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Solutions&Co encourages meetings and exchanges between the leaders of innovative solutions and larger-scale companies, with the aim of creating synergies and strengthening the impact of these positive initiatives.

Dame Ellen MacArthur

Dame Ellen
MacArthur

A world-renowned sailor, Dame Ellen MacArthur now leads the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charity that works with business and education to accelerate the transition to a circular economy.

Dame Ellen MacArthur

The Circular Economy Opportunity for Cities

Already generating a staggering 85% of global GDP, cities are at the heart of the economic transformation we’re starting to see emerge. With a balance of power that is gradually shifting, large urban centres are taking the main stage, almost becoming autonomous entities with the ability to experiment and shape their own future.

The figures are compelling, and the last decade saw for the first time in history a bigger proportion of city dwellers than people living in rural areas on a planetary scale. That naturally does not go without challenges, and the sheer volume of resources necessary to fuel this unprecedented development raises some serious questions in the mid to long term.

The fact is that cities tend to act as concentrators of materials and nutrients: ‘stuff’ flows to them, but apart from copious quantities of waste and sewage, hardly anything comes out. Cities are not, in our current linear “take, make, dispose” economy, regenerative in the slightest. Think for instance that over the course of the 20th century, the recycling rate of food-derived nitrogen dropped from 40 to 5% in Paris.

Yet metropolitan clusters also concentrate what arguably will provide their stepping stone towards positive growth and development: considerable amounts of creativity and knowledge, pervasive connectivity, reverse logistic chains, precision small-scale agriculture, decentralized (re)manufacturing, multiple use buildings, multi-modal transport systems featuring autonomous vehicles… All of which are key enabling factors for a circular economy.

By maximising the utilisation rate of assets such as cars or buildings, through sharing platforms, the need for virgin finite resources is greatly reduced: it’s about having access to the service rather than owning the product itself, and as a growing body of evidence shows, savings in terms of materials, energy and negative impacts avoided are huge. But the circular economy potential is not limited to technical materials, and latest trends in architecture as well as urban planning erode the traditional divide between town and country. Look at Singapore’s Skygreen urban farming venture, Milan’s Bosco Verticale or Haarlemmermeer’s Park 2020 and you’ll see this ‘whole system design’ effort at work.

[Making sense of stocks, flows and regeneration is essential to achieve a resilient circular economy able to provide positive growth and societal benefits in the long term.] The industrial model, with its very centralised production and one-way mechanisms, is increasingly challenged and nowhere is that more visible than in cities: think for example of the uptake of maker labs, repair cafés and incubators for start-ups. With 60% of the urban infrastructure needed by 2050 still to be built, there is a fabulous opportunity to design the system for circularity from the outset. The fact that many internationally significant cities have chosen to go down that path can only be seen as an encouraging sign. 

 

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  1. Prof. Stéphane Guilbert, SupAgro Montpellier – INRA

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