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CircuBED - Applying the circular economy to the design of social housing

The project explored how social housing communities can contribute to the implementation of a circular economy in cities, and how they can be engaged in envisioning possible scenarios for a transition to a circular community.

Resource efficiency in cities depends on consumption and production patterns that are linked to changes in people behaviour. The ecological footprint of Cardiff shows that the impact of citizens on the environment in terms of resource use largely depends on the consumption of food and drink, energy, mobility and consumables. Similar data have been observed in several cities in the UK. Therefore, based on these data, research has acknowledged that the impact of cities on the planet is strongly related to citizens lifestyles and patterns.

This diagram shows Cardiff residents’ Footprint and highlights how contemporary lifestyles and consumption patterns have major implications on resource use. This is split: 2% holiday activities, 23% food and drink, 18% mobility, 17% energy, 13% capital investment, 12% consumables, 7% government, 5% services, 3% housing.
A pie chart representing the ecological footprint of Cardiff’s residents

The circular economy offers ways to reshape current production and consumption practices in urban systems (food, product, mobility and building) to improve resource efficiency while enabling society, the economy and the environment to prosper sustainably.

This diagram represents the circular economy approach to production and consumption aiming at resource reduction, reuse, recycling, and closed-loop flows.
Diagram of a circular economy in the product system

However, until now, the circular economy has mainly focused on technological innovations with limited attention on social practices and behavioural change. On the other side, behavioural change for sustainable living has shown being effectively encouraged through initiatives of social innovation that involve people in alternative social practice through new products, services, processes, markets, platforms or organisational forms.

They are initiatives that engage people in collective interventions and promote changes in social practices through the creation of new roles and relationships, development of new assets and capabilities and improved access to power and use of resources. Therefore, this study pointed at understanding the phenomenon of social innovation for a circular economy in urban communities and groups of interest to define the potential contribution of social housing communities through the promotion of alternative production and consumption practices.

This study explored social innovation interventions implemented in cities and aimed at promoting changes in production and consumption practices.
Social innovation and the circular economy

Through the selection and analysis of 56 case studies, the project developed a database to provide an overview of contemporary social innovation initiatives implemented by urban communities and groups of interest among citizens focused on promoting alternative production and consumption practices.

This table shows an excerpt of the case study database implemented by the selection and analysis of 56 social innovation initiatives.
A case study database implemented by the selection and analysis of 56 social innovation initiatives.

A process of comparison and grouping followed the analysis and allowed to categorise this database by theoretical knowledge and empirical analysis and identify three main categories and seven types of social innovation for a circular economy in urban communities and groups of interest.

This picture represents the three main categories and seven types of social innovation for a circular economy identified through the study.
Social innovation types for a circular economy in urban communities

Based on this typology, the study defined the potential contribution of social housing communities to the transition to a circular economy in cities through social innovation by specifying opportunities, benefits and obstacles

Innovation typeOpportunitiesBenefits
communities of place or interestcollaborative prosumption and consumption  practices in the building and food systemswaste reduction, new skills, cohesion, community ownership
groups of interestalternative consumption (sharing and exchanging) of products, building spaces, and mobility modeswaste and resource reduction, money and space-saving
short-term groupsproduction (co-creation) and short-term use of public land/urbanawareness, building groups of interest
citizensself-production and alternative consumption (product life extension)waste reduction, new skills, money-saving
citizensproduction of knowledge in the building, food and mobility systemsincreasing awareness, influence behaviour
non-profit groups and businessesalternative production of products and foodresource use and waste reduction, cohesion and self-reliance
non-profit groups and businessesalternative consumption (renting and letting) of building spaces and productsresource use and waste reduction, money-saving, user profit

This analysis also outlined a preliminary understanding of the concept of circular community. It showed groups of citizens organised into residential groups, groups of interest, businesses and social enterprises that promote circular production and consumption practices in urban systems by prioritising strategies of rethinking, refusing, reducing, repairing, delocalising, democratising and redistributing and by putting them into practice through social-technical innovations to ensure wellbeing for all within the planetary boundaries.

Additionally, findings highlighted a complementary role that social innovation can play in the implementation of a circular economy in different urban systems including: product, food, mobility and buildings in collaboration with the industry, governments and institutions.

This diagram displays social innovation opportunities for a circular economy implemented in the product system in cities and selected through the study.
Social innovations for a circular product system

Since existing approaches to a circular economy do not include social innovation, the project suggested the introduction of emerging social innovation concepts into the ReSOLVE framework, a well-established circular economy framework, to support the identification of social innovation initiatives for a circular economy. Specifically, the strategy “engage and empower” has been included to be combined with circular economy actions to identify opportunities.

ReSOLVE strategies Social innovation opportunities for a circular economy

Social innovation/ circular economyRegenerateShareOptimise
engage and empowercommunity gardening/growing/composting, urban farming, community-supported agricultureshared community initiatives like co-housing, community hub, shared facilities like carpoolingself-build communities, self-production facilities (workshops, platforms); collective purchase groups
 loopvirtualiseexchange
engage and empowerrepair cafes and platforms, reuse centres and platform, upcycling/closed-loop food/biomaterials initiativesplatforms for resources reuse, knowledge production, network supply chainrenewable sources use (community energy), new business models (community bikes), advanced technologies

The study also identified internal and external challenges that affect and limit the growth of social innovation initiatives for a circular economy: the dependence on external/public source funds or volunteers’ work and the lack of sustainable business models; the need of building human capacity and skills; difficulties in scaling up because of lack of access to infrastructures, economic support and support from decision-makers; the low understanding of their real impacts limiting cross-sectoral support; and low collaborations across wider society.

  • access to infrastructures and support from decision-makers
  • economic support and sustainable business models
  • building human capacity and skills
  • local networks for resource circularity
  • understanding of real impacts

Based on research findings, the project is exploring the ability of playful practices to facilitate urban communities in decoding circular economy concepts and strategies and creating scenarios for the transition to a circular community. A serious game on social innovation for a circular economy in urban communities will be developed and tested with a social housing community in London. Finally, preliminary recommendations regarding support strategies and measures to be implemented in policymaking for facilitating emerging social innovation initiatives in the field will be formulated.

Publications

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under the Grant Agreement n. 793021.

Grant amount195,454.80 euro
Project durationJune 2018 - February 2021
PartnersArup Foresight London (Dr David Gerber)
Clarion Housing Group (Paul Quinn)

Project lead

Dr Marianna Marchesi

Dr Marianna Marchesi

Lecturer in Architectural Design
Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow

Email
marchesim@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 0923

Project supervisor

Professor Chris Tweed

Professor Chris Tweed

Head of School, Chair in Sustainable Design

Email
tweedac@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 6207