Circular City Week:
An eyeopener that resonated in New York
New York City has got itself a new vehicle to drive the agenda of circular economy forward. From March 4-10, 2019 the brand-new Circular City Week sent a whirlpool of 30+ events and activities across New York City with contributions from 50+ organizations and 70+ speakers. And circular economy resonated among New York stakeholders, with 2000+ engaged attendees taking part of the week.
“Circular City Week put a spotlight on the rapidly growing interest in circularity in North America,” said Kate Daly, Executive Director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners. “We’re excited to be at the forefront of building circular supply chains and to see first-hand the innovations and investment opportunities available. Keeping materials out of landfill and in the supply chain cuts costs, mitigates risk and protects the environment. The momentum is building, as is the urgency to address the consequences of our current take-make-waste linear economy.”
The sense of urgency and relevance across different urban industries was felt throughout the week, and experts and participants provided input on how to change our traditional 20th century mindset by using 21st century technology and solutions to transform waste into a valuable resource instead.
“As the shift to increasing urbanization continues, the resilience of the world’s cities remains one of the most influential factors for our future on this planet. Finite constraints on resources and the characteristic mismanagement of the linear economy model bring us to an irreversible point that demands a paradigm shift in our decision-making process. A shift to a circular economy as our new default is critical. We need to embrace it and use our combined talents to gain widespread consensus and align expectations,” said Tom Kennedy, Principal and US Circular Economy Lead at Arup.
A platform to discover the business potential of circularity
As a trans-Atlantic knowledge exchange, Circular City Week showcased a vast range of both mature, and future, technologies and solutions within resource efficiency, non-virgin material use, upcycling, refurbishing, remanufacturing, design for disassembly, material tracking, sharing economy, products as a service, and industrial symbiosis. The multi-disciplinary discussions revealed that both from an innovation and financial point of view the transition to a circular economy is both real, and profitable. In the words of Jesper Minor, Founder and CEO of Minor Change Group: “For the first time we see that circular economy is becoming the core of business models.”
The financial potential of circular economy was a strong underlying theme throughout the week. As a backdrop, already in 2016 Ellen MacArthur Foundation together with McKinsey & Co. determined that transitioning to circular economy models could unleash $1 trillion worth of new business into the global economy. The strong engagement of New York’s investment ecosystem provided input to why Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investment is a trending theme globally. “Banks have a major role to play in supporting sustainable development, socially responsible behavior and policies. In 2018 ING announced it would steer a €600 billion lending portfolio towards the well-below two-degree goal of the Paris Climate Agreement. We went one step further to also introduce an innovative initiative called the Terra Approach, which is a way to measure a bank’s lending portfolio against climate-based scenarios. ING is passionate about this because sustainable business is better business and by focusing on forward-thinking companies that are driving change to become more sustainable, we will have a positive impact on business in the long term, “said Anne van Riel, Head of Sustainable Finance in Americas at ING.
New York City as a global circular solution hub
Circular City Week was also a celebration of circular first movers in New York City across the public and private sector, who are offering themselves as collaborators in this transition. “For New York City, Circular Economy means a more efficient, more prosperous and more resilient city. The conversations during Circular City Week have unlocked the potential for new partnerships and innovative solutions to using waste as a resource,” said Bridget Anderson, Deputy Commissioner, Recycling and Sustainability, NYC Department of Sanitation.
Another key local partner was Cooper Recycling who is pioneering construction and demolition waste recycling by running one of the most sophisticated facilities of its kind in the US. “Urban recycling and sustainability is our passion, and it’s what we’ve done in NYC for over 30 years. Someone on the tour asked about how things have changed over the years – has business picked up, is recycling up? One of the most notable ways things have changed for us is that we are participating in this dialogue. The mere term ‘Circular Cities’ and ‘Circular Economies’ are prominent. The appreciation for sustainable infrastructure is growing and that’s always been at the forefront of our operation - diverting as much material to beneficial end uses and away from landfills. We are excited with the success of Circular City Week, are proud to have been sponsors in making this happen, and we very much enjoyed bringing people from various sectors and levels of interest to our new recycling facility to show them firsthand what happens to construction & demolition debris in the greatest city in the world,” said Naomi Cooper, Vice President, Cooper Recycling.
Circular City Week New York going forward
This year’s Circular City Week was only made possible due to the enormous support from event hosts and partners. The interest from local and global organizations in taking part of this conversation by far exceeded the expectations of the organizers. “From Danish Cleantech Hub’s point of view the initial idea with Circular City Week was to build a movement of diverse stakeholders committed to transitioning to a circular economy as the new sustainability paradigm. The overwhelmingly positive feedback we have received clearly indicates that this agenda resonates with New York stakeholders, and I can’t wait to see how this movement will grow, and where it will take us going forward” said Tone Søndergaard, Project and Strategy Director at Danish Cleantech Hub, and founder of Circular City Week.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which globally works to promote circular economy, also took part in Circular City Week. They used the week to launch a new fashion initiate together with NYC Economic Development Corporation and to give talks on their newest publication on cities and Circular Economy which also was publish during this first week of March. Miranda Schnitger, Cities Project Lead from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, had taken the trip from London to be part of the week: “Circular City Week showcased the scale of the collaboration potential on circular economy in New York - between leading companies, universities, start-ups, and public institutions from the City to the UN. The entrepreneurial spirit of the city makes it fertile ground for new business models to take hold - from crowd-mapping vacant land sites, to opening up underused buildings for commerce and community, to recovering building materials, and looping clothes - which are just some of the initiatives already taking place. This is why New York is an important part of a global movement towards thriving, liveable cities inspired by the circular economy.”
Circular City Week will return to New York again in the spring of 2020.
Facts and info
Circular City Week included a diverse range of events. Hence the week included a book release, conferences, an art exhibition, lunch & learns, a film screening, a family play-shop, tours , a pitch competition, site visits and workshops. Circular City Week also showcased how circular economy is relevant to a range of industries. Activities covered topics such as arts and design, business models and financing, energy and water, fashion and textiles, recycling and waste management, plastics and packaging, innovation and industries, urban farming and food waste, and the built environment and architecture.
Circular Economy in Cities by Arup and Ellen MacArthur Foundation is a suite of online resources which provide a reference point for urban policymakers.
Central Region Denmark strategic plan Circularity City - Shaping our Urban Future.
Read INGs US Circular Economy Survey 2019 on how circular thinking could change US business models.
New York City has a declared goal of zero waste to landfill by 2030, which includes a range of waste management initiatives.