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Circular Innovation City Challenge:
Creating Circular and Thriving Cities Together

In a joint effort, the cities of New York, Toronto, Amsterdam, Glasgow, and Copenhagen sought innovative digital and data-driven solutions from around the world. Solutions to create a truly circular city where businesses and people work together to make the most of our scarce resources

The Results: Digital and circular solutions already exist

The Circular Innovation City Challenge has been a global call to action for innovators and entrepreneurs with digital and data-driven solutions to accelerate circularity. Together with the five partner cities, the DDC, Leaderlab, the Danish Business Authority, and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation invited and encouraged all types of innovators globally to apply and help cities find innovative solutions to create more circular and thriving cities. Luckily, we found that there are already a number of innovative solutions on the global scene within the digital and circular economy field.

  • More than 137 digital and data-driven circular solutions were submitted from more than 26 countries across the five continents
  • 15 finalists pitched their digital and data-driven solutions for cities and international jury members
  • 5 winners were selected by our international jury (get to know the winners here)
  • The five winning innovators are now exploring public-private innovation collaboration opportunities with the cities

See and download all submissions here.

The Challenge: Cities hold a unique position in the circular transition

The transition to a circular economy is crucial for cities on the path toward reaching climate neutrality and ensuring a sustainable future in line with the Paris Agreement and the UN global goals. A transition that will help us shape greener, more resilient, and inclusive cities in the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. 

The crucial starting point for this project was a handful of critical numbers. By 2050, it is estimated by the UN that close to 70 % of the world’s population will live in cities. The world’s cities account for 70 % of the global greenhouse gas emissions, and 50 % of the global waste production. 45 % of our GHG emissions are related to our production and consumption of products such as clothes, food, cars, and other goods we use every day. It’s an urgent problem, and if we are to battle these numbers and accelerate the circular transition we need digital and data-driven circular solutions.

Getting to the radical changes that are needed won’t be possible without better use of data and insights on the products and materials we use, new circular business models, and new ways to engage city communities. We believe that emerging technologies and digital solutions are key to accelerating the circular transition.

The impact of the challenge

For the partner cities, the challenge has led to new insights into the data and digital readiness in the respective city governments. Additionally, it has identified some internal processes and structures within city governments that can support a circular transition and others that won’t. 

Meet the cities below:

“It’s way more difficult to work with data-driven and digital circular solutions. This [challenge] puts up a mirror to our internal procedure and to our processes and what we need to transform in the city government. It’s very healthy to get a look in this mirror though”

Salomé Galjaard

Strategist of Circular Economy and Sustainability, City of Amsterdam

In addition, the Circular Innovation City Challenge has: 

  • Raised awareness about the untapped potential of circular and digital solutions and what it takes to work within this field for city governments
  • Mobilized a broader dialogue between cities and both national and local circular ecosystems 
  • Increased knowledge sharing and network among the partner cities  
  • Showcased the many great digital and circular solutions that already exist out there 
  • Established a framework for the exploitation of new public-private innovation collaborations between innovators and city governments  

The Approach: An experiment to stimulate public-private innovation

In collaboration with the partner group, we developed the format and the challenge framework, the involvement of partners as well as the international outreach. We also made sure that the branding of the project was top-notch, while at the same time ensuring innovation height and high quality in the facilitation of the process.

The five partner cities jointly developed three areas of innovation relevant to all of them. The challenge was structured around these key areas of innovation and the innovators were able to submit digital and data-driven solutions within one or several areas.

The innovation areas

The challenge consisted of three innovation areas relevant to all cities: 

  • Innovation area 1: Facilitating circular business models through data on materials, products, and resource flows in our cities
  • Innovation area 2: Making local businesses drivers of circular, thriving, and climate-neutral cities
  • Innovation area 3: Creating thriving, resilient communities through new ways of sharing, co-owning, and managing the resources of the cities

Download the full Challenge Statement for the in-depth framing here

The solutions had to have a certain level of maturity, ranging from an early prototype to a market-ready innovative solution. In addition, the solutions had to be cross-sectoral, although solutions for specific areas such as plastics, food, textile, or other industries were also accepted.

The ambition throughout the challenge was to: 

  • Experiment with new types of public-private innovation 
  • Facilitate an international alliance of circular cities 
  • Support cross-disciplinary collaboration across silos in city governments 
  • Enable cross-sectoral collaboration between city governments and businesses 
  • Involve the circular ecosystem inside and outside of the city government and increase the dialogue at a local, city, national and international level
  • Lead and gain experience with the emerging field of data and circular economy 

In collaboration, Leaderlab and the DDC have developed a Public-Private Collaboration Canvas to support and facilitate the exploration of public-private innovation between city governments and innovators. You can access the canvas here. Feel free to use it.

Challenge timeline

  • ​​Challenge launch: February 2021
  • Outreach events and activities at New York Circular City Week: March 2021 
  • Submission deadline: April 2021 
  • Votation, pitch day, and selection from the jury: May 2021
  • Winner announcement event: June 7, 2021
  • Exploration of public-private collaboration opportunities: From June 2021, continuing into 2022

Monica Maria Moeskær

Cities Lead (on maternity leave)

Phone +45 4056 0076
Social LinkedIn

Want to know more about how we create circular cities?

Theresa Ebling Lauritsen

Urban Transition Designer

Phone +45 3172 2472
Social LinkedIn

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