Businesses, regions and cities: cradles of the circular economy

Munich, 1st November 2014

In a paper called The circular economy: producing more with less, published on my blog on 26 August 2014, I had the opportunity to offer a definition of the circular economy, to trace the concept’s progress internationally since the 1970s, and then to touch on the practices which, according to the French environmental agency ADEME in particular, underpin such an economy: eco-design, industrial ecology, the economy of functionality, re-use, repair, reutilisation and recycling [1]. Finally, I contended that, besides the key principles of sustainable development to which the circular economy contributes, to become part of this process meant supporting policies which, from the global to the local, become increasingly concrete as and when they get closer to companies. This is what I will try to show in this new presentation [2].

1. First industrial ecology and then the circular economy come on-stream

The circular economy, and especially industrial ecology, has been a reality for businesses, business parks, regions and cities for decades. The industrial symbiosis of Kalundborg (Symbiotic Industry), launched to the west of Copenhagen on the shores of the North Sea in 1961, is an international benchmark and recognised as a model for the development of eco-industrial parks [3]. Reference is also commonly made to the Dutch river and seaport of Mœrdijk (North Brabant), to Green Park business park in Berkshire in the UK, to the Grande-Synthe industrial area in Dunkirk, to the Artois-Flandres Industrial Estate in the North Pas de Calais, to the Reims-Bazancourt-Pomacle agribusiness park in Champagne-Ardenne, to Kamp C in Westerlo (near Antwerp) and other examples; in particular, practices by businesses such as pooled waste management and flow mapping are cited [4].

A circular ecosystem of economy

A Circular ecosystem of economy

It was following a lengthy process of reflection that in late 2005 the European Commission proposed a new thematic waste prevention and recycling strategy that defined a long-term approach. Several proposals emanated from this strategy, including an overhaul of the Framework Directive on Waste [5]. The new directive pointed out that although European policy in this area was based primarily on the concept of a ‘waste hierarchy’, waste should above all be prevented from the product design stage onwards. In parallel, waste that cannot be avoided must be reutilised, recycled and recovered. The Commission accordingly regards landfill as ‘the worst option for the environment as it signifies a loss of resources and could turn into a future environmental liability’. The new directive announced the incorporation of the concept of life cycle into European legislation. It promotes, among other things, the idea of the circular economy, developed in China [6]. Meanwhile, since 2011, an initiative called A resource-efficient Europe is one of the seven flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 Strategy. Among the measures recommended in the medium term to support this development, the European Commission advocates a strategy of transforming the Union into a circular economy, based on a recycling society with the aim of reducing waste generation and using waste as a resource [7]. The Commission also notes the significance of the work of the MacArthur Foundation, including the report presented in early 2014 at the World Economic Forum: Towards the Circular Economy: Accelerating the Scale-up across global supply chains [8].

2. The example of Wallonia: the economic development agencies create eco-parks

As part of the Wallonia Region’s strategy of supporting the redeployment and development of the economy, its Regional Policy Statement 2009-2014 stressed the government’s willingness to promote cooperation between small businesses, in particular via groupings of employers or the organisation of economic activities in a circular economy and to integrate and develop industrial ecology in the strategy of all stakeholders (e.g. regional and intermunicipal economic development agencies), to bring about a gradual optimisation of incoming and outgoing flows (energy, materials, waste, heat, etc.) between neighbouring businesses [9]. This commitment was implemented the following year in the priority plan of Wallonia, the so-called ‘Marshall 2.Green’. It is within this framework that the government launched a call for proposals to develop eco-industrial zones [10], with a budget of €2.5 million earmarked for the development of five pilot schemes. These projects were expected to bring together a facility operator and representatives of businesses from the economic activity zones (ZAEs) concerned, with the objective of promoting practical implementation in the area through equipment loans. Five sites were chosen on the basis of project quality:

– the Chimay Baileux industrial park which, in partnership with the Chimay Wartoise Foundation, wants to use malt residue from brewing in methane production in order to cogenerate heat and electricity for businesses that use them;

– Liège Science Park at Sart Tilman, where the intermunicipal agency SPI has brought together Level IT, Technifutur, Sirris, Physiol and Eurogentec around a project for renewable energy generation, biodiversity and soft mobility;

– the Ecopole of Farciennes-Aiseau-Presles near Charleroi, where intermunicipal agency Igretec is running a resource pooling project relating to the rehabilitation of a loop of the Sambre by bringing together companies such as Sedisol, Ecoterres and Recymex;

– the project organised at Hermalle-sous-Huy-Engis on the Meuse at Liège, optimising the logistics of road and river transport, where Knauf is already using gypsum waste from the company Prayon;

– The Tertre-Hautrage-Villerot industrial park, mainly devoted to chemicals and Seveso-classified, in which eight companies (Yara, Erachem, Advachem, Wos, Shanks, Euloco, Hainaut Tanking and Polyol) have joined forces with the regional economic development and spatial planning agency IDEA as well as with the city of Saint-Ghislain, near Mons on the French border [11].

The latter project, ranked first by the Region’s selection committee for its innovative character, has made it possible to develop industrial synergies involving the exchange of materials and energy, and in particular steam recovery, the rationalisation of water consumption, the creation of a closed system for the purification and re-use of waste water, the development of the railway on the site and the associated river dock, road safety around the park and aesthetic and environmental concerns [12]. A whole process is also gathering momentum at the initiative of Hainaut intermunicipal agency IDEA and the local companies concerned (YARA Tertre SA/NV, WOS, Shanks Hainaut, Erachem COMILOG, Polyol, Advachem, Hainaut-Tanking and Euloco). By introducing a local railway operator with the agreement of the Belgian infrastructure railway manager Infrabel, IDEA is attempting to meet the needs of industrial companies and minimise road use. The intermunicipal agency’s purpose is to meet the needs of its customers and hence to improve the situation of the affected companies to ensure that they retain their connection with the area and maintain as much activity as possible there. In addition, nearly 32 hectares of land shortly to be cleaned up by the regional public company SPAQuE [13] and the 8-hectare site of Yorkshire Europe, which has already been rehabilitated, represent real potential for the expansion of an industrial ecology project.

3. The NEXT Platform: a regional framework

In June 2013, in the presence of Ellen MacArthur and a hundred industrialists, the Wallonia Region formalised the cooperation agreement that its economy minister, Jean-Claude Marcourt, had signed with the foundation created by the British yachtswoman in the context of the Circular Economy 100 – Region process. This strategic partnership, with which Tractebel Engineering is associated, relates to the implementation of the circular ecology and is part of the development programme and industrial ecology platform called ‘NEXT’, set up the previous year by the authorities responsible for the regional economy. As Ellen MacArthur noted at the launch of this initiative, ‘the heart of the circular economy is innovation, creativity and opportunity’ [14].

Accordingly, in July 2013, the Government of Wallonia entrusted a mission to the Regional Investment Company of Wallonia (SRIW), and in particular its subsidiary BEFin, for the creation and implementation of the multisectoral circular economy strand of industrial policy in Wallonia (NEXT), complementing the competitiveness clusters. This programme’s role is to ensure the structured, comprehensive and coherent deployment of the circular economy in Wallonia in order to develop value-enhancing projects based on three pillars: industry, higher education and an international network. Besides raising companies’ awareness of the circular economy, as stated in the priority plan for Wallonia, the task of the unit that has been set up is to organise the creation of waste markets by companies and operators, to facilitate the introduction of a label for eco-systemic businesses and to foster partnerships with foreign institutions. It thus involves intensifying and structuring support for innovative circular economy projects driven by companies in Wallonia, from a perspective of sustainable materials management. It was then agreed that a circular economy fund should be set up at the Economic Stimulation Agency (ASE), and that an urgent mission focusing on giving guidance in recycling and re-using building materials should be entrusted to the GreenWin competitiveness cluster and the Construction Confederation. The missions of the ‘short circuits’ research centre were extended to include the circular economy on 26 September 2013 [15]. In early 2014, the NEXT team was particularly involved at the regional level but also at the area level with the preparation of European Structural Fund (ERDF) planning.

The Regional Policy Statement for Wallonia (DPR) 2014-2019 vigorously reaffirms the Paul Magnette government’s support for the development of the circular economy in Wallonia in order to promote the transition to a sustainable industrial system’ and to support the competitiveness of Walloon companies through synergies between them, promoting the reutilisation of waste as a new resource [16]. The DPR confirms the continuation of the NEXT programme and points out that the circular economy aims to ensure the emergence of innovative solutions to help decouple economic growth from increased consumption of resources, for example, by helping companies to rationalise their energy consumption and favouring the joint use of material and energy flows between businesses and the pooling of goods and services [17].

Conclusions: businesses, regions and cities as stages for action

The circular economy is an optimisation economy based on business parks, economic sectors, and local, regional or international industrial systems. It of course implies a sound knowledge of the regional industrial metabolism and metabolisms in specific areas [18], i.e. the flows generated by businesses, and their needs and constraints. The challenge for the business itself is likewise considerable, and the process of raising awareness among entrepreneurs about the benefits of the circular economy has also undergone a real acceleration [19]. As we have seen, the circular economy, rather than being a Copernican revolution or a paradigm shift, brings together practices that contribute to the transition to a more sustainable and harmonious society: eco-design, industrial ecology, the economy of functionality, re-use, repair, reutilisation and recycling.

These things make sense because they are or can be actually practised on the ground. Yet it is here that the results can seem difficult to achieve. As Suren Erkman noted, writing on industrial ecology, when it comes to going into the details of how to change manufacturing processes in order to make by-products and wastes usable by other plants, we come up against some serious technical and economic difficulties [20].

Experience on the ground, including in the Heart of Hainaut, has shown that the only tangible achievements are those based on the partnership of proximity between the players and the long-term relationship of trust between businesses and local operators. It is with reason that Professor Leo Dayan, senior lecturer at the Sorbonne, has since 2004 advocated the introduction of centres for the development of industrial links at area level and local business parks for the development of industrial ecology in practice. He could see small teams evolving on the ground that were highly skilled, flexible, functionally versatile and endowed with their own financial resources. It was their role, he argued, to identify local eco-links and spot wastage and inefficiencies in order to generate partnerships between businesses, including local universities. Dayan rightly attached great importance to encouraging the actors in order to develop the necessary synergies [21]. This is the approach that was taken by the intermunicipal agency IDEA at the Tertre-Hautrage-Villerot industrial park, out of a desire to reconcile economic competitiveness and environmental performance across such a site. The local partners and resources that are mobilised then make the difference: business clubs, local residents, municipal authorities, the Environmental Safety Commission but also the University of Mons and local research centres such as Multitel, specialising in telecommunications and material traceability.

The Business Federation of Wallonia (UWE)’s SMIGIN project has demonstrated that SMEs can also work on an industrial ecology and circular economy approach [22]. Here too though, as also in the application of the extended producer responsibility principle, promoted in France by the General Commission for Sustainable Development, the point is to work to change attitudes and the culture so that the principles of cooperation and exchange go beyond the conceptual stage to become a reality on the ground [23].

The circular economy is definitely a systemic tool that takes the form of multiple practices. Above all, though, it is a matter of businesses and specific areas, in other words people and entities brought together on a site that is by its very nature bounded and restricted. It is in this proximity, if not intimacy, that practical steps first begin to be taken, because concrete action is dependent on trust, which has to be patiently built up and carefully maintained.

 Philippe Destatte

[1] Philippe DESTATTE, The circular economy: producing more with less, Blog PhD2050, 26 August 2014,

[2] This text is the background paper of a presentation named Creating Value in the Regenerative Transition given at The Future of Cities Forum, Imagine Regenerative Urban Development, organized by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the World Future Council and Energy Cities, Munich, Kulturhaus Milbertshofen, 30-31 october 2014.

[3] Dominique Bourg and Suren ERKMAN, Perspectives on Industrial Ecology, Sheffield, Greenleaf, 2003. – Fiona WOO e.a., Regenerative Urban Development: A roadmap to the city we need, Futures of Cities, A Forum for Regenerative Urban Development, p. 9-11, Hamburg, World Future Council, 2013. – A Circular Ecosystem of Economy, The Symbiosis Institute, (October 30, 2014).

[4] See Emmanuel SERUSIAUX ed., Le concept d’éco-zoning en Région wallonne de Belgique, Note de recherche n°17, Namur, Région wallonne – CPDT, April 2011, 42 p.

[5] Waste management is regulated by the Framework Directive on Waste (2008/98/EC) and is based on the prevention, recycling and reutilisation of waste and on improving conditions for final disposal. Waste management is also addressed – in a more specific and sector-based manner – in numerous pieces of EU legislation: the Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste (94/62/EC), the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (2002/96/EC), the Directive on the Management of Waste from Extractive Industries (2006/21 / EC), and so on.

[6] Taking sustainable use of resources forward: A Thematic Strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste, Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, Brussels, 21 December 2005, COM(2005) 666 final. – Politique de l’UE en matière de déchets : historique de la stratégie, EC, 2005.

[7] A resource-efficient Europe – Flagship initiative under the Europe 2020 Strategy, Communication from Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, Brussels, 26 January 2011 COM(2011) 21final, p. 7. – Note that the European Commission relies on the Online Resource Efficiency Platform (OREP) in connection with the circular economy.

[8] Towards the Circular Economy: Accelerating the Scale-up across supply chains, prepared in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and MacKinsey Company, World Economic Forum, January 2014.

[9] Déclaration de Politique régionale wallonne 2009-2014, Une énergie partagée pour une société durable, humaine et solidaire, Namur, Wallonia Government, July 2009. – The Rhones-Alpes Region has also launched such a call. See: Jean-Jack QUEYRANNE, Les Regions dans la démarche d’économie circulaire : un appel à projets pour soutenir cette démarche écologique industrielle et territoriale, in Annales des Mines, Responsabilité et envitonnement, 76, 2014/4, p. 64-67.

[10] An eco-industrial zone can be defined as ‘a zone of economic activity proactively managed by the association of companies on site, interacting positively with its neighbours, and in which spatial and urban planning measures, environmental management and industrial ecology combine to optimise the use of space, materials and energy, to support the performance and economic dynamism of both businesses and the host community and to reduce local environmental loads.’ E. SERUSIAUX ed., Le concept d’éco-zoning…, p. 17.

[11] Gérard GUILLAUME, La Wallonie a sélectionné cinq écozonings-pilotes, in L’Echo, 14 April 2011.

[12] IDEA : retour sur une expérience pilote de l’éco-zoning de Tertre-Hautrage-Villerot, Info-PME, 5 September 2013. www. – Le projet d’éco-zoning de Tertre-Hautrage-Villerot sélectionné par le Gouvernement wallon !, Mons, IDEA, Press release of 8 April 2011.

[13] SPAQuE is the regional consultancy firm reference on landfill rehabilitation, brownfields decontamination and environmental expertise in Wallonia:

[14] La Wallonie s’engage dans l’économie circulaire, La Wallonie s’engage dans l’économie circulaire, 13 June 2013. – NEXT : l’économie circulaire au cœur du processus de reconversion de l’économie wallonne, 18 July 2013. http://www.marcourt.wallonie.be

[15] Rapport de suivi Plan Marshall 2.vert, p. 231-235, SPW, Secrétariat général, Délégué spécial Politiques transversales, April 2014, p. 231.

[16] Wallonie 2014-2019, Oser, innover, rassembler, Namur, July 2014, 121 p. See especially pp. 5, 22, 24, 28, 83, 90.

[17] Ibidem, p. 71.

[18] The industrial metabolism is the entirety of the ‘biophysical components of the region’s industrial system’. Suren ERKMAN, Ecologie industrielle, métabolisme industriel et société d’utilisation, Geneva, Institut pour la Communication et l’Analyse des Sciences et des Technologies, 1994.

[19] See especially Rémy LE MOIGNE, L’économie circulaire, comment la mettre en œuvre dans l’entreprise grâce à la supply chain ?, Paris, Dunod, 2014.

[20] Suren ERKMAN, Vers une écologie industrielle, Comment mettre en pratique le développement durable dans une société hyper-industrielle, p. 37, Paris, Editions Charles Léopold Mayer, 2004.

[21] Léo DAYAN, Stratégies du développement industriel durable. L’écologie industrielle, une des clés de la durabilité, Document établi pour le 7ème programme-cadre de R&D (2006-2010) de la commission Européenne. Propositions pour développer l’écologie industrielle en Europe, p. 8, Paris, 2004.

[22] The European SMIGIN (Sustainable Management by Interactive Governance and Industrial Networking) project enabled the UWE to organise between 2006 and 2009, collective solutions based on a common methodology for the common needs of companies in seven business parks in Belgium and France: the measurement of environmental impacts, landscaping, and the optimisation of transport, waste and energy flows. The UWE went on to create a ‘sustainable business parks’ unit. Inform, Ecologie industrielle et économie circulaire : la dimension environnementale 2.0, Business & Society Belgium, 2012.

[23] Entreprises et parcs d’activités durables, Territoires et parcs durables, implication des entreprises : état des lieux et perspectives d’avenir, Matinée d’échanges, 4 April 2014, UWE, CPAD, 2014. 4 p.

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