Circular City Week New York 2021: A Virtual Festival with Global Reach and Deepened Impact
With 90 events, 300 speakers, +150 partners and event hosts, and more than 5,500 event attendees, the third annual Circular City Week New York successfully brought individuals and organizations across industries, to the circular economy conversation. This year’s virtual event focused on new and innovative circular economy strategies, all with a purpose to share knowledge and pave the way towards wider circular implementation.
The Circular City Week event calendar was filled with virtual webinars, panel discussions, interactive workshops, hackathons, in-person tours, and much more. Each event uniquely highlighted climate change implications, innovation potential, and economic aspects of the circular economy with approaches and strategies used to enable it. Whether this was by joining on a tour of a New York City downtown composting facility, a presentation of new cutting edge research to address global food waste, a panel discussing on waste reduction in the beauty product industry, or an event, which showcased how international collaborations have brought circularity to a New York college campus, Circular City Week’s partners, hosts and attendees expanded the understanding of what can be accomplished under the umbrella of the circular economy agenda.
Building Blocks in the Circular Economy
As part of the official CCW events, the increasing application of circularity in the built environment - both in building construction and energy industries – was a focal point. More than 20+ additional events mirrored this focus as they covered areas from waste to energy, building certifications, and circular power systems. Our very own Pioneer Partners ABB, NYSERDA, and Arup spearheaded the conversation during the closing ceremony, by breaking down their respective organization’s circularity goals, along with the strategies currently being implemented to achieve them. Michael Plaster (ABB U.S Executive Vice President & Lead Business Manager for Electrification), described ABB’s view on sustainability and circularity as holistic stating the company is, “incorporating environmental, social, and corporate governance.” More so, Plaster highlighted the importance of meeting long-term waste and emission reduction goals, by describing the path to not only meeting but also exceeding their 2020 sustainability goals. ABB will also use this momentum, to double down with even more ambitious 2030 goals that have an added emphasis on circularity.
Principal & Circular Economy Lead at ARUP, Tom Kennedy, also approached this topic by emphasizing ways to rebuild New York. Kennedy described not just circular ways to re-think the supply chain but more specifically, focusing on the so-called: supportive value chain. To do this, one considers the history and entire lifecycle of all materials used. This approach is central to the circular economy concept that sustainable development, must go further than simply recycling a product. Companies, organizations, and individuals must assess the impact of each lifecycle stage, to determine if it can be repurposed or reused.
"An important consideration that is pivotal at the city scale yet often neglected is the social equity and access to circular options for all. It is not just those who live in the right zip code or have the right amount of disposable income and luxury to make a choice to be more sustainable and support the circular economy, it should be for everyone and it should be accessible to everyone.”
--Tom Kennedy, ARUP
From Waste to Resource
The official events also presented creative and innovative perspectives on how to tackle the issue of waste management; a challenging industry to make circular as it deals with the end-use phase of a product. Pioneer Partner Rubicon discussed the difficulties (but also opportunities) of making sense of decentralized waste management systems, through their data-driven approach. Another valued Pioneer Partner Dell Technologies approached this issue from a financial benefits perspective. Stephen Roberts (Director of Environmental Affairs) thoroughly elaborated on examples of how to implement circularity by repurposing materials. Roberts made it clear that Dell does not believe in product obsolescence. Dell is committed to repairing, upgrading, and thus extending the lifespan of its products. This type of commitment and business practice on circular waste management presents how corporations have an incredible ability to both recover lost value and reduce environmental impact. Designing out waste is a central circular strategy to many Circular City Week partners and was therefore also present in several events this year. Moreover, all event hosts showcased scalable solutions and presented markable results on textile waste, sustainable and refurbished furniture design, thus leaving a very slight reason for why circular practices shouldn’t become normative.
"As someone who has been in the circular economy space for nearly a decade, the +600 people registered for a Monday morning event (e.g. the Official CCW21 Opening Event) is a testament of the community that is being created about the circular economy movement.”
- David Rachelson, Chief Sustainability Officer at Rubicon
Let’s Talk About Implementation
Climate change and resource scarcity are in many ways, impediments to our societies as are the increasing waste mountains. And to all of that, we can add the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has of course affected us all in one way or the other, but particularly the economy. While the overall purpose of this year´s Circular City Week was to give partners and hosts a platform to present their goals, what truly stood out was how far the implementation of circular economy practices has come. A critical factor in this was that all events in one way or the other showcased not only their ideas but the processes in executing strategies.
Fruitful conversations and knowledge sharing added an extra positive twist to this. The level of interest shown and engagement from event attendees chatting across platforms and participating in Q&A sessions happened at nearly all events with participants from across the globe and across all industry sectors.
By the closing of the week, it also became apparent that with all the circular economy strategies put into place, it is very difficult for cities such as New York and societies across the world, not to make use of the readily available tools for implementing markable circular solutions. So, let’s keep talking about circular ideas but moreover, how to use the circular economy to recreate economic – socially inclusive – environmental – and COVID-related recovery strategies.
Published April 12th, 2021