Article of the UIA Knowledge base Modifier 04 December 2019 by Elma Durmisevic, UIA Expert

Innovation and Circular Economy – Bold Approaches from UIA

UIA workshop during the European Week of Regions and Cities in Brussels
Short description
Circular Economy is at the centre of many UIA projects. At the moment, UIA funds eight projects within the topic of Circular Economy under Call 2. Out of these projects, four are addressing the construction sector, which is recognised as one of the biggest contributors to climate change, waste production and primary recourses consumption. In order to share valuable experiences and lessons learned from these four circular construction projects, UIA organised a workshop during the European Week of Regions and Cities in Brussels.

UIA also invited the coordinator of the Urban Agenda Partnership on Circular Economy for the EU, Hakon Jentoft from the city of Oslo to present the synergies between the partnership activities and the UIA projects. Just like the UIA-funded actions, the Urban Agenda Partnership (composed of six urban areas, four member states and six other stakeholders) aims to promote transition towards circular economy in European cities.


Exchange of findings and experiences between representatives of the four UIA projects and the Partnership delivered valuable insights into the barriers and opportunities of circular economy in the EU cities and regions. Herewith, you can find out more about the workshop presentations, interactive discussion with the participants and main takeaways form. The workshop was chaired by UIA Expert Dr. Elma Durmisevic.


Introduction to the workshop theme 
Circular Economy has been recognised by the EU as one of the keys to Europe’s resilient and prosperous future. Circular economy has at its core a shift from linear use of primary resources in “Take – Make – Waste” fashion (resulting into accumulated waste, polluted air, water and decline of biodiversity and primary resources), to a circular “Take – Make – Remake” economy. 

Today only 1% of building elements are reused in Europe, following their first application. Although a large number of elements are technically reusable, they end up being recycled by crushing or melting, or disposed. The result is a high environmental impact and a net loss of economic value. (FCRBE 2019 - Facilitating the circulation of reclaimed building materials in Northwestern Europe).
The main question is how nowadays linear economy, whose growth is coupled with consumption of primary resources, can be transformed into circular economy. Circular Economy is structured in a way that enables decoupling of economic growth from use of primary resources, and in return creates positive coupling between economic growth and the growth of natural resources. Value chains within such economy will be organised into a continuous loops where the rest from one value chain becomes resource for another. To reach this, it will require systemic change in the way business and economy operate today. It is therefore important to start testing different approaches and solutions. These experiments will help us understand and shape the way forward that will enable 100% circular economy in Europe in 2050 (ambition set by the EU). 
That is why circular solutions and challenges of the four UIA projects addressing circular building have been presented during this year’s European Week of Regions and Cities in Brussels. These UIA projects can be seen as lighthouses in the new emerging landscape of circular Europe. They are putting the light on challenges, barriers and opportunities of circular economy on different levels of building construction starting from circular infrastructure projects to circular buildings, building elements and materials.

 

UIA projects addressing circular economy in construction
The four UIA projects showcased their progress:
•    Kerkrade (NL) demonstrated “Super Circular Estate”, aiming at 100% reusing and recycling of materials acquired from deconstruction of a social housing ten story flat from 1970 and involving residents actively into the transformation process. Presented by: Tonnie Passau and Martijn Segers
•    Lappeenranta (FI) gave an update on “Urban Infra Revolution”, which developes technologies and material receipts for transformation of recycled aggregate/cement into a street furniture. Presented by: Eeva Pihlajaniemi
•    Sevran (FR) presented “Earth Cycle”, which is transforming excavation materials from the construction of new metro stations in the framework of the Greater Paris project into certified earth building materials. Presented by: Silvia Devescovi
•    Velez-Malaga (ES) and “BRICK-BEACH” are constructing new recycling/treatment plant, which will produce a certified high quality recycled aggregate from construction and demolition waste and illegal dumping and will be used in the pilot regeneration project of the Mezquitilla beach. Presented by: Gorka Espina
 

Workshop and Lessons learned 
The discussion with the four UIA projects and the representative from the Urban Agenda Partnership was organised around the main cross-cutting question “How would you define the difference between business as usual (management of conventional projects) and innovative projects (management of UIA projects)?”

 

Management of innovative circulate building projects
Workshop discussion started by addressing differences between managing of innovative and conventional/daily projects. Answers by all four UIA project representatives indicated that they shared similar views and experience. Sevran pointed out that horizontal management has been proven to be a good management strategy for innovation projects, while Kerkrade indicated that innovation can take more time than expected because many innovative aspects of the project are being implemented for the first time and participating partners are faced with many unknowns. In addition to that, Velez-Malaga shared the fact that the city has been investing significant time and effort to educate employers about circular economy and objectives of the innovation so that they can manage the innovative UIA project. Involvement of all partners from the beginning of the project has been seen as a very important element for the successful management of innovation by all. Besides, it has been suggested that it is essential to involve the key project partners in drafting of the project proposal itself in order to have everyone on the same page throughout the project.  
Important take-away from this discussion is related to the fact that one needs to be realistic when defining the ambition of innovative project, especially in the context of the time frame of the project itself. More innovation means there will be more challenges, difficulties and potential delays. At the same time innovation means, per definition, that one works on unknown solutions. Awareness building, educating partners and the community on potentials of the innovation as well as its economic and social benefits are taking significant time in the whole process.   

 

Barriers of circular economy
Another question addressed the barriers that cities have faced when implementing circular building projects.
All four cities expressed their concern with respect to the business case of circular building projects, which is not there yet. Therefore, as Kerkrade pointed out, “it is challenging to convince people to work on circular actions. Mind-set of people needs to change”. Besides economic incentives, legislation for circular economy is not there yet and UIA projects experienced challenges with respect to certification, quality and warranty. These concerns shared by the UIA projects, coincided with findings of the Urban Agenda Partnership. A notion has been shared by the Partnership that “we do have standards for new buildings, but we do not have standards for reusing materials from buildings at the moment. This results in clear legal and planning barrier”. Discussion also indicated that public procurement plays a crucial role during implementation of the project. It was made clear that cities are not equipt yet with implementation strategies for circular building projects. In order to implement circular actions and properly deal with procurement in innovative projects, political support at city level is needed, but regions have their role to play as well. 

 

Success factors of innovative projects
In the end, the workshop discussion was finalised with question addressing successful ingredients for management of UIA projects. Representatives of Kerkrade, Laapeenranta, Sevran, Velez-Malaga provided very useful tips for future UIA project managers, indicating the importance of embedding high level of resilience, that will enable project consortia to stay on track when difficulties and challenges appear. Furthermore, management of expectations of what can be delivered within a time frame of three years, identifying key human resources to deliver the project on time in particular covering legal, procurement and financial expertise should be considered from the beginning as well. Other factors that can influence success of an innovative project are identifying partnership and key stakeholders prior to start of writing the Application Form, securing timely support from the board of all involved partners. Last but not the least, project representatives advised not to deliver the key outputs of the projects through procurement, since procurement can block the innovation process and planning.

 

Interactive feedback from the workshop participants 
Based on the discussion with the representatives of the four UIA projects and the Urban Agenda Partnership, the audience was asked to provide their takeaways of the challenges and opportunities for circular economy in the future. This has been done through interactive “Mentimeter” Q&A session. 
Audience consisted predominantly of representatives of public bodies, corporate and financial institutions. Primarily interest of the participants was to learn more about UIA projects and implementation of circular building projects in cities. 
Based on the lessons shared by the four UIA projects as well as following the discussion, audience have identified procurement and legislation as the key barriers for the implementation of circular building projects. Other aspects followed such as the need to secure a right mind-set from the beginning of the project, as well as legal and economic incentives. 
When asked about the main opportunities of circular economy, participants split their votes across number of aspects as collaboration, environment, and innovation.

 


 

Concluding Remarks
This UIA workshop drew attention to the challenges and opportunities that cities and regions are facing when implementing circular building projects. It emphasised the necessity to set up a robust circular quality standardisation, legislation and financial incentives that will support transition towards circular economy.
Discussion highlighted that one of the main barriers for implementation of circular building projects is in the fact that business models and markets for circular buildings are not there yet. There is uncertainty about supply and demand of circular/reused materials. Cities cannot solve this challenge alone, because of the scale of operation needed in order to set up robust infrastructure that will support circular economy in construction. Therefore, Circular Building requires also regional and national scale. This is true for legislation as well. 
On the side of opportunities, it is clear that circular economy opens a door for new skills and job opportunities in particular related to reversed-logistics, refurbishment, remanufacturing, reversible design and ICT sectors. Through innovation in design, engineering and manufacturing that will secure continued rejuvenation of materials and products through their multiple use cycles, circular economy opens a way to a positive correlation between human health, economic prosperity and regenerative and growing natural resources.

Author: Elma Durmisevic, UIA Expert for the “Super Circular Estate” project (Kerkrade) and moderator of the event.
 

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