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ICLEI USA Celebrates Completion of First Circularity Cohort

In 2023, ICLEI USA held its first-ever Circularity Cohort to provide members with the foundations of circularity to act across sectors and value chains to shift away from the linear economy’s “take-make-waste” model and move toward a circular economy.  Sessions focused on applying the Circular City Actions Framework in focus areas, policy instruments, and interventions at the local level to bring the most significant change towards a more circular economy. 

Happenings of the Cohort

Between August and December of 2023, the cohort met for virtual training sessions, which included peer exchange and learning, presentations from ICLEI USA staff and guest speakers, and group discussions. At the start of the cohort, sessions focused on introducing circular economy concepts and diving deeper into the Circular City Actions Framework through the five “Rs”– rethink, regenerate, reduce, reuse, and recover. After exploring the five “Rs,” the cohort moved into thematic areas where it looked at the state of a variety of areas, from food systems to plastics to various aspects of the built environment, including buildings, energy systems, embodied carbon, and water. 

Throughout the cohort, participants assessed existing circularity initiatives within their communities, explored tools and methodologies for baselining circularity, and researched strategies to address the various thematic areas discussed by the cohort. 

Kyle Diesner, Climate Analyst for the City of Portland, Oregon, and cohort participant, presented to the cohort on Portland’s Low Carbon Concrete Initiative.

Key Takeaways and Challenges

  • The circular economy is a developing concept for many local governments.
    •  At this point, local government climate and sustainability staff need help to communicate what the circular economy is to staff, elected leaders, and their communities. Many constituents need to be made aware of the critical role the transition to a more circular economy plays in addressing the climate crisis. 
  • The perception exists that economic growth and the circular economy are competing goals.
    •  However, by tackling climate change and other global challenges like biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution, the circular economy can decouple economic activity from the consumption of finite resources. This transition leads to more resilient economies and thriving communities in the long term. The challenge for local government climate and sustainability staff is to help decision-makers recognize the crucial role that local governments play in the transition.
  • Local government climate and sustainability staff already feel they are competing with other critical community services, such as affordable housing or environmental justice, due to limited resources. 
    • Many staff feel that adding the advancement of the circular economy to the list only strains these resources further. However, the circular economy in communities can be designed to prioritize and improve these services by identifying opportunities that will reduce pollution and exposure for marginalized communities, promote job creation and transformation, and develop affordable, clean and healthy housing.
In this photo, participants use Jamboard to brainstorm and spark discussion on circular economy strategies.

Member Highlights

The City of Boulder, Colorado, is a leader in advancing local government circular economy work, as is evidenced by the success of its Sustainable Deconstruction Requirements. The City participated as a guest speaker in the cohort, sharing best practices, successes, and lessons learned from their sustainable deconstruction initiative. Visit the Circular Boulder page to learn more about their efforts to advance the circular economy in their region.

The City of Portland, Oregon, provided key input and knowledge throughout the cohort as a participant and also provided a presentation to the group on the City’s Low Carbon Concrete Initiative. This initiative established a product-specific Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) requirement for concrete mixes used on City projects, conducted pilot tests of lower-embodied carbon concrete mixes, and defined Global Warming Potential (GWP) thresholds for concrete mixes. Portland prioritizes efforts to reduce global carbon emissions from the local consumption of goods and services through its Sustainable Consumption and Production program.

Jefferson County, Washington, was an active participant in the cohort and shared examples of the food waste reduction work they’ve completed in collaboration with local schools. County staff supported students in completing food waste audits of their lunch waste and educated students on reducing food waste.

The Town of Jackson, Wyoming, brought the invaluable perspective of what circularity can mean for smaller U.S. mountain towns regarding circular economy applications, unique challenges, key focus areas, and more. Since the cohort, the Town has been working to incorporate circular practices and initiatives into its Town Sustainability Plan

What’s Next for the Circular Pathway?

ICLEI USA’s Circular Pathway looks forward to continuing its growth in 2024 with efforts already underway for the following exciting new initiatives and member benefits!

New Initiatives
  • ICLEI USA is excited to announce a new partnership with NIGP: The Institute for Public Procurement with plans to work closely on education and capacity-building through the development of a Sustainable and Circular Public Procurement Toolkit, procurement-focused learning cohorts, and more!
  • The Circular Pathway also welcomes four students from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Masters of the Environment program to support the development of pathway resources related to public procurement, supply chain emissions accounting, and consumption-based emissions accounting.
  • Finally, the Circular Pathway’s first fee-for-service opportunities are now available to members and others!
New Member Benefits in 2024
  • Members now have access to The Circular Pathway Starter Pack, which includes the  Circular Resource Guide for Local Governments, Circular Strategies Matrix, and a Circularity 101 slide deck. Local governments can use this resource at any point in their circular journey to engage and educate stakeholders, identify policy and strategy solutions aimed at specific thematic areas and the five “Rs”, and easily find the go-to resources for all circular-related work.
  • Do you need support completing your sustainable procurement policy? ICLEI USA’s Circular Pathway team can review your draft policy and provide feedback and recommendations based on the following: an evaluation of your policy against ICLEI USA’s sustainable public procurement best practices; a review of your policy against ICLEI USA’s circular economy criteria to strengthen your policy and support your local economy; an assessment of the implementation and monitoring plan within the policy with recommendations to ensure successful outcomes.
  • Starting in April, 18 communities will participate in a Sustainable and Circular Public Procurement cohort. In addition to learning the best practices for developing a sustainable procurement policy, participants in this cohort will learn about circular economy principles and criteria that apply to purchasing various goods and services, including buildings, public transport, furniture, food, and packaging. By adopting a more circular approach when advancing sustainable procurement practices, local governments open up new opportunities for economic growth and advancement.