Project summary

RETRACE – A Systemic Approach for Regions Transitioning towards a Circular Economy

RETRACE aims at promoting systemic design as a method allowing local and regional policies move towards a circular economy when waste from one productive process becomes input in another, preventing waste being released into the environment.
RETRACE addresses the EU challenge of transitioning towards a Circular Economy following the priorities set up by the “Flagship Initiative for a Resource-efficient Europe” for a shift towards a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy to achieve sustainable growth as enshrined in Europe 2020 strategy and the EC Communication “Towards a circular economy: A zero waste programme for Europe”.


What is a Circular Economy?

A Circular Economy is a new eonomic paradigm which has been defined by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation as "restorative and regenerative by design. Relying on system-wide innovation, it aims to redefine products and services to design waste out, while minimising negative impacts. Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, the circular model builds economic, natural and social capital" (source).

RETRACE Objectives 

RETRACE’s main goal is to promote the adoption of Systemic Design as a method allowing regional and local policies in their transitions towards a Circular Economy, focusing thus both on a territorial/regional policy perspective and on systemic approaches for a Circular Economy. To that end, RETRACE will achieve the following outputs and results: - Development of 5 regional/national Holistic Diagnoses - Identification and exchange of 30 good practices in 5 target policy areas - Holding of 7 interregional exchange of experience activities with the participation of stakeholders and partners - Engagement of 5 regional/national stakeholders groups all along the exchange and strategic thinking process leading to the definition and implementation of 5 Action Plans - Outreach of politicians and policy-makers with specific activities and publication for increasing the ownership of process at target policies and RIS3 level - Issue of policy recommendations and road map for the adoption of method and good practices by other EU regions. 


RETRACE POST COVID-19_Additional activities

In 2021, the RETRACE project was further funded to carry out additional activities on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. RETRACE regions, Piedmont (Italy), Biscay (Spain), New Aquitaine (France), North-East (Romania) will analyse how should the next Circular Economy look like in the post-pandemic era. Therefore, this following part of Retrace will address the upcoming regions' recovery strategies, proposing innovative circular strategies to build back more resilient EU regions.

The consortium aims to assess how the COVID has worsened/improved the Policy Gaps related to the Circular Economy in all the partner regions. The main goal is to boost the current and upcoming policy instruments on Circular Economy through an exchange of experience that identifies new Good Practices generated in this accelerated innovation process produced by COVID-19. The results will be shared through two Virtual Policy Learning events.


What is the Systemic Design?

The Systemic Design approach, developed by the research group of the Department of Architecture and Design at Politecnico di Torino (Italy), seeks to create complex industrial systems. It aims to implement sustainable productive systems in which material and energy flows are designed so that output from one productive process becomes input to other processes, preventing waste from being released into the environment. RETRACE partners deem that the adoption of more systemic approaches at territory/regional level can play a leverage effect in such transition.  The video provides a brief expalination of Systemic Design in Italian; more information can be found here.


from 1 Apr 2016
to 30 Sep 2020

Environment and resource efficiency

What policy instruments does the project address?

The OP is built around some pillars that include Green Economy & Sustainability with close links into 3 of the Priority Axes (PAs) of the OP, relevant to RETRACE: 

- PA1 (R&I): The support of R&I infrastructure and closer links between research and industry (IP1a) is planned aimed at the development of innovative  products and services (IP1b) taking into consideration social innovation and ecoinnovation as transversal strands. Both the support of R&I projects and the creation of start-ups in these fields, including green economy, are planned.

- PA3 (Competitiveness of SMEs): Competitiveness of SMEs in the agricultural, fishing and aquaculture sectors thanks to the development of new business models including green economy and more efficient concepts are planned (IP3b). Investments in greening the SMEs processes are also planned (IP3c).

- PA4 (Low Carbon Economy):  Promotion of renewable energies and energy efficiency (IP4b) within companies is supported, to which end, Circular Economy processes can contribute to. 


The measures to be supported by these PAs falling under the Green Economy & Sustainable fields, fail to mainstream systemic approaches for a Circular Economy. The application of the concept of environmental sustainability is limited to the increase of resource efficiency, use of renewable resources, reduction of waste production and preservation of environmental heritage. MA of the OP is aware of this limitation, reason why it is engaged in the proposal. 

Which partners are working on this?
  • Politecnico di Torino
  • Piedmont Region – Directorate for regional system competitiveness

Basque Country’s OP Priority Axis (PA) 6 focuses on the promotion of resource efficiency. Specifically, Investment Priority 6g) has been chosen and Specific Objective 6.7.1 aims at supporting an industrial transition towards a resource efficient economy and promoting green growth and eco-innovation.


Under this objective, measures are planned for supporting the Basque Country’s Environmental Framework Programme 2020, such as: 

-  Public-private partnerships leading to the integration of more environmentally efficient processes by the strategies of companies,

- Support to the development of projects focusing on the development and demonstration of new more efficient technologies, methods and processes 

- Investment support by companies and industries for more efficient industrial approaches.


The grants programme to select beneficiaries of these processes can be improved by RETRACE both in terms of scope and method as in terms of support measures leading to the adoption of more systemic approaches.

Which partners are working on this?
  • Leartiai Foundation
  • BEAZ

The OP showcases 2 Priority Axes (PAs), relevant to RETRACE:

- PA1 (R&I): It is aimed at the support of the 11 priority sectors of RIS3, 5 of them with close links and a relevant potential to industrial symbiosis approaches and systemic approaches from a Circular Economy perspective, which includes the specific support of collaborative projects and initiatives for the adoption of such approaches, as well as the creation and growth of start-ups in these fields, through grants and financial instruments.

- PA3 (Education, Training and Employment): There is a specific objective aiming at the increase of employment on the Social Economy field, where the Circular Economy and eco-conception fields are specifically stated as an employment source for the region, to be specifically supported.


The OP will support the implementation of the Circular Economy Strategy of Aquitaine Region, agreed by the Regional Council in December 2014, which identifies the need to create “industrial symbiosis” to foster the development of Circular Economy on the territory. A further mainstreaming of the Circular Economy Strategy into existing programmes and instruments within the R&I and Social Economy support fields is the main expectation of the Regional Council, PP5 and PP6 as a result of RETRACE.  

Which partners are working on this?
  • Higher School of Advanced industrial Technology - ESTIA
  • Association for Environment and Safety in Aquitaine - APESA

The OP showcases two Priority Axes (PAs) of special relevance to RETRACE:

- PA1 (R&I for greening the economy): Support is to be provided to innovation by companies in several fields, including eco-innovation, including "the development of new materials based on renewable and natural resources, the development of environment-friendly products, processes, services and business models, in terms of reducing dependence on primary raw materials, the design of processes and products for reuse and recycling, etc. This will take on board every stage of the lifecycle, the concept of cradle-to-cradle design".

- PA3 (Entrepreneurship for greening the economy): The improvement of the energy and resource efficiency of companies and start-ups is looked after by the support of demonstration projects and "the promotion and development of replacements of primary to secondary sources, closing material flows within enterprises and networks (e.g. industrial symbiosis), the introduction of more efficient production processes".


In this context the measures in the OP open a possibility to invest in the measures related to eco innovation and Circular Economy, The type of the support that will be given by the OP to greening the economy will be mix of subsidies and financial instruments that are yet to be defined and put in place, in a process that will be concluded in 2015.

Which partners are working on this?
  • Government Office for Development and European Cohesion Policy

The Regional Operational Programme (ROP) aims at promoting smart sustainable and inclusive growth. There are 2 Priority Axes (PAs) relevant to RETRACE: 

- PA1 (Technology Transfer and R&I): The support of the development of new products and services thanks to technology transfer from research centers to companies in the RIS3 priority sectors is planned (IP1b).

- PA2 (Competitiveness of SMEs): Both the support of new companies and start-ups in priority sectors, including eco-innovation (IP3a) and the support of investments on infrastructure and equipment by companies and industries in order to gain energy and resource efficiency among other competitiveness criteria are planned (IP 3b).


The measures to be supported by these PAs fail to mainstream systemic approaches for a Circular Economy. The application of the concept of environmental sustainability is limited to the increase of resource efficiency, use of renewable resources, reduction of waste production and preservation of environmental heritage. IB and MA of the OP are aware of this limitation, reason why they are engaged in the proposal, looking specifically for the delivery of new projects and governance models for the creation of new companies and start-up around the Circular Economy concept applied to RIS3 priority sectors, such as agro-food, clothing and wood/lumber fields. 

Which partners are working on this?
  • North-East Regional Development Agency