How Can Cities Create Circular Jobs?

Editor’s note: This article first appeared on the ICLEI blog

Cities around the world are recognizing that the circular economy not only addresses resource scarcity and climate change but also can strengthen local economies and create jobs. By prioritizing regenerative resources, preserving what is already made, using waste as a resource or generating new business models, the circular economy can create a wide variety of jobs across sectors.

Research shows significant job creation in waste management, services and repair sectors as well as in sectors where the composition of the industry is changing, such as construction, energy production and distribution, manufacturing of electronic and textile products, and agriculture. (See resources below to learn more).

However, while some cities are building locally-specific models for employment within the circular economy, cities have no clear roadmap through this process.

How It Can Work

But there are successful models out there. The City of Baltimore is creating jobs through its Waste-To-Wealth Program. By supporting businesses that are making products out of valuable materials captured from the waste stream, the jobs created will support anticipated population growth in the city.

The initiative is a multi-stakeholder project. For example, Baltimore City Housing and the Office of Sustainability have teamed up to make deconstruction a component of housing demolition contracts. Materials salvaged and recycled from homes slated for demolition can be sold as reprocessed materials. The city works with two nonprofits, Details Deconstruction and Brick+Board, that help prepare unemployed and under-resourced residents for jobs in the construction industry.

This effort by the city of Baltimore is in line with their commitment to equitable and people centered development. As a member of the Urban Transitions Alliance, a global network of industrial legacy cities, Baltimore has committed to realizing sustainable and inclusive urban transitions. You can learn more about Baltimore’s sustainability transition on the Urban Transitions Alliance website.

Building a Framework for Circular Jobs

Despite the strong potential of the circular economy to generate employment locally, few studies have focused on the role of cities in fostering circular jobs. Monitoring jobs in the circular economy at the local level is particularly relevant because it allows cities to assess the performance of economic sectors according to their ability to both create local employment and safeguard resources. As such, it  helps cities to track their progress in addressing two of the major challenges they face, namely unsustainable material consumption (cities account for 60% of the overall domestic material consumption) and rising employment needs.

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There is a need to develop a practical monitoring framework for circular jobs and identify tools for local governments to drive this transition across different sectors. To this end, ICLEI has formed a consortium with Circle Economy and UN Environment, through its Global Initiative for Resource Efficient Cities (GI-REC), to support cities around the world in driving and monitoring inclusive, circular employment locally.

This initiative builds on the work the consortium has conducted with a selection of cities around the world including Amsterdam, Recife and Brussels, that have already taken steps to analyze their local material flows in relation to employment. These analyses can be used to inform local policy making towards circular jobs and a robust circular economy.

Cities Driving the Transition

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Amsterdam conducted a baseline measurement of the amount and type of jobs in their circular economy, identifying digital technology and engineering as its specific circular expertise. The analysis provided insight into the skills needed to further boost the city’s circularity through cross-sectoral and public-private partnerships.

In the Photo: The center of Amsterdam. Photo Credit: jennieramida

Recife, Brazil

GI-REC collaborated with ARIES, the data management arm of the local government, to conduct an analysis of energy and water flows. The results showed the environmental impacts of single-family dwellings, and its impact on access to services. As the built environment in the city grows and jobs are created in the construction sector, an analysis of the flows of construction materials helps ensure that they are used in a circular way.

In the Photo:  A street in Recife, Brazil. Photo Credit: Denys Barabanov

Brussels, Belgium

Using urban metabolism approaches as the basis of the analysis, GI-REC partners (Ecocity Builders, the World Council on City Data, and Brussels Environment) worked in the region of Brussels to develop indicators that will improve the monitoring of their existing circular economy plan. The analysis of Brussels also looked at the measurement of circular economy jobs based on previous work in other cities like Amsterdam, and how that can be applied in the case of Brussels.

In the Photo: A street in Brussels, Belgium. Photo Credit: Grace Kang

Learn more

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of  — In the Featured Photo: A building with one side renovated and one under construction — Featured Photo Credit: Milivoj Kuhar
About the Author /

André Confiado is an Associate Programme Officer for the Cities Unit of the Economy Division of the UN Environment Programme. He supports the Unit’s work on operationalizing urban metabolism and circular economy at the city-level, through the Global Initiative for Resource Efficient Cities. He also supports the coordination of partnerships and joint resource mobilization on sustainable urbanization for UN Environment. _______________________________________________________________________________________________ Joke Dufourmont leads Circle Economy’s programme on Jobs & Skills in the Circular Economy. The programme uncovers how the circular economy changes the world of work, and what it takes to ensure the circular transition is positive for work and workers. Joke started at Circle Economy as a public sector consultant with expertise on the circular development of cities. _______________________________________________________________________________________________ Marion Guénard develops ICLEI’s Circular Development Program, which currently encompasses over 30 activities and engages 115 local governments across the world. From policy recommendations and technical support to guidance on city-business collaboration and circular procurement trainings, ICLEI supports local circular economy efforts in a collaborative and practice-oriented manner.

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