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Learning From Champions

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Iva Petrović, Executive Director Of The Nordic Business Alliance

We Learn From The Best

We believe that we can together turn problems into opportunities and achieve results for a cleaner and brighter future. Those of us in the North started earlier, so we have learned some lessons the hard way. And we want to share those lessons with Serbia, so that this society can avoid our mistakes and reproduce our success stories

Serbia is facing great challenges in the field of environmental protection, which was neglected during the previous period, due to the low level of environmental awareness in the society.

Weak institutions, the failure to implement regulations and very low investments in public utilities infrastructure over the last 20 years have led to Serbia today beingamong Europe’s most polluted countries – which poses a serious threat to the health of citizens and impinges on their quality of life. The first step in resolving environmental problems demands the strengthening of the state’s institutional capacities, but also huge public investments in communal infrastructure totalling almost 10 billion euros.

“There has already been a lot of talk about that and the good news is that, in the last year, there have been encouraging indicators that the state is now more prepared to get to grips with resolving these problems, at least when it comes to increasing investments in communal infrastructure – we have announcements of larger investments in the sewerage network, wastewater treatment plants, sanitary landfills and the like,” says Nordic Business Alliance Executive Director Iva Petrović.

“What is less known is that the construction of the lacking infrastructure would simultaneously pave the way for changing the growth model in Serbia and shifting from a linear model of the economy to a circular one. That in itself represents a step towards a greener future for Serbia, because it implies less pollution, more efficient production and reduced use of resources.”

These are this year’s key topics for the European Union, the Nordic countries and their embassies, and also, to a certain extent, for Serbia. What activities have you planned and what will be in your focus?

– That’s right. At the heart of the European Green Deal, which is the EU’s new strategy for long-term economic development, are the fight against climate change and low-carbon development, more efficient production and a toxin-free environment by the middle of this century. The Nordic countries, as pioneers of sustainable development in Europe, fully share the vision of such a Europe, and that vision is also extremely relevant for Serbia, as an EU membership candidate country and a country with an economy that is closely connected to the European common market.

Given that Serbia is at the very beginning of its transition to a circular economy, the basic idea of this project is to propel this process forward by transferring the many decades of successful experience of the Nordic countries in the areas of waste management, wastewater treatment, reliance on renewable energy sources and other activities that simultaneously enable economic growth and a cleaner environment. Through several workshops to be held in Novi Sad, Kragujevac, Niš and Belgrade, experts from the Nordic countries will present best practice examples and point out the incontrovertible benefits brought by a circular economy.

Political decision-makers and local institutions must be the leaders of this transition, which will result in the better management of waste and wastewater, improved air quality and greater reliance on renewable energy sources

When it comes to developing a circular economy in Serbia, which areas could primarily absorb the technological knowhow of Nordic companies?

– The management and processing of waste, as well as wastewater treatment, are areas where Nordic countries have extremely rich experience, which is why these two areas naturally impose themselves as potential very fertile ground for future cooperation. Specifically, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden are practically leaders of Europe as a whole when it comes to all forms of waste treatment – incineration, recycling, composting – as reflected in the fact that only about 1% of municipal waste generated in these countries ends up in landfill sites.

On the other hand, we have a completely different picture in Serbia, where only about one per cent of municipal waste is processed, with the remaining 99% discarded at landfill sites. A large part of that waste ends up in one of the approximately 3,000 illegal dumps in the country or in municipal landfill sites that often don’t satisfy even the minimum environmental requirements. We need strategic solutions for some important segments of waste management, such as recycling and packaging waste, which is also an area where we can learn a lot from the Nordic countries.

Iva Petrović

You recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with representatives of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce & Industry’s Centre for Circular Economy that aims to strengthen these two business associations in the area of developing the circular economy. What are the next steps?

– Apart from the Nordic Business Alliance, the Nordic embassies’ partners in the implementation of the project “Boosting circular economy in Serbia – Nordic experiences” also include NALED, the Serbian Chamber of Commerce & Industry, the Chamber of Commerce of Vojvodina and the cities of Novi Sad, Kragujevac and Niš. As such, a natural need arose for cooperation between the two business associations, in which the key contribution of the CCIS Centre for Circular Economy in this phase is to identify domestic companies for which the workshops that we organise are relevant – whether those are companies that the transfer of the technology and experiences of Nordic partners should be directed towards or domestic innovative companies and start-ups that are just starting to engage in the circular economy.

Further cooperation should enable the fortifying of existing links within the scope of the established network between the Nordic embassies, domestic institutions, experts and local partners – all with the aim of providing support to Serbia in the development of a low-carbon and permanently sustainable circular economy.

What do you expect from the upcoming conference on the circular economy?

– I believe that, after this conference, all key actors in Serbia will have a better understanding of the concept of the circular economy – how it works and what their role is in the transition process. That is extremely important, because although there’s been a lot of talk about the circular economy in Serbia lately, it seems that the general public still isn’t fully aware of what’s actually meant by this model of economic development.

Apart from providing an overview of the technological solutions that the Nordic countries have implemented successfully, an important stride forward should also be made by overcoming the prejudice that environmental protection is just an economic expense and developing an understanding that transitioning to a circular model brings tangible opportunities for economic growth and job creation. It is precisely this fact that should provide additional motivation for the Government and local authorities in Serbia to intensify their efforts when it comes to strengthening all elements of the state system for environmental protection, as well as launching an investment cycle in this area.

In cooperation with the Belgrade Running Club’s Nordic Walking School, you recently promoted this sport. What makes it attractive during these days when it seems that the pandemic will again confine us to four walls?

– It is no coincidence that Nordic walking was the Nordic Business Alliance’s first public event after last winter’s wave of the pandemic abated. After a long and difficult year, we all had a need to move, socialise, connect, try new things, gain new experiences and build new friendships. But the first step is for us to be healthy. And Nordic walking distinguishes itself as the most inclusive form of training, because everyone can join, regardless of their age and level of physical fitness, which is also an ideal combination of the values that we nurture at the Nordic Business Alliance.