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Sustainable Circular Economy

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Contact Ahmed Z. Khan
Keywords multidimensional sustainability evaluation of circular economy, sustainable design methods and strategies for CE, the governance of transformative/alternative/grassroots CE-initiatives


Prof. Ahmed Z. Khan, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
Prof. Wouter Achten, IGEAT, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
Prof. Tom Bauler, IGEAT, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium


Project Summary

Sustainable Circular Economy – Which circularity? Evaluation, Design and Governance

Circular economy (CE) is an emerging paradigm shift in the sustainable development discourse, its practices and modes of implementation. It regroups a multitude of resource cycling concepts and is in its more transformative, radical interpretations coupled with alternative economic models (functional economy, product service system, collaborative and sharing economy, ...).
The CE is claimed to support evolution towards sustainable prosperity (Cassiers (ed), 2014). However, up to now there are only few concrete/empirical evaluation studies which are able to analytically support the theoretical sustainability claims (Ghisellini et al. 2015). Furthermore, the multitude of possible configurations which could effectively combine cycling concepts, design practices and alternative economic models poses the fundamental question: Which circularity for which context by what practice?
The general objective of this project is to contribute to the understanding of such “sustainable circular economy” configurations and develop a scientifically sound analytical apparatus and implementation capabilities. The project aims to achieve this by combining 3 research axes: i) configuration of evaluation tools, ii) conceptualisation of design strategies and models, and iii) analyses of governance modes.
To achieve the general project aim, the project is organized as a conceptual triangle between sustainability evaluation of circularity (Wouter Achten), sustainable design (Ahmed Khan) and governance (Tom Bauler). For a transition towards sustainable circular economy we consider evaluation, design and governance equally important and necessary. Each of the 3 triangle nodes represents a research pillar which will be implemented as 3 PhD projects. Although, obviously a series of interactions among the PhDs are foreseen to consolidate common understanding and shared conceptualisations, the projects run in parallel and act on different levels (generic level vs. sector specific level) or actors/users (e.g. administrations, companies, etc.) and objects of study to avoid too strong interdependencies which might put the individual PhDs at risk:

PhD 1: Multidimensional sustainability evaluation of circular economy (Dir. Wouter Achten) in 
which it is the main aim to contribute to the development of a sustainability circularity evaluation framework which is able to assess circularity, environmental and socio-economic impacts of circular economy materials, products and initiatives. In this evaluation the PhD project will also focus on the interaction effect on sustainability of coupling material cycling concepts with alternative circular economic models. 

PhD 2: Sustainable design methods and strategies for circular economy (Dir. Ahmed Z. Khan) of which the main aim is to develop sustainable circularity models based on the integrative evaluation of the study of the urban buildings material stock and design strategies for its reuse. To achieve this aim, the project will work on two main objectives: 1) to assess the potential and feasibility of urban mining in the particular case of Brussels Capital Region; and 2) to develop new design concepts and strategies for the effective implementation of reuse and recycling in the construction of buildings. 

PhD 3: The governance of transformative/alternative/grassroots circular economy initiatives (Dir. Tom Bauler) which aims to shed light on the dynamics with which transformative CE initiatives “on the ground” interact with the more classic state-market actors of the more industrial interpretation and experiences of CE; simultaneously the objective is to observe how such initiatives configure their very own internal governance structures in order to negotiate their integrity between goals and means. 
Next to these 3 PhDs we see an additional need for a postdoctoral researcher to structure, organize and conceptualize the collaborative meta-analyses and integration of the results from each pillar. Overall the promotors aim to use this project to establish, expand and consolidate expertise in CE at the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB). The strategic ambition of the project is to develop the backbone dynamics to create an interdisciplinary and interfaculty center of excellence on CE at the ULB. The bird-eye perspective of the postdoctoral research in the project, and its additional role as animator of inta-ULB dynamics, will be crucial in this development. 


This research is funded by:

ULB internal Funding instrument: ARC Avancés 2016-2021


Key references

Ghisellini, P., Cialani, C., Ulgiati, S. (2015) A review on circular economy: the expected transition to a balanced interlay of environmental and economic systems. Journal of Cleaner Production. In press.

Revéret, J.-P., & Margni, M. (2015) Circular economy: A critical literature review of concepts. CIRAIG, Polytechnique Montréal and/or ESG-UQAM. Montréal, Canada. Pp 75.

Sauvé, S., Bernard, S., & Sloan, P. (2015). Environmental sciences, sustainable development and circular economy: Alternative concepts for trans-disciplinary research. Environmental Development, 1–9. 8 Ogbu, L. (2010). Design for Reuse Primer. Public Architecture.

Ely, A., Smith, A., Stirling, A., Leach, M. and Scoones, I. (2013) Innovation politics post-Rio+20: hybrid pathways to sustainability? Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 31 (6). pp. 1063-1081.

EMF & Granta Design (2015) Circularity indicators - an approach to measuring circularity. 11 p.

Di Maio, F., & Rem, P. C. (2015) A robust indicator for promoting circular economy through recycling. Journal of Environmental Protection, 6, 1095-1104.

Geng, Y. Fu, J., Sarkis, J. Xue, B. (2012). Towards a national circular economy indicator system in China: an evaluation and critical analysis. Journal of Cleaner Production, 23, 216-224.

Khan, A.Z. and Allacker, K., Eds., (2015). Architecture and Sustainability: Critical Perspectives for Integrated Design, Leuven and Den Haag: ACCO Press, 448 p. D/2015/0543/17; NUR 955; ISBN 978-94-6292-088-0.

Brunner, P. H. (2011). Urban Mining: A Contribution to Reindustrializing the City. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 15(3), 339–341.

CEC-EU (2015), Closing the loop. Communication from the Commisison to the Euorpean Parliament, the Council, the European and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. COM(2015)614final. Brussels.

Swyngedouw, E. (2005) Governance Innovation and the Citizen: The Janus Face of Governance-beyond-the-State, Urban Studies 42(11) 1991-2006.

Tanikawa, H., & Hashimoto, S. (2009). Urban stock over time: spatial material stock analysis using 4d-GIS. Building Research & Information, 37(5-6), 483–502.

Weisz, H. & Steinberger, J.K. (2010) Reducing energy and material flows in cities. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 2(3), 185-192.

Di Maria, F., Micale, C, Sordi, A., Cirulli, G., Marionni, M. (2013) Urban Mining: Quality and quantity of recyclable and recoverable material mechanically and physically extractable from residual waste. Waste management, 33(12), 2594-2599.

Braungart, M., & McDonough, W. (2002). Cradle to Cradle: Re-making the Way we Make Things (1st ed.). North Point Press.

Müller, D. B. (2006). Stock dynamics for forecasting material flows — Case study for housing in The Netherlands. Ecological Economics, 59, 142–156.

Gorgolewski, M. (2008). Designing with reused building components: some challenges. Building Research & Information, 36, 175–188.