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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
|communities of place or interest||collaborative prosumption and consumption practices in the building and food systems||waste reduction, new skills, cohesion, community ownership|
|groups of interest||alternative consumption (sharing and exchanging) of products, building spaces, and mobility modes||waste and resource reduction, money and space-saving|
|short-term groups||production (co-creation) and short-term use of public land/urban||awareness, building groups of interest|
|citizens||self-production and alternative consumption (product life extension)||waste reduction, new skills, money-saving|
|citizens||production of knowledge in the building, food and mobility systems||increasing awareness, influence behaviour|
|non-profit groups and businesses||alternative production of products and food||resource use and waste reduction, cohesion and self-reliance|
|non-profit groups and businesses||alternative consumption (renting and letting) of building spaces and products||resource 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.
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 economy||Regenerate||Share||Optimise|
|engage and empower||community gardening/growing/composting, urban farming, community-supported agriculture||shared community initiatives like co-housing, community hub, shared facilities like carpooling||self-build communities, self-production facilities (workshops, platforms); collective purchase groups|
|engage and empower||repair cafes and platforms, reuse centres and platform, upcycling/closed-loop food/biomaterials initiatives||platforms for resources reuse, knowledge production, network supply chain||renewable 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.
Circular Families game
The project explored the ability of playful practices to engage urban communities like social housing, support collaborative discovery and promote bottom-up knowledge on how they can contribute to a circular economy. Learn more about the Circular Families game and how to play it.
- Marchesi, M. and Tweed, C. 2021. Social innovation for a circular economy in social housing. Sustainable Cities and Society, article number: 102925. (10.1016/j.scs.2021.102925).
- Marchesi, M., Tweed, C. and Gerber, D. 2020. Applying circular economy principles to urban housing. Presented at: Beyond 2020, Virtual, 2-4 November 2020, Vol. 588. IOP Publishing: Conference Series pp. 1.15-1.19., (10.1088/1755-1315/588/5/052065).
- Marchesi, M., Tweed, C. and Gerber, D. 2019. Circular design for affordable, human-centred and zero-waste urban housing. Presented at: 19th European Roundtable for Sustainable Consumption and Production (ERSCP 2019), Barcelona, Spain, 15-18 October 2019 Presented at Segalas, J. and Lazzarini, B. eds. Proceedings of the 19th European Roundtable for Sustainable Consumption and Production Circular Europe for Sustainability: Design, Production and Consumption. Book of abstracts. ERSCP 2019, Barcelona pp. 204.
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under the Grant Agreement n. 793021.
|Grant amount||195,454.80 euro|
|Project duration||June 2018 - February 2021|
|Partners||Arup Foresight London (Dr David Gerber)|
Clarion Housing Group (Paul Quinn)
Dr Marianna Marchesi
Lecturer in Architectural Design & Technology
- +44 (0)7470742033
Professor Chris Tweed
Chair in Sustainable Design
- +44 (0)29 2087 6207