Complex challenges
Circular solutions

Vision for New York City 2030: The world’s foremost circular city

We live in extraordinary times. We are in the midst of a global pandemic that has had a devastating effect on our lives, health and livelihoods and changed the way we live, work and play. We are finally seeing serious attempts to address centuries of social inequality and racial injustice. And we are grappling with an environmental crisis that is threatening our way of life and the natural world.

The New York Circular City Initiative seeks to offer a positive vision of the future, one that can help answer some of the questions raised by the extraordinary times we live in.

The global economy has operated as a linear system for centuries. We extract raw materials and use them to produce goods that are thrown away at the end of their useful life.

In a time of plentiful resources and relatively few people, this system worked well. But now the global population has passed 7.5bn, a new model is required – one that makes better use of our dwindling reserves and helps society respond to the challenges of climate change.

In the 1970s, “circular” thinking began to develop as an alternative to linear structures. Circularity reimagines the global economy as one in which obsolescence is designed out of goods, the producer/consumer relationship is replaced by one of service provision and use – and no waste is dumped in the ground.

The New York Circular City Initiative, convened by Freshfields, applies circular thinking to one of the great cities of the world. Its vision is to create the first truly circular urban economy, one that would drive job creation and growth and elevate New York City as a global beacon for sustainability.

Cities are the perfect incubator for circularity because of the rapid rise of urban populations. They consume 78 percent of the world’s energy and produce 60 percent of its emissions. If sustainable cities can emerge, they would have a disproportionate impact on humanity’s environmental footprint.

Our research considered more than 50 potential levers that could create circularity in New York. Each was assessed for its impact on jobs, economic growth and the environment.

Through this work we have developed an approach that could create over 11,000 new jobs across the income spectrum, deliver over $11bn in economic benefits and reduce waste to zero.

Circularity – and the economic recovery – requires multi-sector collaboration, which is why the New York Circular City Initiative is such a powerful vehicle for change. It brings together representatives from city government, business and civil society to form a group with unique influence on the future direction of New York. Its members can be found here, and we would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to each of them. From Mayor de Blasio’s Office of Climate Policy to the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Circle Economy, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and the many businesses involved in the initiative, the circularity model set out in this report is supported by those with the power to make it a reality.

This is the first step on a journey that we believe will lead to a circular New York City. We are delighted that the Economic Development Corporation will host the New York Circular City Initiative and take this important work forward.

This publication (including any charts and attachments) has been prepared for information purposes only. The reader should conduct their own investigation and analyses of the information contained in this publication. The contributors to this publication make no representation or warranties whatsoever with respect to the quality, content, accuracy or completeness of the information herein or on omissions there from. The contributors further do not accept any liability if this publication is used for an alternative purpose from which it is intended, nor to any third party in respect of this publication.