Cities in the circular economy.

By the year 2050, over 66% of the world's population is expected to be living in urban environments (UN 2014). This will lead to an increase in the demands of urban infrastructure and resources. 

Google and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation have recently launched a report into this entitled 'Cities in the Circular Economy: The Role of Digital Technology'. 

The report explores new concepts for harnessing the flow of energies and materials in the urban environment.

"Circular cities aim to eliminate the concept of waste, keep assets at their highest utility at all times, and are enabled by digital technology."

Cities in the Circular Economy: The Role of Digital Technology (2017)

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The report looks at ways that environmental costs can be minimised across the following areas:

Built Environment

In circular economies, environmental costs are minimised by using utilises healthy building materials or re-using existing resources. Newly harvested building materials are only used where absolutely necessary and as a last resort.

Buildings are designed with wellness in mind and use shared and flexible spaces to take adapt to the rhythms of human behaviour, and maximise their usage throughout the day.

In many cases, buildings will have been designed in such a way that they generate, rather than consume power from the grid. 


Many cities have are already congested, and this will only intensify as more people move to urban environments. Circular cities tackle the issue of congestion through adopting a multi-modal mobility structure that incorporates public transportation and ridesharing (in electric vehicles) for 'last mile' destinations.  

Food Systems

Where possible, circular cities promote the recycling of food waste and return it to the environment as organic fertiliser harvested from solid waste and wastewater systems. 


Circular cities will use resilient, localised and distributed energy systems. Smart building control systems cater for optimal use of resources including HVAC Systems, Lighting and other building energy needs.

Four key technology systems have been identified as being crucial to the circular city including:

  1. Asset Tagging - The ability to track the location and condition of products and resources across the city, and allocate them to where they are needed. This means they can be delivered where they are needed, minimising the need for surplus materials and also wastage. 
  2. Geospatial information - Showing how resources and materials are used across the city to create minimal waste in terms of energy (costs of being stuck in traffic or using sub-optimal routes) and spoilage (waste). 
  3. Big Data Management - Big data can analyse aggregate human behaviour, and come up with patterns that can predict and anticipate energy and resource requirements. 
  4. Connectivity - New technology can enable connections between people, and also connections between people and their environment. This can promote better resource usage through business models derived from the sharing economy, e.g. shared office spaces or shared systems of distribution. 

You can view the full report here.