Tag Archives: UIA

Who hasn’t tried to get rid of old habits, whether in relation to the way we eat, sleep, interact with each other, work, travel, or do sports? Who hasn’t ever faced the difficulty of moving away from anchored routines to newly adopted ones? Who has ever struggled to unravel the complexity of the psychological but also social, technological and infrastructure-related mechanisms that make it difficult to transition?

Changing is, indeed, difficult. Adopting new consumption practices in order to support transition towards a low-carbon society is even more difficult in this “Consumer Society”. As Zygmunt Baumann detailed in the 2007 “Consuming Life”, our space is an entangled web where social life politics and democracy, social divisions and stratification, communities and partnerships, identity building, the production and use of knowledge, and value preferences are entangled. Yet, it is crucial that we now, as citizens, change the way we consume according to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12 and as recently emphasised in the IPCC Special report on Global Warming of 1.5 ºC.

Supporting citizens in their consumption transition has been at the core of public policies for decades and is a constant challenge – as well as a realm for experimentation. 3 European initiatives: URBACT, UIA and the Urban Agenda Partnership on Circular Economy give an insight into key approaches in the way European cities are frontrunners, supporting citizens in their transition towards more sustainable consumption practices.

Mouans Sartoux, BioCanteens URBACT network. Photo by Marcelline Bonneau

Identifying a key topical entry: a food story

Mouans-Sartoux (FR) is the lead partner of the BioCanteens URBACT network, transferring its practice of a 100% organic canteen. One key element for this shift is behavioural change and the education of children, as well as of their parents. This is done thanks to food education which includes making choices between portion sizes at the canteen (to empower them in identifying the right amount of food they require), tasting and cooking classes, gardening activities and visits to the municipal farm, as well as a special food and health program aimed at shifting families’ habits to eating local and organic food. With the support of a survey of consumers’ habits, it is part of a more integrated method.

By focusing on school canteens, we are trying to develop a comprehensive approach to support new food habits of the children of Mouans-Sartoux, as well as for their parents: combining fighting foodwaste, training of kitchen staff, reducing costs, developing local economy, supporting sustainable urban planning and agricultural land use, and with a complete governance system composed of a food territorial management – as well as the creation of the Centre for Sustainable Food and Education (MEAD)”, says Gilles Pérole, elected representative of Mouans-Sartoux.

Let’s play! Using gamification as an incentive for new ways of consuming

Making recycling and re-use fun but also rewarding is the approach Santiago de Compostela (ES) is developing in its Tropa Verde URBACT transfer network. Citizens recycle and receive tokens (green points, civic and social centres, recovery points, etc.), they can exchange for sustainable – non production intensive – gifts, such as public transport tickets, haircuts, or meals. Partner shops are integrated in the daily lives of citizens, making participation easy, interactive and fun. A multimedia platform enables them to identify local shops in which the exchange can take place: it is the central point for interaction, easily accessible, but also transferrable to other cities to adapt to their local circumstances. Finally, this practice is making citizens responsible in their recycling habits, but also in a move towards more circular attitudes in other areas of their lives.

Combining online and offline activities

In Antwerp (BE), the City Administration took the opportunity of the development of a newly created district, the New South district, to position circularity as a community challenge. The plan? To engage its new residents in co-creating both online and offline initiatives to change their behaviours, in relation to energy and water consumption as well as to waste management. The UIA Antwerp Circular South project has enabled developing technical solutions such as photovoltaics, storage batteries, smart grids, smart meters and individual dashboards too. Local inhabitants experiment behavioural nudging, while receiving cues to adapt their consumption behaviour of energy, water and waste in the most ideal circular way. Circular behaviours will be automatically rewarded by an alternative online currency, the “circular coin”, through a blockchain – based reward and exchange system. Some of the most engaged Circular South participants will form a local energy community co-owning an innovative collective energy system. In addition, a Circular South community centre – the so-called CIRCUIT, has been set up to host a number of initiatives related to sharing, repairing and reusing activities. As Gabriëlle Van Zoeren, former project coordinator, said “nothing of what we do is new: our innovation is to bring it together and especially to combine the online and offline activities!”.

One resource Centre, the Mini Recycling Centre, Oslo. Photo by Marcelline Bonneau

Developing new ecosystems

The city of Oslo (NO) has led the work on the Urban Agenda Partnership on Circular Economy including a series of meetings and projects within the frame of the multi-level governance, as well as a catalogue mapping existing Urban Resource Centres: the “local approaches to waste prevention, re-use, repair and recycling in a circular economy” (to be published and shared before the Summer 2019).

The catalogue presents and reviews critical success factors and transferrable qualities, of the resource centres. Their functions can be social (job creation, engaging the community in responsible consumption and disposal, or improved quality of life), economic (transformation of industrial sectors, entrepreneurship and new business models or co-creation in a circular economy) or environmental (waste prevention, waste management or boosting the market for secondary raw materials). They can be public, private or public-private. Creating such resource centres entails developing new ecosystems that can be useful for citizens. Yet, they are facing barriers such as access to space, legislation, waste quality, communication, reporting or funding. At the same time, they benefit from technology, stakeholder engagement, co-location, political support and strong links to the social economy. The city of Oslo is currently seeking to take this work forward with a follow-up network of peer-learning and exchange.

Is a circular economy approach the way forward?

Grassroots initiatives, market-based solutions and research are the bases for the above-mentioned cases. Yet, public authorities are steering these processes by experimenting new approaches, bringing them together, and supporting learning across the EU. As such, local public authorities have a key role to play in ensuring that an increasing number of projects are developed and evaluated for the concrete and operational change of consumer practices.

All 3 cases also show the need to adopt integrated approaches: in terms of topics, methodology, governance, stakeholders and territories. Circular economy is more than a buzzword. It is an overall encompassing approach. It could help cities develop projects, which support citizens to adopt new consumption habits and which encourage transition towards a new economic ecosystem, with the potential to offer long-lasting economic, environmental and social benefits.

Reposted from the URBACT website.

The difficult transition of consumers towards more sustainable practices

Diapositive2It has been years since I have been concerned with the issue of our consumption behaviour and practices. How can we make ourselves better consumer in order to enhance the resilience of our ecosystem? How (and who) can we provide support to our peers to this process?

For years, I had been following, what I would call a traditional public management/ psychological/ behavioural economics/ linear approach that suited me intellectually perfectly: I assumed that by identifying intervention logics and detailed analytical grids, we would identify causal chains and act at the right level. Conceptually speaking, it was very straightforward and easy to use. For years, I also used such approaches for evaluating European public policies. Yet, I realised that it was not enough. I could see the limits of such an approach in my own acts, in that of my surrounding and in public policies. At the same moment, via studies in Sciences, Technology and Society (STS), I opened up to a more systemic way of analysing and researching, that made me understand our behaviours and practices in a more consistent and holistic way. I became a strong proponent of a practice approach as opposed to psychosociological one. I experimented its operationalisation with the Brussels’ Regional Ministry of the environment in addressing food waste in households. Don’t get me wrong, I did not feel previous public policies were to be thrown away. But I kept on meeting civil servants frustrated about their (partially) unsuccessful policies and I felt they were missing out some of the point.
During one of the first discussions I had with Gabrielle Van Zoeren, Project manager of the Antwerp Circular South project, it appeared her conceptual approach had followed the reverse path of mind of mine: she was convinced that behavioural economics were the key to make people change their consumption behaviours. In particular, through nudging, people could easily change their behaviours and to see immediate benefits of those, in a smooth, yet forced way. I was sceptical when Gabrielle shared her enthusiasm about nudges that could establish a routine: “We are already structured around our working and lunch hours, why not establishing that we do our laundry at an exact time each week, especially if we save money?” 

What about life flexibility and unexpected event? What about the fact that we are already constrained by so many obligations, do we already want to add some new ones? What about empowerment? What about deeper understanding of what makes people behave in a certain way? What about sustainability of such behaviours? What

I raised these questions with the partners. My own scepticism became a source of mutual learning, streamlining of approaches and further stress into co-creation with the partners and the beneficiaries (the citizens). Having dug into the project, I now see the reality that matters: it is that nudges are not taken in isolation and are strongly supported by qualitative analysis and that beneficiaries are fully involved. The partners have a strong potential in order to ensure that the project will be carried out very closely with  citizens, putting them at the heart of co-created solutions that will suit them in their reality: the knowledge of partners in direct contact with citizens through the cooperative Ecopower, the Pantopicon designers or De KringWinkel at the heart of the daily interaction with citizens will feed into the nudges that will be developed and implemented through the expertise and technicalities of the other partners, IMEC, VITO, Digipolis and EnergieID. I had to admit that it was worth the experimentation. And to me, that is the biggest value of this project.

Reposted from the UIA’s website.

Being a super civil servant, what does it take, where does it lead us to?

IMG_8012Interview with Gabriëlle Van Zoeren, Antwerp Circular South Project Coordinator.

You appear to be enthusiastic, positive, very creative and always looking upfront/forward and, not letting down. How is it to be an innovative project coordinator?

It does take the willingness to except many obstacles to conquer.  Yet it´s great to work with visionary partners, we all share the challenge of bringing something complex into reality, this common effort makes it inspiring and gives me the vibe to keep going. We all know, if it works, we created something really valuable.

What has been your experience of dealing within your internal administrative structures? (have you face any strong personal or structural blockages, are you rather supported or not)?

A municipality has the responsibility to make the city processes run smoothly. Citizens need a stable, trustworthy and transparent administration to count on. Of course, this a direct contradiction with an innovative environment. So yes, I have been stumbling upon closed doors. Yet I understand that this is part of the game called innovation. My mentality is, stay focus, accept that it takes time and be patient. Sometimes the door stays closed but usually two windows open in the end and we can move on.

What are your biggest fears of failure for the project? Are there any?

My greatest fear would be that all our activities have NO results. Citizens can choose not to respond to a nudge, not to come to the Circularity Centre, they can choose not to care, and this would be my biggest fear, that we are too much, too fast, too complex to comprehend for the citizens.

Reposted from the UIA’s website.