When it comes to creating smarter and more sustainable business models throughout Europe, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. Governments need to have the best interests of both companies and the environment in mind when setting policies to influence business practices. This is no simple endeavor. Partners from six European regions are exploring innovative ideas in the project REDUCES.

The research group Building Future Cities from HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht (HU) work closely together with local public authorities in their region: the City of Utrecht and Province of Utrecht. Besides, business partners are involved, such as BOOT engineers and Parkmanagement Lage Weide, the latter representing many of the regions’ key business players needed to facilitate the transition to a circular economy. During the REDUCES project several valuable good practices have been identified throughout Europe. In collaboration with local stakeholders HU are working on an action plan to further kindle circularity in the region of Utrecht.

Good practices

Circular economy business models typically involve repurposing products at end-of-life or using them for longer periods of time. Before creating policy action plans for future business models, each region is studying best practices in different companies and countries. Scholars involved are researching companies in and around the province of Utrecht. The goal of the research is to turn both scientific literature on circularity and empirical findings from all partners into relevant findings for governmental policy.

HU are studying businesses in the building and construction sector, waste management companies and start-ups. They cooperate with companies to understand their needs, assess the extent to which they use circularity and identify types of business models used. These business models were classified based on a typology from the Finnish innovation fund Sitra.

Sharing results

Partners of REDUCES not only research companies within their own countries, but they also share findings with each other. Sharing results allows partners to determine how suitable and scalable different circular approaches would be in their own countries.

It can sometimes be a challenge to fit international findings, definitions and indicators to a local context. Despite any challenges, international findings are valuable, and they have given HU new insights on how to view the relationships between businesses and governments. The findings on Circular Economy Business Models are also being used in developing teaching material, for example in courses from Finance & Accounting and Industrial Engineering.

The aim is to help companies at the local level adapt so that they can thrive in smart and sustainable ways.

Collaborations with an impact

With an end goal of influencing local policy, REDUCES has the potential to make a large impact. Because these local governments are valuing sustainability more and more, they also try to influence national and European policymakers and politicians to do the same. Even before policy plans come into place, this project has a lot to offer in terms of research and learning opportunities.

Working with regional companies and sharing results internationally helps to reevaluate what we know about sustainable business models. In the end, the aim is to help companies at the local level adapt so that they can thrive in smart and sustainable ways.

CE Action plan for Utrecht

In order to facilitate circular business development HU researchers involved are working on an action plan: More Circularity in Utrecht. This plan distinguishes three aspects relevant for developing a regional circular economy:

  1. A Climate for Circular Business: Stimulate companies to adopt a circular business model or enable circular start-ups.
  2. Circular Hubs: A cluster of companies working on circularity within a specific industrial sector.
  3. Circular Awareness & Education: A cluster of (educational) activities for both professionals and students in secondary and higher education where circularity is made part of the curriculum.

On 10 November this year (2021) the business community Lage Weide, together with HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, organized a round table discussion on Circular Economy for companies from Utrecht’s major business park. Participants were asked to reflect on regional policy on the three themes discerned above. Read more about the round table discussion.

Future research

Currently, the research group Building Future Cities are working on the first draft of a CE action plan for Utrecht. At the start of 2022 this draft will be shared with partners from the REDUCES project for a peer review process, leading to a definite action plan as part of many initiatives to stimulate More Circularity in Utrecht.

For more information on REDUCES, especially in Utrecht region, please contact Evert-Jan Velzing at [email protected].

Madison Steele & Evert-Jan Velzing