Circular economy challenges for local authorities

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What are the goals?

Improving resilience:

The development of circular economy initiatives aims to strengthen the resilience of an area by limiting its dependence on inflows of resources. Looping area resource flows makes it possible to optimize the use of materials and energy to benefit the local economy.

Enhancing the attractiveness of an area:

The circular economy is a source of area innovation, both by reshaping local organization and governance and through the promotion of new sectors and activities that cannot be relocated.

Many French business areas today suffer from lack of local drive. The move away from sectoral compartmentalization of local industry and the creation of industrial symbiosis reinforce the attractiveness of the area and attract new industry in search of innovative regions and low-cost supply channels.

Creating local jobs:

Many economic studies highlight the job creation potential of a transition to the circular economy. The move of traditional economic sectors towards the functional economy, the creation of industrial ecology platforms and the arrival of new sustainable economic players all tend to create non-relocatable local jobs (link to job study).

The overlap between the sectors of re-employment and social economy also helps to promote the reintegration of people that had been excluded.

Creating social ties:

Information and communications technology has revolutionized the way we interact and consume. The new social practices of mutual assistance and co-construction highlighted on this platform (crowdfunding, fab-labs, donations platforms, etc.) are opportunities that must be seized by elected officials to bring citizens together around the socio-environmental issues of the area.

Achieving sustainable development:

The circular economy is a concrete and operational approach to the challenges of sustainable development centred on the efficiency of resource use. Introducing local distribution channels and promoting local industries generate significant environmental benefits such as a reduction in the amounts of hazardous and non-hazardous waste, lower greenhouse gas emissions, etc.).

Developing a circular economy based around local resources

Making better use of local  resources

The circular economy is a tremendous opportunity to strengthen the local economy. Local resilience implies a certain amount of self-sufficiency and the ability to make more effective use of local resources.

Each area contains substantial amounts of these that can and should be better exploited through a circular economy strategy. Historical specialization, evidenced by the existence of appropriate infrastructure and logistics, can sometimes slow down the way areas adapt to the new resource challenges. Stock management and material flow can be used to objectify the strategy for use of material resources based on the strengths and weaknesses of the area.

The potential of the bio-economy, especially forestry, remains significantly underutilized in France. Regional decision-makers must ask whether it is desirable to make better use of sustainable local industries to limit their dependence on fossil resources.

Effective, regionalized value loops

At local level, the circular economy is reflected in a significant increase in looped material and energy flows. Reuse, industrial and territorial ecology and recycling apply to all sectors of the economy, generating significant benefits:

  • economic benefits: improving the trade balance, improving resource productivity, reducing company expenditure
  • social benefits: job creation and social ties
  • environmental benefits: limiting polluting emissions from transport or the production of new products


Example: Building materials in Île-de-France

Urban renewal in a region such as Ile-de-France is very high. Local mineral resources in the region are almost exhausted and it is becoming necessary to import them. Yet housing stock provides a particularly large stock of materials that better use should be made of (deconstruction, reuse, recycling).

(See the Yprema initiative)


Care must be taken with resource loops implemented as part of a so-called circular economy operation. A type of recovery that preserves the most value from products should be preferred. The waste directive of 2008 provides a hierarchy of processing modes in keeping with the principles of circular economy: prevention, reuse, recycling, recovery (energy, for example) and disposal. Other assessment tools such as life-cycle assessment, can be used to objectify the creation of new value loops.

Collaborative tools serving the circular economy

A circular economic model can only exist lastingly if citizens take hold of the subject (source separation, extending the life of products, responsible consumption, etc.). The development of locations and tools for sharing makes it easier to appropriate the theme of circular economy by all citizens. Local collaborative projects make it possible to directly involve citizens in the transition and should be encouraged (fablabs, neighbourhood projects, etc.)

Developing a circular economy strategy

The transition to the circular economy transcends economic sectors and geographical scales. Although proximity is one of the founding principles of the circular economy, the most local action level is not always the most relevant due to logistic or economic imperatives. Consolidation of some complex waste flows is, for example, a prerequisite for recovering them.

The Region is the French administrative entity best suited to coordinating the transition to the circular economy. With a broad vision over resource issues in the area, it maintains a close relationship with sub-regional authorities enabling it to facilitate and harmonize local projects. The NOTRe law confers greater jurisdiction on the Region in terms of economic development, sustainable development and waste management. A circular economy strategy needs to be cross-sectoral and integrate economic and environmental approaches.


A full methodological guide on regional circular economy strategies was published by ADEME in October 2014. It is available in the document library of the platform and gives concrete courses of action which are briefly summarized in this section (Consult the guide).

A regional circular economy revolves around several major phases: an area diagnosis, a regional road map, public incentive and support policies, and assessment.

Thearea diagnosis

The diagnosis helps to identify the major issues of circular economy at regional level. It couples a statistical approach to material flow accounting with an inventory of the circular economy theme at regional level. (Consult the methodological guide Comptabilité des flux de matière dans les régions et les départements .(Material flow accounting in French regions and departments)

The people involved in the circular economy must take part in this operation. Best practices of the area are promoted and blocking factors noted. Existing support systems (financing, engineering, etc.) are cross-referenced with the needs of the people involved in order to identify what is missing.

A collaborative diagnosis is preferable since it involves the communities of people from the development stage of the strategy. The diversity of the participants engaged frees one from the usually prevailing logic of economic silos (industry, agriculture, services, social economy, etc.). The formation of a steering committee is encouraged.

The diagnosis may take the form of a regional platform identifying opportunities by cross-referencing information about the metabolism and socio-economic organization of the area.




Illustration 1: Source: ADEME, 2014. Guide méthodologique du développement des stratégies régionales d'économie circulaire en France (Methodological guide for the development of regional circular economy strategies in France), p. 86


The roadmap

It defines the strategic objectives against which success will be assessed. Each objective should be associated with one or more measurable indicators. These indicators may be cross-sectoral, or more specifically a pillar or pillars of the circular economy.

The objectives should if possible be integrated into existing schemes and plans (PRPGD, PCET, SRADDET, SRDEII) to ensure overall consistency and limit the proliferation of area planning documents.

ADEME recommends adopting a value chain vision to better understand the issues by sector and prioritize actions based on identified opportunities (access to raw materials, innovation strategy, availability of land, detection of outlets, etc.).

The support strategies deployed will be listed in the roadmap, with a projected time scale for each action proposed. Among these can be found incentives for innovative business models, methodological and financial support for the project sponsors, encouragement to engage in research and innovation, and development of reuse structures or local distribution channels.

Encouraging and financing

The region's role is to provide incentives and encourage joint development in the transition. Experimental projects are often essential to demonstrate the development potential of new sectors. The region must in particular facilitate interaction between research and the business world (demonstrators, incubators, etc.).

Regarding the sometimes complicated financing of innovative projects, much public aid can be mobilized by the project leaders with regional support:

  • European funds: FEDER, LIFE+, H2020, FEADER, etc.
  • National funds: AMI, Investissements d'avenir, BPI, etc.
  • Multiscale: CPER, State-Regions-ADEME regional conventions.

These forms of support must be made more visible and have dedicated methodology factsheets. The Region can also enter the capital of companies of the SCIC and SEM types or attempt to further mobilize private financial stakeholders on the theme of the circular economy. It can also promote new collaborative funding methods such as crowdfunding to directly involve citizens in projects that directly benefit the area.

In addition to project funding, the Region may be directly involved and initiate certain local projects by participating in their development (project engineering). It can also provide more specific assistance for project developers according to their needs (administrative assistance, land mobilization, etc.). Agreements involving multiple entities, like the Dutch "green deals", may help encourage people to change by lifting some institutional barriers.

The table below lists most forms of support mobilized by area project leaders:


Illustration 2: Source: ADEME, 2014. Guide méthodologique du développement des stratégies régionales d'économie circulaire en France (Methodological guide for the development of regional circular economy strategies in France), p. 67

The medium-term profitability of projects must be considered before mobilizing public support. Local authorities and the authorities in general are not there to finance non-viable long-term projects. Preference should be given to reproducible initiatives in order to achieve economies of scale.

Sustaining the circular economy:

Raising awareness of regional entities is essential to the sustainability of the circular economy. This new economic model is rolled out over the entire value chain. All stakeholders must be involved in the change of model. In general, it is important to focus on the economic benefits of the circular economy.

Public procurement, which accounts for almost 15% of the GDP in France, is a major lever towards the circular economy. The introduction of circular economy clauses in public procurement is likely to cause significant markets to switch over.

Most importantly, the Region must ensure consistency between the different projects at local level.


The indicators chosen during the diagnostic phase must help provide qualitative and quantitative monitoring of the regional strategy. Harmonization of quantifiable indicators at national and European levels is desirable, since it would provide the means to compare different areas.


As a strategic coordinator in terms of the circular economy, the Region operates at too broad a scale to facilitate area cooperation close enough to those involved in the economic sphere. It must therefore make use of relays that can provide support locally for the circular economy. Many local entities are not waiting for regional and national signals before engaging in the circular economy. In recent years, the field has benefited from a "bottom-up" entrepreneurial impetus in which citizens and businesses have often been one step ahead of policy-makers.

Facilitating incentives in local areas

Regional cooperation involves many entities: companies, people involved in the social economy, public administrations and citizens are all called upon to work together in order to optimize the use of resources. The prevalence of a "silo" philosophy in the linear economy limits cooperation and collective action essential to the deployment of the circular economy. Setting up local organizations centred on sharing and collaboration is a major lever towards the development of the circular economy. The intermediation agency, who has knowledge of the local socio-economic fabric, facilitates cooperation and supports innovative project leaders (See the NOUVEL'R initiative).

The example of eco-industrial parks is already well developed in Europe. Business areas bring together in a limited space people who consume and generate significant resource flows. Where industrialists cooperate, many opportunities for synergy (or industrial symbiosis) can be identified. And yet most business areas remain neglected by local facilitation and inter-company relationships are insufficient (see the  Chemparc and, NCIS initiatives).

In towns and cities, the development of platforms for sharing and innovation should be encouraged. They allow citizens to pool their material and immaterial resources (See the mutumand recyclerie créative initiatives). Ideas incubators are real catalysts for citizens' initiatives and there must be more of them. They make it possible to directly involve citizens in the transition to the circular economy.