One of the more compelling cases for the circular economy in New York City is that it can deliver a variety of good jobs for the city’s residents. Numerous studies have shown the job-creating potential of green recovery plans if policy packages are carefully designed and target low-carbon and circular sectors.57 Our research suggests the circular economy can create over 11,000 jobs in New York City by 2030. Alongside roles created by the transition to renewable energy, a New York circular economy could significantly boost the outcomes of the New York Works plan, which aims to create 100,000 good jobs.58
In this section we assess the employment potential of the circular economy and the key levers that can foster a balanced labor market, increase innovation power and competitiveness and create opportunities for both the most vulnerable and high-skilled workers.
The circular economy creates a wide variety of jobs. From an architect designing buildings to enable resource recovery after use, to an appliance technician repairing products to extend their useful life, to a courier picking up used products as part of a reverse logistics scheme, all make an essential contribution to the circular economy.
In New York City, thousands of jobs have been created by the circular economy to date. Employment in the circular economy reflects the broad nature of the system, and can be divided into three layers.
1 A first layer of core circular employment includes jobs that ensure material cycles are closed, such as renewable energy, repair and maintenance, and waste and resource management (22 percent of circular jobs).
2 A second layer of enabling employment includes jobs that enable the acceleration and upscaling of core circular activities, such as leasing, engineering, digital
technology and collaboration. These activities create the lion’s share of circular employment in the city (58 percent of circular jobs).
3 A third layer of indirectly circular employment includes jobs that provide services to core and enabling circular activities, such as education, logistics and public sector services (20 percent of circular jobs).
The method that was used to estimate the percentage of circular economy jobs is explained in detail in Annex I, which is available on our website.
The circular economy has the potential to create jobs in both existing and emerging sectors.59 Most growth in employment is expected in repair and maintenance activities in the short to medium-long term of the circular transition.60
New York City Economic Development Corporation and Circle Economy developed three scenarios for the development of the circular economy in NYC. These scenarios include a business as usual, a moderate and an ambitious context. They are based on an analysis of the potential of the circular economy for Great Britain by WRAP and Green Alliance, and have been adapted to the current situation of NYC and the city’s existing ambitions.
For each scenario, the effects on the number of jobs were calculated using the dimensions of circularity relevant to NYC. Each dimension is approximated using low-, medium- and high-level multipliers representing the amount of circular activity undertaken in the local economy that parallels similar scenarios in previous work by WRAP. The method employed to estimate the job creation potential of these scenarios, including the use of the Regional Economic Model, Inc. 70-sector model for New York City, is explained in more detail in Annex II, which is available on our website.
The circular economy can create over 11,000 jobs in New York City by 2030. Almost half of these jobs would be created in and by servitization activities, followed by recycling and repair. Next to the expected job creation of the renewable energy transition, and additional job creation in the wider New York State, the circular economy could significantly boost the outcomes of the New York Works plan.69
The circular economy creates jobs for a wide variety of workers; it needs practically skilled workers for recycling and repair activities as well as highly skilled labor for enabling circular activities. The expected change in the labor market entails a change in skills demand, which is shown in the downloadable pdf below. The overview shows that the need for technical skills is as prevalent in the circular economy as it is in the rest of the economy. The same holds for complex problem-solving skills.
Sectors that are central to, and will undergo transformative change in, the circular economy are currently facing considerable challenges in relation to non-unionized and unregulated work, precarious working conditions and vulnerable workers.73, 74, 75 These challenges are inherent to sectors that are part of, and closely related to, the circular economy, and will need to be monitored and addressed throughout the circular transition.
The circular economy offers an opportunity to address these challenges and improve the quality of work in NYC, as the involvement of the public sector can regulate, and the revaluation and reshoring of manufacturing activities can create and improve, jobs for mid-skilled workers. This is particularly relevant given the need for more resilient, local supply chains as a result of the disruption from COVID-19.
Governments play a central role in supporting the transition to the circular economy, and ensuring the jobs this creates are accessible to all workers.
Evidence from past crises has shown the job-creating potential of green recovery packages, in both the short and the long term.76, 77 When it comes to the circular economy, regulatory and economic policies are the two most powerful job-creating policy instruments for city governments.78
The fact that governments are highly involved in circular economy sectors such as recycling through procurement makes public procurement one of the main policy levers to advance circularity. The same holds for infrastructure and urban development projects. Social housing agencies, for example, are ideally placed to implement circular economy strategies, as a focus on long-term and inclusive value creation is a necessary condition.
This makes public procurement a particularly relevant instrument for the city to use to invest in both sustainable and inclusive recovery efforts.
Programs such as the Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise Certification Program also demonstrate that procurement can create opportunities.
Promoting remanufacturing as a development pathway for NYC’s economy can positively affect the quality and resilience of local jobs in a number of sectors. As remanufacturing takes place during or after consumers use products, these activities occur around customers and the city. Planning decisions can ensure these markets, in the shape of decentralized remanufacturing storefronts and refurbishment centers, can grow across all boroughs of the city. As such, localized remanufacturing induces a redistributive effect among local business owners.
Remanufacturing jobs are embedded in local material flows and less reliant on imports and are therefore more resilient.
Remanufacturing is also an opportunity to develop a new generation of craftspeople.
Remanufacturing activities create mid-skilled jobs, as working with secondary resources and products requires an increased level of complexity and vertical integration of tasks.
The craftsmanship skills of these workers need to be complemented by digital technology activities in order to scale them up.79 The type of craftsmanship skills needed in the repair and garments industry sit with vulnerable workers, whereas digital technology skills sit with highly educated workers. An upskilling of traditional manufacturing and craft workers and further integration with the digital technology sector will ensure the circular economy creates good jobs locally.
ReTuna: Eskilstuna Municipality in Sweden developed the first circular shopping center comprising reuse and upcycling shops. This also provides new opportunities for local entrepreneurs, jobs in skilled trades such as textiles or electricals, and retail work. In 2018 ReTuna created more than 50 new jobs and generated more than $1m (SEK11.7m) in sales of recycled products.
Liquid Technology, based at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, is a prime example of remanufacturing, taking outdated or unusable electronics, removing all data from the devices, and then remanufacturing salvageable components of the product and carefully recycling any remaining components. Liquid Technology extends the life cycle of usable devices and effectively recycles any e-waste as needed, creating a safe and sustainable model for e-waste.
Rent the Runway is a subscription-based fashion rental service. Customers can rent designer clothing for a four- or eight-day period for as low as 10 percent of the retail price. The company also rents children’s clothing and accessories (including jewelry and handbags), and sells “essentials,” including lingerie, tights, shapewear and cosmetics.
Among others: International Energy Agency, Sustainable Recovery: World Energy Outlook Special Report (2020); and Hepburn, C., et al., “Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?” Oxford Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment (2020)
City of New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York Works: Creating good jobs (n.d.)
City of New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York Works: Creating good jobs (n.d.)
HIVA, Sectorstudie circulaire economie, Impact van de circulaire economie in Vlaanderen op de sociale economie en de tewerkstelling van kansengroepen [Sector study circular economy, Impact of the circular economy in Flanders on the social economy and employment of vulnerable workers] (2018)
Green Alliance, Job Quality in the Circular Economy (2016)
Brennan Center for Justice, “Unregulated work in the construction industry in New York City,” chapter from Unregulated Work in the Global City (2007)
Economic Policy Institute, Diversity in the New York City Union and Nonunion Construction Sectors (2017)
Gany, F., et al., Urban Occupational Health in the Mexican and Latino/Latina Immigrant Population: A literature review (2014)
Pollin, R., et al., Green Recovery: A program to create good jobs & start building a low-carbon economy. Political Economy Research Institute, working paper (2008). Available online via https://www.peri.umass.edu/publication/item/292-green-recovery-a-program-to-create-good-jobs-start-building-a-low-carbon-economy
Popp, D., et al., Green Stimulus, Jobs and the post-Pandemic Green Recovery (July 2020). Available online via https://voxeu.org/article/green-stimulus-jobs-and-post-pandemic-green-recovery
Stavropoulos, S., et al., “Urban circular policies and employment through greenfield FDI,” Sustainability Vol. 12(4) (2020). https://doi.org/10.3390/su12041458
Moreno, M., and Charnley, F., Can Re-distributed Manufacturing and Digital Intelligence Enable a Regenerative Economy? An integrative literature review (2016)
Solar reference array available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/nait/6915219490/
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