From Amsterdam to Zagreb, 3 steps to transition to a circular economy for cities

From Amsterdam to Zagreb, 3 steps to transition to a circular economy for cities

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More than 700 jurisdictions and local governments around the world, encompassing 135 million citizens, have declared a climate emergency. It's a huge statement of intent but the next step must be for them to focus on creating a circular economy to underpin those declarations and encourage us to live within our means.

A truly circular economy requires a fundamental shift from our outdated take-make-waste model to a system where resources retain their highest possible value.

Apart from countering the depletion of natural resources, climate change and environmental degradation, a circular economy can bring jobs, investment and social capital, making economies more resilient and competitive overall.

At Circle Economy, a Dutch social enterprise advocating the circular economy, we recently launched a new report, "The Role of Municipal Policy in the Circular Economy" (PDF), which found that circular policies, especially strategy, targets, loans and subsidies, are conducive to generating both employment and investment.

The report looked at 43 European cities, from Amsterdam to Zagreb, and found that local government programs which encourage and support circular economy practices, such as repair, recycling and circular design activities, also result in tangible socio-economic benefits for the city and its people.

We were inspired by some initiatives in place and found three key practices adopted by municipalities across Europe that benefit society and attract jobs, investment and social capital in their local circular economy:

1. Create a circular economy strategy and set ambitious targets to attract investment in circular activities

The cities most successful in developing a circular economy developed shared societal and environmental objectives, which gave strategic direction to all stakeholders in the city and encouraged long-term thinking and collaboration over short-term budgeting.

Malmö, Sweden, invited over 100 companies to inform the development of a fossil-free 2030 roadmap. By engaging contractors, banks, suppliers and construction companies, Malmö was able to synchronize the thinking about circularity and resource efficiency in the construction sector. Stone wool insulation company ROCKWOOL testifies how this has made it significantly easier for the stakeholders in the local construction chain to find project partners that share the long-term thinking required to transition to circularity.

2. Leverage economic support to help circular initiatives overcome financial barriers

Financial injections and public procurement are vital to help circular initiatives establish a business, service immature markets and take office in a city.

Amsterdam has provided financial assistance to businesses in the circular economy through loans and subsidies. One of those loans and a reduced rent have allowed DOOR architecten to establish an office in the city. Thanks to this support, its offices are not only centrally located, but also a prime example of circular construction as they are made from recycled, reusable and bio-based materials.The continued attention to circular criteria in tenders from municipalities across the Netherlands has allowed the architecture practice to expand their portfolio of projects and further pursue circularity in their work.

3. Employ soft policy instruments to support ongoing circular activities

Building strong networks and sharing information across a city can raise the knowledge levels of local stakeholders by boosting human and social capital.

The London Waste and Recycling Board supports SMEs that want to make their processes more circular with its Advance London Business Support Program. ToastAle, an innovative brewery which transforms surplus fresh bread into beer, was able to work with the program to run an analysis of the environmental impact of its production process and packaging, which informed a number of key changes.

Beyond knowledge and insights, the program also provides valuable access to a business network, which helps ToastAle raise the profile of its product and mission.

As we move towards a net zero future, cities and urban policy makers will play a pivotal role in accelerating the circular economy and realizing its socio-economic potential.

Governments can use the circular economy as an opportunity to ensure the inclusive and sustainable development of their cities, but they must put the right practices in place as a matter of priority to help us avoid the worst impacts of the climate emergency they have declared.

The time is now.

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