Municipalities from Amsterdam to Peterborough are mapping out how firms can work together to share resources

Cities are increasingly looking to adopt circular economy models, encouraged by collaborative platforms such as Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Circular Cities Network, Circle Economy’s Circle Cities programme and Fira Barcelona’s Circular Cities event, which debuted last year.

Glasgow and Amsterdam are among those undertaking circular scans to map the scale of opportunity, while London has unveiled funding mechanisms to stimulate circular business models. But how might businesses need to adapt inside a circular city?

One city that doing a lot of circular engagement work with businesses is Peterborough. Last December, Peterborough City Council, in partnership with Opportunity Peterborough, launched what is thought to be the UK’s first business-to-business resource-sharing platform to be developed by a city, Share Peterborough.

The platform allows Peterborough businesses to share resources that they either no longer need or do not fully utilise, such as products and equipment, skills and expertise, spaces and facilities. Members include Coca-Cola European Partners, Skanska, Queensgate Shopping Centre and Peterborough Greyhounds Stadium.

“The platform aims to contribute to achieving Peterborough’s Circular City ambitions by improving resource-use efficiency and minimising waste in the city. We’ve already had more than 74 listings and 10 transactions, including the sharing of conference spaces, exhibition equipment and office furniture within the city,” says Katie Thomas of Opportunity Peterborough.

“As our journey towards circularity continues, we hope that collaborative business models will emerge,” says Thomas. Thomas acknowledges there are challenges to overcome, particularly for SMEs, such as a lack of access to technical and financial support. “Businesses are also challenged by engaging with their wider supply chain beyond the city boundaries,” she says.

A virtual wall around Amsterdam
The question of how far resource loops should flow out of a circular city has been studied by Frank O’Connor, co-founder of anois, who is helping to develop a circular city vision for the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. O’Connor is working on a manifesto for businesses that wish to operate in a circular city and has set up a personal care products company, mothu, to test out these principles, based on closed loop models, local value chains, and use of non-toxic raw materials.

Credit: Amstedam Economic Board

He uses the metaphor of building a “virtual wall” around Amsterdam to see what types of businesses can be self-sufficient within such parameters. At mothu, he says, “What we’re exploring is [using] waste from citrus fruit or waste from other sources … looking at how waste outputs from a city can be turned into new products. We are also looking at containers for packaging the product, such as reusable glass used from within the city.”

He believes that circular businesses able to operate within city limits should be able to manage their externalities more effectively, aided by more responsible production, localised supply chains and closer customer relationships.

Democratising the circular economy
The Fab City concept takes this one step further. A key aim of this experimental movement is to create new urban models for locally productive, yet globally connected, self-sufficient cities by prototyping new distribution models that enable goods to be made closer to home.

The Fab Lab innovation space in Utrecht (Credit: Guy Se from Utrecht, Netherlands, Creative Commons)

“We’re complementary in that we use circular economy principles in terms of material flows, recycling, extending the lifecycle of products, using waste as a resource,” says Tomas Diez, director of Fab Lab Barcelona.

Diez believes there is a risk material flows in a circular economy will ultimately end up being owned by corporations, keen to keep control of their supply chains. A Fab City democratises access to production, so that resources are shared more openly, for the benefit of a city as a whole.

Diez and his team have been working with corporations like IKEA to explore potential scenarios. Instead of people travelling to a large IKEA warehouse outside of a city to buy off-the-shelf furniture, for example, they could visit a neighbourhood IKEA micro-factory that produces personalised furniture on demand.

“Fab City prototypes provide a way to work at a neighbourhood scale to start to test how this new relationship between people, materials, production, consumption is going to be redefined in the coming years,” says Diez.


This is part of our circular economy briefing. See also:

Who's ahead on the circular economy curve

Timberland to scale plastic waste fabric 

Toyota and Jaguar show zero-waste metal 

Smurfit Kappa's zero-waste alchemist


Main image credit: Amsterdam Economic

circular economy  Fab Labs  Skanska  Ikea  coca-cola  Glasgow  London 

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