A catalyst for circularity in New York

Successful communications campaigns and knowledge-sharing initiatives can act as a catalyst for circularity in New York City, particularly if they are targeted toward behavioral change. The narrative most likely to achieve the required mindset shift is one that identifies the circular economy as a positive step forward for the city – one that creates jobs and generates growth while minimizing the risks inherent in linear production models.

Communications campaigns for the circular economy should be targeted at a range of audiences and focus on several key messages:

to circularity
the impacts of the linear economy on the environment, people and the economy, and the benefits of a transition to circularity
how decision makers can use their influence for maximum leverage
what residents can do to minimize their impact

Communicating the benefits and improving understanding of a circular economy in New York can be done through resident awareness campaigns that showcase current best practice, initiatives and market opportunities. However, there are several other options.

Circular economy vision

It is important to create a shared narrative and vision of the circular economy that will guide activity in the city. As examples, the London Circular Route Map and the Amsterdam Circular Vision microsite showcase the vision and ambition of both cities and signpost residents to local best practice examples.

Data and information

Providing (online) access to information will enable residents and organizations to get a clear picture of barriers, future potential and progress against targets, while also offering practical solutions.

Bespoke events

These can help spread information on existing circular activities, opportunities and challenges and create a network effect. One example is the New York Circular City Week, run by the Danish Cleantech Hub, which is an open collaborative festival for circular economy-related events and was held in New York for the first time in March 2019. The event brings together key thought leaders, investors and businesses to share best practice, and includes activities emphasizing how circular practices such as reuse, recycling and upcycling are transforming urban industries and the city as a whole.


The development of new projects to showcase the circular economy’s potential and provide practical circular economy training, such as Envision Charlotte’s “Innovation Barn.” Envision Charlotte is a public–private collaboration leading Charlotte’s progress as a smart city, and it uses the barn to showcase how it is driving the shift toward a circular economy. The center is focused on upcycling and has a collaboration space for entrepreneurs as well as a zero-waste restaurant (which uses food that is near its sell-by date), a composting station and a 500-capacity events space. With support from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the barn acts as an education space for the community.49 It is estimated that its activities will help generate $2.3bn in profits for the city by 2040, as well as hundreds of jobs.50 The city council is thought to have supported the project with $2m.51

Case studies

New York City has created the DonateNYC website to connect businesses, schools, university campuses and non-profit organizations looking to donate and receive donated goods. However, DonateNYC is currently not that well known among New Yorkers and needs a strong communications push to help it achieve greater impact.

NYC’s #WearNext Campaign, a partnership involving the city’s Economic Development Corporation, Department of Sanitation, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, H&M and others in the fashion industry, created an online interactive map that marks more than 1,100 public and private collection points across the city where people can return clothes they no longer wear. As a result of the campaign (which ran from March to June 2019), clothing collection volumes increased by an average of 15 percent across seven drop-off locations in 2019. Of the sites that shared data, an increase of 583 tons of collected clothing was recorded across the city compared to the same time period in 2018.

Love Food Hate Waste led by WRAP, the UK’s Waste and Resources Action Programme, raises awareness of the need to reduce food waste. The campaign provides recipes that use leftovers and food that usually goes to waste. Reducing food waste can save each household over $80 per month.


The circular economy is about preparing students for jobs that don’t exist yet.52

The Guardian

This quote from an article in the UK’s Guardian newspaper sums up both the challenge and the opportunity in delivering the circular economy. The challenge is to identify and develop the capabilities that can generate more circular practices, including new business models and innovative infrastructure alongside the skills to repair, refurbish and remanufacture goods.

This will create significant opportunities for employment in these areas and in the new businesses that will emerge to meet the demand for more circular practices.

With its focus on practical applications, education activities should be targeted toward higher education, including universities and business schools. The good news is that capacity already exists, with 138 higher education institutions around the world offering circular learning opportunities (including Columbia University, which runs a “Circular Economy for Sustainability Professionals Course” as part of its MS in Sustainability Management).53

Vocational training is also required to help develop new approaches to design, inspection, cleaning, remanufacturing and repair. Reskilling may also be important to allow people to move from one (linear) industry to another (circular) industry as opportunities develop.

Education in action

In its Circular Economy Strategy for Scotland, the Scottish Government has highlighted its approach to skills development, which includes modern apprenticeships and support for innovation centers.

New York City already has strong examples of vocational training programs that focus on green jobs, which could be adapted to embrace circular skills.

They include:

Solar One, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to design and deliver innovative education, training and technical assistance that fosters sustainability and resilience in diverse urban environments.

The Hope Program, which empowers New Yorkers to build sustainable futures through comprehensive training, jobs, advancement and lifelong career support.