Big names in business and industry are pushing Europe’s circular economy forward
"The future is circular," insists Amsterdam Deputy Mayor Abdeluheb Choho. With the European Union making the circular economy a priority, Choho suggests its success relies on cities “being committed to this transition and acting as key stakeholders."
Choho, writing in Cities Today, also underscores the importance of collaboration between cities and industry “to make products more sustainable, building on existing positive experiences, as well as promoting innovative models for behavioral changes in consumption patterns."
So how will that play out in the move toward smarter, more resilient cities?
Familiar names in business and industry are pointing the way, as the six wide-ranging initiatives highlighted below illustrate:
- Belfius and the European Investment Bank (EIB) have supported smart cities development in Belgium for several years now, with more than 100 projects to date benefiting from €660m in financing. Their most recent investment programme, dubbed Smart Cities, Climate Action & Circular Economy, expanded to include education and healthcare sectors. One example: the energy-efficient refurbishment of a non-insulated prefabricated building that houses a municipal school in Flémalle, Liège Province.
- ACCIONA, the Spanish conglomerate that develops and manages infrastructure and renewable energy, is one of a number of companies calling for EU policies that support the circular economy. For its part, ACCIONA is substituting composite materials for traditional materials in infrastructure (beams, bars, etc.), to lessen environmental impact as compared to concrete and steel. One example: the world's first composite lighthouse in Valencia, which resulted in 50% savings in working time and a 20% reduction in embodied emissions.
- UKAD, ADEME and Crédit Agricole Centre France inaugurated the EcoTitanium site in Saint-Georges-de-Mons in September. The pioneering French plant will create Europe’s first aviation-grade titanium stream by recycling, making ecofriendly alloys from titanium solid scrap and chips collected from major aircraft makers and their subcontractors. The €48 million investment is also expected to create about 60 new jobs.
- Google and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation are collaborating on how digital technologies can help cities make the transition to a circular economy. One example is Project Sunroof, which leverages Google Earth imagery to identify prime spots for solar panels and expand use of renewable energy. Another is the Portico initiative which uses a web-based application to promote use of healthy building materials.
- Enel, the Italian energy multinational, is working with communities to identify new uses for 23 thermal plants as an alternative to dismantling them. The Futur-e sustainability model, Enel explains, will jointly define through public calls and contests of ideas, possible circular and long-term solutions to transform the sites into new local development opportunities.
- Skansa and Saint-Gobain, along with the Sustainable Building Alliance, Green Building Councils and public sector representatives, worked with the European Commission to develop a new EU-wide framework for sustainable buildings which recently launched in pilot phase. The tool focuses on performance indicators for things like greenhouse gas emissions and resource and water efficiency to track a building’s alignment with EU circular economy priorities.
As these examples demonstrate, by embracing a circular economy cities and their citizens can realize substantial benefits – from more jobs and greater competitive advantage to cleaner air and healthier buildings.