By Freek van Eijk, Holland Circular Hotspot and Hayley Bagnall, Circle Economy:
The 3rd annual World Circular Economy Forum brought together more than 2,200 of the world’s key circular economy thinkers in Helsinki, Finland. Participants explored how to scale up the transition to the circular economy.
Holland Circular Hotspot (HCH) and Circle Economy (CE) co-hosted over 60 participants at a session dedicated to: “How can we make cities more circular, in both developed and developing countries?”. The session built on the themes highlighted in the recent Circular Cities brochure by HCH and CE.
Read further below!
In the introduction Annerieke Douma from CE and Freek van Eijk from HCH shared the reasoning behind the topic supported with facts and figures. In the city, everything comes together. Cities are places where a vast majority of us live and work. They create the social and economic fabric for human ingenuity, the crucible in which to forge our common future.
HCH and CE showed the various topics in a city that can benefit from circular action, like housing and infrastructure, mobility, energy, water, food, consumer goods, plastics and industrial parks.
Based on evidence in cities around the world they shared the 8 lessons for cities to accelerate circularity:
Circular economy is a system change requiring action from all stakeholders. The organisers wanted to explore more in-depth what is needed from the various stakeholders within a city. That is why the session was organised into eight concurrent round-table discussions, representing Holland Circular Hotspot, Circle Economy, Circular Change Slovenia, Circular Norway, TCEN/ITRI, Exchange4Change Brasil, Polish Circular Hotspot (Innowo), Zero Waste Scotland, Amsterdam Economic Board, Circular Friesland, African CE Network, OREE, L’institut national de l’économie circulaire, and the Circular Economy Platform of the Americas (CEP-Americas)
We are pleased to share key take-aways from these discussions, to help circular pioneers in other cities to kickstart these processes on their home turf. Our session tackled the following topics:
Focus areas for municipalities in developed countries include regulation as a catalyst for circularity, increasing consumer awareness, engaging businesses around collaboration vs. competitiveness, public procurement and waste as a valuable resource.
Challenges facing municipalities in developed countries include re-imagining business models and thinking long-term, selecting priority resource flows and finding support for investment in circular solutions.
Local governments set ambitions, and can define challenges in ways that are manageable and measurable. Policy-makers set boundary conditions, nurture experimentation and generate ‘pull’ factors through public procurement.
In developing regions, we explored the scope for cities to create regulatory environments for government-driven sectors such as waste management, involving both formal and informal sectors.
Focus areas for municipalities in developing countries include ways to measure impact, effective cross-sector collaboration, building on existing community practices e.g. repair culture in Nigeria and finding examples of positive deviance to learn from. Municipalities are ‘confined areas’ making them a good starting place to map material flow and metabolism within their local regions.
Municipalities in developing countries need to take a systems change approach, eliminate existing ‘perverse’ incentives in policy and correct mis-definition of the Circular Economy leading to push backs from business and re-branding of sustainability initiatives.
We examined the role of value-chains which stretch beyond city limits, where urban policy can combine with a regional approach.
Focus areas for Regions include enlisting the help of high-level champions and front runners to accelerate the uptake, legislation and putting pressure on, regional cooperation that combines the role of universities, academic institutes and start-ups in helping drive change in the transition, such as independent institutes Circular Friesland and Amsterdam Economic Board. Challenges for Regions to overcome include funding (who will pay?) and how to get the mandate to enable a Circular Economy – is it government or business initiated?
Local entrepreneurs have the courage and imagination to take risks, invest, accelerate change and are responsible for the largest part of scaling up the circular economy in cities.
Key areas connected to a circular transition of companies include education around consumer awareness, transport issues, waste as a material, eco-design, connecting stakeholders and facilitating opportunities, as well as public procurement that can create a major pull for new circular initiatives.
For business a circular transition is often a journey that starts with a focus on resource efficiency and cost reduction that extends from their own backyard to their value-chain. By going down that road new insights lead not to a cost but a to a value perspective, business models are renewed and new coalitions are shaped.
Challenges for Businesses to overcome include current systems e.g. being locked into incineration technologies and carbon capture.
The workshop explored ways to stimulate engagement of residents and other stakeholders in the circular transition.
Focus areas for the creation of a Circular Culture include understanding the different stakeholders involved to orchestrate their interests and support a mindset shift.
Challenges for the creation of a Circular Culture to overcome include involving industry and micro-companies, enhancing a sense of community and common language, organic growth, mixture of education and regulation and making circularity visible for citizens to see value in a circular culture.
Academics, researchers and scientists can contribute new insights, improve measurement and analytics, validate ideas and boost awareness.
Educating the leaders, and consumers, of the future is another essential step, while making sure no-one gets left behind. Focus areas for knowledge institutions include relevant technical challenges e.g. textile recycling and accelerating e-transportation, public education, connecting government to industry and the general public, and fostering a balanced debate by speaking truth – both good and bad truths – to power.
In a Circular Economy the challenge might however be 20% about technological innovation and 80% about social innovation connected to (amongstothers): culture, awareness, trust and coalition building.
Challenges for Knowledge institutes to overcome include research budgets from the public and private sectors, linear mindsets of people, and governments still funding unsustainable projects.
Circular Hotspots and hubs have an important role to play in sharing best practices from business and local governments and adapt them to the local situation. They share insights and validation from knowledge institutes, both technical and social. They play a crucial role in bringing new coalitions together. Match circular offers and demand, or create access to finance. They create awareness and can be instrumental in capacity building. Both their actions and voice can be powerful if they combine strength and resources in projects or in circular advocacy.
The city of Amsterdam wants to be a regenerative and inclusive city for all citizens while respecting the whole planet. But how to realise the radical and ambitious vision to make such a thriving city?
Applying principles from Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics, the Amsterdam City Doughnut is a pioneering and deeply collaborative process involving more than 100 officials and businesses from the city. The participants have worked together to co-create an agenda for systemic change, to create a circular Amsterdam that works for both city residents and the planet.
The workshop discussion practically explored how strategies can impact both socio-economic, and environmental elements. For example how products-as-a-service have the potential to boost access to high-quality goods and services, all while decreasing material and energy consumption.
An integral factor to successfully apply the City Doughnut and a potential challenge is how to ensure deep collaboration between stakeholders, both throughout the city (including citizens and businesses), as well as within the city government itself (between the various municipal departments). This is crucial to ensure that circular strategies meet the needs of all.
The 15 participating circular hotspots and hubs have shown the power of a combined circular ideas network, in this case dedicated to identify new approaches for cities. It helps all of them, within each region, and beyond — to swiftly take practical action to drive the transition to the circular economy.
It is an initiative that is worth replicating both at the institutional level for example at international Climate and Resource Conferences, UN gremia, World Expo’s and future WCEF’s but especially at the actionable level of cities and regions!
We will actively seek how we can accelerate this process and invite all to think with us to make that happen.
If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.African Proverb