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19th European Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production – Circular Europe for Sustainability: Design, Production and Consumption

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Circular economy transition: a typology of user-based behavioural changes across urban sectors and systems

As population and income grow worldwide, demand for food, energy, manufactured goods and the associated amount of land and resources, as well as CO2 emissions, increase. Instead of continuing with the traditional “take-make-waste” model that exploits natural resources beyond the carrying capacity of the Earth, the moment has come to focus on the Circular Economy (CE) (Kirchherr et al., 2017). Based on new production and consumption models, CE promotes limiting the use, reusing and recycling material and energy. Cities have potential to play a crucial role in this transition, while simultaneously reconciling urban environmental, economic and social goals. For example, negative associations occur between unsustainable consumption, excess waste production, loss of traditional jobs and weakening of social cohesion (Brink P., Mazza L. and Kettunen M., 2012). CE would support a transition from cities heavily based on mass consumption and uncontrolled waste generation towards ones based on circular and resource-efficient production and consumption models. Links to other sustainability related concepts, such as the bioeconomy and green economy (D’Amato et al., 2017) would allow to integrate solutions related to the substitution of fossil-based resources with bio-based ones; as well as nature-based solutions enhancing ecosystem services in urban areas (e.g. water purification, recreation). The urgency for change is stressed by the fact that more than half of the world population currently lives in cities, and that this share is bound to increase over the next decades reaching two-thirds of the world’s population. Transitions however are complex phenomena, which do not simply involve innovative technologies from the supply-side, but also societal transformations based on a multi-actor process taking place across urban spaces and sectors. There is a need to define the type of changes needed and the actors involved, as well as the interplay between the two. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2017), for instance, lists a number of factors which would enable cities to drive this transition along the desired sustainable trajectory: (a) proximity of people and materials in the urban environment; (b) sufficient scale for effective markets; (c) the ability of city governments to shape urban planning and policy; and (d) the digital revolution. The involvement of end-users is crucial to accomplish this transition along the defined trajectory. This study thus contributes to the discussion on radical rethinking of urban production-consumption models in a twofold way: (i) identifying a typology of behavioral changes at the citizen level needed for promoting circular cities, also based on the required nudges (self- policy- and/or industry- change); and (ii) establishing relations and links between various urban sectors and systems (e.g. school, transport, hospitals).

Dalia D'Amato
Dept. Forest Sciences, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Helsinki

Francesca Govoni
Unitelma Sapienza University of Rome, BiT-RG

Piergiuseppe Morone
Unitelma Sapienza University of Rome, BiT-RG


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