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Freshfields Sustainability

| 5 minutes read

Why circular cities are key to the pandemic recovery - Circular New York City launch

“The New York Circular City Initiative offers a practical approach to transform the city from the world’s second largest in terms of consumption to the first in green jobs creation and economic & environmental benefits.”

Tom Szaky, CEO TerraCycle

This Thursday, October 1st, Freshfields will launch the New York Circular City Initiative, a collaboration over 20 experts, influencers and thought leaders who have worked together to help the City of New York make the transition to the circular economy. At the launch the Initiative will release its report ‘Complex Challenges, Circular Solutions’ which offers a new vision for the future and provides a roadmap for establishing a circular economy in New York City that can support the economic recovery by delivering jobs and economic growth while helping the city address its waste and climate challenges.

Why? And why now?

Why do this in the midst of a pandemic that is so devastating to lives and livelihoods? The simple answer is that this may be the best time to launch such an initiative.

The global economy has operated under a linear model for centuries, but with increasingly scarce resources, rapidly changing climate, an ever-expanding population, and a global pandemic, we need to rethink this linear approach. The circular economy can further New York City’s economic recovery and help create a City that is thriving, green and just. Specifically, the circular economy can:

  • Increase economic resilience by reducing import dependency:

One of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic is that our confidence in global supply chains has wavered. In a world that can shut down international transport in a matter of weeks, an over-reliance on globalized supply chains is a significant risk to business continuity and national resilience (See Freshfields' report on this topic). As a result, nations and businesses will seek to build supply chain resilience by increasing the local purchase of raw materials, many of which can already be found in existing products that have reached the end of their useful life.

This will in turn provide greater opportunities for local business to thrive. McKinsey research highlighted that guided policy interventions are needed to ensure these opportunities are also accessible to minority-owned businesses, many of which were particularly hard hit by the pandemic. For instance, New York City purchases close to $20bn of goods and services annually, and shifting some of this spend toward circular and locally owned business can create significant demand and have a powerful ripple effect.

  • Reduce costs by making resources go further:

Another consequence of the pandemic is the drop in revenue many organizations have experienced. As a result, businesses and public bodies need to reduce their expenditures to offset the lost revenue and remain solvent. As the Partnership for New York City’s Call for Action and Collaboration report highlighted, “Going forward, governments will need to spend less and depend more on leveraging private financing and expertise.” There is an urgent need to make resources – financial and physical – go further. The World Economic Forum estimates that material savings of over $1tn can be achieved from reuse, recycling and upcycling. The circular economy offers several different ways to achieve this:

  • Extending the life of existing products, materials and resources so less is spent on purchasing new ones.
  • Getting better at securing raw materials from resources that might be considered waste.
  • Developing leasing and sharing models can extend the productivity of products while reducing individual spend.

A recent OECD report argued that city governments should “encourage more efficient use of resources, and more sustainable consumption and production patterns, notably by promoting circular economy to keep the value of goods and products at their highest, prevent waste generation, reuse and transform waste into resources.”

  • Secure and create jobs:

As many previous studies have highlighted, and the report shows, the circular economy has the potential to create local jobs in a number of different sectors, including: waste diversion and recycling; small-scale remanufacturing and repair; and servitization through physical and digital services. Jobs that support the circular economy will also be created in education, logistics and public sector services. Many of these new jobs have the potential to redress existing economic inequalities as they will be accessible to lower-skilled workers with minimal additional training required.

  • Address environmental injustice:

Pollution tends to impact poorer populations disproportionately as they are more likely to live in close proximity to areas of higher air, water and soil pollution where the cost of living is lower. Research by the NAACP and the Clean Air Task Force showed that Black Americans are 75 percent more likely to live in areas situated near facilities that produce hazardous waste. This population also suffered more during the COVID-19 crisis, in part because their immune systems were affected by previous and consistent exposure to pollutants.

Circular economy solutions can help reduce this by contributing to a reduction in pollution. According to research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Material Dynamics, “circular strategies for cities have the potential to reduce the societal costs of harmful emissions from particulate matter by 61%,” while “circular mobility solutions can reduce the societal costs of harmful emissions by 20–30%.”

The New York Circular City Initiative

The above is certainly true for New York City as its Green Recovery Plan highlights: “As we emerge from the COVID-19 health crisis, New York is committed to a green recovery that puts equity, fairness, and confronting our climate crisis at the center of our city’s rebuilding efforts.”

The New York Circular City Initiative brings together representatives from the mayor’s office, city agencies, multinational corporations, foundations and academic institutions to reimagine New York’s economic systems by proposing sustainable solutions that transcend industry sectors and the public/private divide in the long-term while supporting COVID-19 recovery efforts in the short term.

The vision of the New York Circular City Initiative is to help create a New York City where no waste is sent to landfill, environmental pollution is minimized, and thousands of good jobs for people of all social and economic backgrounds are created through the intelligent use of products and raw materials. In other words a city that is thriving, green and just.

In convening this initiative Freshfields brought together a wide range of circular economy leaders:

  • NYC City government: Mayor’s Office for Climate Change, NYC Economic Development Corporation
  • Circular business leaders: ARUP, Cisco Systems, H&M, IDEO, Queen of Raw, SIMS, TerraCycle, Unilever
  • Financial Institutions: Closed Loop Partners, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, ING
  • Thought leaders: BSR, Circle Economy, Danish Cleantech Hub, Ellen Macarthur Foundation, NYU Stern, Recycling Partnership

The launch webinar will take place at 10AM EST on October 1st and will include a panel of business leaders and circular economy experts:

  • Joey Bergstein, CEO Seventh Generation and Unilever North America Home Care Lead
  • Kate Daly, Managing Director Center for the Circular Economy, Closed Loop Partners
  • Joke Dufourmont, Lead, Circular Jobs Initiative, Circle Economy
  • James Patchett, President and CEO, NYC Economic Development Corporation
  • Tom Szaky, CEO and Founder, TerraCycle
  • Timothy Wilkins, Global Partner for Client Sustainability, Freshfields

And yours truly. I hope to see you there.

Click here to register for the event


circular economy, new york city, covid recovery, waste management, sustainability