast app, get your friends and colleagues to subscribe – the more noise you make, the more people we can reach. Send us an email, we answer them all.

CD: Great, Can I close now?

EM: Go for it…

CD: We’ll be back soon, with more green knowledge, inspiration and entertainment, keep up the good work in the meantime!


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