Building capacities for a competitive circular economy – The case of wastewater in Colombia

by Grégoire Meylan (presenting author)1, Camilo Ortiz2, Juan Sebastián Estrada2, Carlos Fernando Cadavid2, Thomas Kimmenauer3, Peter Qvist-Sørensen1

1: ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences, Switzerland; 2: Centro Nacional de Producción Más Limpia y Tecnologías Ambientales; 3: WABAG Wassertechnik AG


Colombia is a fast-growing economy facing various environmental challenges. To join the OECD, Colombia enacted strong environmental legislation, one of them being new wastewater levels for discharge into surface water and sewage systems in 2015. Industries face the double challenge of complying with the new law, while maintaining or increasing their competitiveness. The Colombian National Center for Cleaner Production (CNPML), the Swiss wastewater technology provider WABAG, and the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) joined forces to fill the gap between legal requirements and what is currently common wastewater practice in Colombia. The three project partners jointly developed and implemented a capacity building program to enable local consultants to conduct feasibility studies of integrated industrial wastewater management.

The goal of the capacity building program is to identify business models allowing companies to comply with strong environmental regulations, while generating new revenue streams, such as i) supplying material resources to manufacturing, ii) supplying energetic resources to manufacturing, iii) providing an environmental service, and iv) providing a material resource to environmental services. The trained consultants describe the technical, financial, etc. aspects of the new business model. In the Colombian project, the trainees designed a business model for an industrial park operator providing an additional environmental service.

Technology providers take part in the program by sharing insights and experiences of state-of-the-art solutions and by contributing to real-world case studies such as the one mentioned above. By interacting with local public and private sector actors, WABAG got key insights into the Colombian wastewater technology market and could build new networks for an improved access to this high-growth market. The capacity building program was supported by the Renewable Energy, Energy and Resource Efficiency Promotion in Developing and Transition Countries (REPIC) Program, aiming at transferring knowledge and technology to such countries.