Blog - Smart Inspiration Day

Smart Cities and circularity: key lessons from the Smart Inspiration Day 2023

#SIDay 2023 - On May 16, 2023, the 6th edition of the Smart Inspiration Day was (already!) took place. This year, through the conferences and discussions given by our invited experts, we evoked the link between circular territories and sustainable and smart transition. So, what are the key messages to remember from this inspiring afternoon?

Smart Inspiration Day 2023: Couldn't join us? Through two articles, the Smart City Institute proposes you a summary of the key messages that punctuated the event:


> Smart Cities and circularity: key lessons from the Smart Inspiration Day 2023

> Circular economy: where do Belgian municipalities stand?


See also : photo gallery Smart Inspiration Day 2023

Blog - SIDay 2023 - Image large

Smart City and circular economy: two complementary concepts

Considering the global challenges that our territories and their populations are facing today (whether environmental, demographic, urbanistic, societal, etc.), the concepts of Smart City and circular economy are both considered as essential levers towards a more sustainable transition.
Indeed, both the Smart City (i.e. sustainable and smart territories) and the circular economy aim, among other things, to improve the management of resources as well as urban flows via innovation and the implementation of solutions and circular ecosystems, thus promoting the economic, societal and environmental development of our territories.
Beyond the sustainability objective they share, these two territorial development models can complement each other. Indeed, the circular economy is one of the axes on which sustainable and smart territories rely to support their sustainability via a creative, innovative and more inclusive economy, too. The circular economy can also have many beneficial effects on issues such as mobility or all environmental issues like resource management, for example.
Inversely, sustainable and smart transition approaches can contribute to the success of circular initiatives, notably through a better understanding and organization of urban flows, or the establishment of collaborative ecosystems necessary for this type of approach. Thus, adopting a Smart City vision will help strengthen the circular economy of the territory because it provides an opportunity to anticipate, plan and even implement circular projects, particularly through the use of data.

Digital: what role in the development of circular territories?

As Isabelle Rawart, Smart Territories Advisor at the Agence du Numérique (AdN) indicated at the beginning of the conferences, the circular economy must be perceived as a reflection to be integrated in all projects undertaken on our territories. However, the integration of the circular economy in these projects and their proper implementation requires above all rigorous governance (decisions, rules and practices aimed at ensuring the optimal functioning of an organization).
And when it comes to governance, data is particularly important. Indeed, data and Open Data are clearly at the heart of circularity and could therefore play a crucial role in the development of the circular economy. Data must therefore be seen as a key element towards a sustainable transition of our territories because they can indeed help in the planning, implementation, monitoring but also in the evaluation of the projects put in place, while allowing a better understanding and management of urban flows (what is also called the "urban metabolism", i.e. the flows of materials entering and leaving a territory). Open Data allows not only sharing and more transparency but also the identification of opportunities, collaborations and innovations as well as informed decision making.
However, access to and availability of this data remains an issue that many territories are facing. The challenge is how to improve access to and reliability of this crucial data in order to support localities in their efforts.
> Data governance: Consult our Practical Guide dedicated to the theme:Our territories dealing with data and their governance"

The commitment of territories to the circular economy

In recent years, we can perceive that the dynamics related to the circular economy are being implemented at all territorial scales in a resilience logic. The primary objectives are the fight against climate change but also the resolution of environmental problems such as resource use. Indeed, as Simon Gresset, Circular Economy Officer for ICLEI Europe, mentioned during his speech, " unlimited economic growth is not sustainable in a limited world ". Hence the need to focus on the resource, in order to limit its extraction, consumption, but also waste by transforming it (recycling appears only much later).
9R framework - EN
> To learn more about circular cities, read also: Économie circulaire : pour des villes qui tournent rond
During his speech, Simon Gresset emphasized the importance for cities and towns to produce value locally, but above all, to retain it. Producing value and engaging in a circular approach involves 3 fundamentals, which go hand in hand with governance and strong political support:

1. Defining a strategy: having an ambition and identifying related actions to implement ;

Sources of inspiration:

The Circular Economy strategy of the city of Leuven, one of the pillars of Leuven 2030, which aims to achieve climate neutrality. > See the Leuven Circulair strategy

The strategy for the transition to a circular economy of the city of Maribor, Slovenia  > See the strategy

2. Mobilize and involve local stakeholders in the development of this strategy;

Source of inspiration: The local dynamics around the circular economy of the city of Witz, Luxembourg

> Organization of a circular economy day

> Creation of a Circular Innovation Hub

3. Identifying the right funding sources towards a circular transition

> Source of inspiration and resource: The Circular City Funding Guide 

More and more cities in Europe have already taken the step towards the circular economy and are reporting on their strategies, activities and initiatives but also on the challenges they are facing. They can be seen as sources of best practices and inspiration for other municipalities wishing to tackle the circular transition. This is one of th6e objectives of the Circular Cities Declaration, whose signatory cities (more than 60 in Europe) share their progress through the publication of reports.

What about local governments in Belgium?

The theme of the circular economy in our country is becoming more and more important and is part of a real will, translated at different territorial levels (federal, regional, but also local). Our colleague Benoît Ruysschaert ( Doctoral Researcher, Smart City Institute), who studied the issue via a survey conducted among 581 Belgian municipalities at the end of 2022, indicates that it is on the agenda of many municipalities (nearly 60%), whether at the level of one or more projects or rather as an integral part of a climate plan or a Transversal Strategic Plan (PST).
Despite this ambition and growing enthusiasm for the circular economy in Belgium, certain constraints remain and are cited as priorities by many municipalities: lack of financial means, lack of knowledge of the subject and the need to raise awareness, inappropriate regulations, and lack of political support.
What we will finally remember: even if our local governments are only at an initial stage of integrating the circular economy into projects and their strategy, all recognize the importance of getting on with the task and setting an example, and doing so by involving all stakeholders. Promising beginnings, which hopefully augur well for further progress in the near future.

Solutions and recommendations

Faced with the above concerns, the good news is that solutions can be found. During this afternoon of inspiration and a panel discussion rich in feedback with Ariane Bouvy, Circular Innovation Hub Manager of the City of Wiltz, Elke de Taeye, Circular Economy Collaborator for Local Authorities at VVSG and Giulietta D'Ugo Attaché- Economic Policy Directorate SPW - Circular Wallonia, several avenues were put forward:
  • Financing can be accelerated thanks to regional or European funds
  • Awareness raising goes through action. The goal is not to be the best, but to set an example and inspire the other stakeholders of the territory!
  • The importance of digital and communication towards the citizen, to inform and raise awareness
  • The adoption of a tax system that rewards those who make things happen and, conversely, discourages others
  • The use of public procurement as a tool to promote and highlight the most circular solutions
  • The multiplication of transversal initiatives that make it easier to launch and implement more circular projects
  • The collaboration between actors, the creation of key public-private partnerships and the direct involvement of citizens in projects
With the city of Wiltz as a pioneer in circular economy, Ariane Bouvy concluded the panel with the importance of 'quick-win' projects. According to her, it is fundamental to get started and act, to start small, but to get started no matter what, using your network and looking at what already exists around you. Elke de Taeye agreed: " Think before you act? - No, the opposite should be applied with the circular economy, better to act while learning on the job! "

So it's time for action, all together!

The most important watchword and lever of this day concerns the mobilization of all actors. Indeed, innovation and the transition to a circular model is meaningless without the collaboration and interactions between the different stakeholders: the public and private sectors, research and civil society, and between the different levels of power.
The dean of our faculty (HEC Liège), Wilfried Niessen, closed this inspiring afternoon by insisting on the key role of business schools and the actions led by the university community in the transition as well as on the importance of transversality in the approach towards the circular economy. [This is what HEC has already been doing for several years by offering transdisciplinary programs].

Share this news