Creating circular cities involves valuing embodied carbon


Becoming carbon neutral by 2030 is becoming a civic moonlight of our time. The creation of carbon neutral cities requires major reductions in carbon emissions, complemented by the elimination of carbon, which implies energy efficiency, 100% renewable energy, more resilient and flexible networks, electrification of everything. , and more.

Circular economies will become an essential complement to this decarbonization.

If the millions of metric tons of embodied carbon released into civil society are to remain in play, this process must take place in cities. Why? Because cities are where Scope 3 emissions from consumption and the built environment often roost. They are also the last mile in the value chain, home to what could be richer value creation – and recreation.

Even as the fantasies of raw material curls start to come true (thanks, Eastman, Unilever, Novoloop and more) and plastic waste from all over the world becomes a new favorite shoe (thanks, First Mile), it’s in the cities that the shortest and low carbon circular cycles can be achieved.

As a place of last mile value creation, cities welcome experiences that transform embodied carbon into life. This is also where tastes are created, fashions are set and new standards are standardized. The sections below examine the state of the art in food, materials and the built environment from the perspective of circular cities.

Tightened food buckles

Wasted food is responsible for 6 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. With about a third due to household waste, online ordering and ready-made meal kits can reduce waste through more responsive food purchases.

Restaurants, too, are closing the loop and contributing to a circular food fashion. Sustainable sourcing and labeling strategies are led by Panera’s “Cool Food” badges, Just Salad’s carbon label and Chipotle’s (confusing) “Real Foodprint”. These statements allow diners to make choices that minimize the carbon incorporated.

Cities are where Scope 3 emissions from consumption and the built environment often roost.

Adaptive cooking is all the rage, as chefs find roles for cut-outs and old-fashioned foods normally ignored and offer “Trash Pie” on the standing menu. Waste is kept to a minimum with half portions, and in some cases, discarded prepared foods are recycled offsite and returned to the game. Finally, nonprofits such as Food Runners and platforms such as Goodr are developing smart ways to scavenge unused food for the hungry, reducing greenhouse gases along the way.

Municipal composting must then be ramped up, to recover what cannot be used and return it to the ground while avoiding the release of lost methane. Indeed, food waste has become the object of several models of circular cities, in particular the CityLoops of Europe and the Waste-to-Wealth of Baltimore. To close the loop, an award-winning chef wants diners to fund regenerative agriculture.

To top it all off, the nonprofit ReFed provides an analytics engine to understand food waste issues, deploy solutions and calculate impact. Food waste management will have to become an essential infrastructure in the cities of tomorrow.

Creative material moves

The seeds of a material re-vision are also being entrepreneurially planted in cities around the world.

Although reusable containers have become scary during the pandemic, single use is no safer than professionally cleaned reuse. Dispatch Goods has partnered with restaurants in San Francisco to pilot reusable containers for the take-out culture caused by the pandemic. While the corporate lunch wave was its biggest market before the pandemic (with a 92% container return rate), the logistics of door-to-door collection are more difficult. Yet a reuse revolution is emerging.

In a recent study modeling cup reuse versus recycling in urban event centers, reusable items emerged as the most environmentally friendly (although this is more powerful when the cup is also recycled someday). ). Closed Loop Partners offers a playbook that explains how to switch to reusable cups.

In the fashionable world of clothing, sustainability is also making a comeback. A thredUP study estimates that the thrift store market will double in the next five years. During the pandemic, an increase in fashion resale options coincided with the COVID-inspired closet cleanup. So even as circular fashion inventories got richer, the circle itself became easier, both for businesses (Trove, Recircled, Circular Toolbox) and consumers (Vinted, Depop, TheRealReal). But he also became more creative. From GenZ’s craftcore culture to recycled classics from Isso, and from a New York street tailor to a writer’s choice to have one staff – a repurposed frame can free your mind.

In a world of the future, each tonne of carbon incorporated will generate a longer value chain than today.

The new Higg Product Tool (a for-profit spinoff of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition) also supports the longevity of clothing. In addition to providing modules to measure the sustainability and carbon impacts of the procurement and production of clothing, the software helps to measure those of their distribution, sale, use and reuse. With a tool set so comprehensive that it includes a DIY module on how to replace a product’s zipper, Higg could well double as a great manual for local small businesses serving the business of regeneration of value.

More and more, furniture is freed up better for reuse. Feather, serving cities across the United States, rents upscale furniture, perfect for young city apartment dwellers who might be moving in a year or two. Meanwhile, IKEA is a leader in designing furniture specifically for reuse, renovation and repair – a model that will be helped by its deferred but now active buy-back program. Other companies provide infrastructure to make furniture that you no longer need for reuse.

Meanwhile, Rheaply is a digital infrastructure system for managing assets of all kinds. It aims to keep the material world in circulation by connecting systems and cities to create networks of reuse. It sees its flagship technology as “an infrastructure for improving health and wealth”, helping cities to become productive and resource efficient local centers.

Embodied space

Speaking of infrastructure, the carbon that will soon be incorporated into future construction projects must be designed with a long-term value chain in mind, as the embodied carbon from building materials and construction accounts for 11%. global greenhouse gases (GHGs). emissions.

This is starting to be mitigated thanks to the carbon absorbing concrete and the air facades. Decommissioned wind turbine blades are found in playgrounds and pedestrian bridges, and recycled plastics are emerging in applications ranging from windows to bridges. Even new neighborhoods emerge from the artifacts of their history. Indeed, surrounding construction and demolition waste (CDW) is key to circular city models in Europe and Baltimore.

But the best way to maximize the value of the built environment is to use it well.

Just as smart grids and sharing economies generate more value without more capacity, smarter use of the buildings already at stake could help contain the growth of embedded carbon in our cities. While changing the use of existing building stock is not as dynamic as a demand response contract or shared ride, zoning to allow responsive reconfiguration and reallocation of space is a smart policy principle. in a carbon-intensive built environment.

As hotels become lodgings and moonlit lodgings as hotels, office towers could also accommodate apartments for business travelers or more permanent residents while ensuring the vitality of downtown businesses. city ​​during vacations, weekends, pandemics and constantly shifted work patterns. With vacancies at an all time high, this is arguably an idea whose time has come in several cities once we have considered our real needs.

While such approaches may seem disruptive, a thoughtful system could provide more stable incomes to homeowners and alleviate the housing and climate crises plaguing cities and communities. At the same time, they can ensure the relevance of small last mile businesses in city centers and keep them in place to house the value chain and provide convenient touchpoints to go back and close the loops.

A rise of the Renaissance?

The circular infrastructure of experimentation and collaboration is slowly taking shape to support the circular renaissance we need.

Meanwhile, civic play books are being written around the world. Toolkits for small businesses are available in Chicago and Glasgow, a practice of sharing, reuse and repair is emerging in Vancouver, and a Circular Cities and Regions (CIRB) initiative will soon be launched. testing in 15 local governments across Canada. CityLoops is organizing circular city experiments in seven small cities in Europe. And the Ellen MacArthur Foundation offers a guide to the food system for cities around the world, as well as circular policy case studies from a dozen cities around the world.

In a world of the future, each tonne of carbon incorporated will generate a longer value chain than today. And, one day soon, our progress must also become measurable.

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