II: Circular cities: European case studies

Circular Stockholm

Circular Sweden

Sweden does not have a direct policy on circular economy. Yet it is a rich country and consumption levels are extremely high. The average citizen consumes 7.3 global hectares per capita which would require the equivalent of four Earths to sustain them (World Wide Fund, 2016). Imports of goods are high, especially from Asia. However, the population ofSweden is relatively small and the country is resource rich. Domestically Sweden has also decarbonised its energy supply through the use of nuclear and renewable energy (particularly hydropower and biomass) and energy recovery from waste. However, it is dependent on the importation of waste to sustain the energy recovery system.

Sweden has been a pioneer in environmental sustainability for many decades. It has prioritised ecological regeneration, resource conservation, building adaptive capacity and mitigating climate change. Hence, the protection and regeneration of urban ecosystems is well supported. The Swedish government has applied systems thinking and holistic solutions to policy-making and systems management. Circularity, the need to close resource loops and increase positive feedback has emerged from this. By 1995, governmental interest in the “natural step” and subsequent adoption of the Alborg Charter (Conference Sustainable Cities and Towns, 1994) embedded thinking which addressed looping, ecological regeneration and adaptation in Swedish cities (Williams, 2016).

The materialisation of circular thinking was encouraged through the allocation of funding streams1 for new urban quarters. This funding enabled the development regime to implement circular systems in urban districts (Williams, 2016). It manifested as ecocycles, implemented in three urban districts: Malmo (B001) and Stockholm (Hammarby Sjostad and Stockholm Royal Seaport). Ecocycles is fundamentally an energy recovery system. It converts under-utilised materials (sewage, domestic waste) to energy and reuses heat (e.g. from industrial processes, water-cleansing processes) for cooking, space-heating, appliances and transportation. Resource loops are closed by connecting the waste, energy, water and transport systems.

The technical capacity to deliver ecocycles developed in Swedish cities over several decades (Williams, 2016). District heating systems powered by waste, renewable energy and energy efficient buildings have been part of mainstream development models in Swedish cities for some time (Figure 3.1). The district heating system was introduced into Swedish cities during the 1950s to tackle pollution and increase energy efficiency. Originally, district heating systems were powered by fossil fuels. However, over a 50-year period, gas was substituted with waste, thus closing the resource loop and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Initially, this transformation was driven by the oil and energy crises of the 1970s and the Municipal Energy Act 1977. Latterly it was driven by the European landfill tax (1999/31/ЕС) which required a reduction in waste materials being disposed of in landfill. Today, more than 90% of Swedish municipal waste is diverted from landfill and used to generate energy.

Circular development in Stockholm

Stockholm provides an interesting case for this book. It does not have a circular economy strategy (like Paris, Amsterdam or London), yet circular-thinking has been embedded into its policies, infrastructure and services for 25 years. This circular development pathway is reflected in Stockholm’s spatial plan, sustainable development strategy and climate action plan. Circular principles first manifested in Stockholm (as Ecocycles 1.0) in Hammarby. Hammarby developed the infrastructure required to create a closed-loop, waste-to-energy system.

More recently, circular principles have manifested in the circular regeneration of Stockholm Royal Seaport. In addition to the closed-loop system in the living environment, this development show cased closed-loop systems for the port (as Ecocycles 2.0). It also demonstrated ecological regeneration in its restoration of the waterways, caverns, soils and expansion of green infrastructure. It has implemented climate adapted environments and adaptive capacity has been built within communities using arrange of communication and engagement methods. SRSP tells us something about the dynamic between circular actions and other urban strategies. Both cases also provide us with greater understanding of the challenges faced in implementing a circular development pathway.

Circular Hammarby

Stockholm city council developed the eco-cycles system in Hammarby, with the aim of creating circular resource flows and improving resource efficiency (Figure 3.2). The system utilised the existing, proven city-wide infrastructural systems (city-wide district heating system, the Hogdalen combined heat and

Historical time-line for the ecocycles system

FIGURE 3.1 Historical time-line for the ecocycles system.

Source: Williams (2016).

power plant and the Hammarby thermal power station) together with new technologies for converting sludge into fertiliser and biogas. The heat produced from the process of purifying waste-water is used by the thermal power station. The buildings in Hammarby have also been designed to be more energy efficient (consuming 60 kWh/mVyear) and to produce renewable energy on site using solar cells, solar collectors and fuel cells (Pandis et al., 2013). Of these innovations the biogas element has been most successful, used by buses in Stockholm and biogas cookers in Hammarby.

The ecocycles system has reduced non-renewable energy use by 28-42%; C02 emissions by 29-37%; water consumption by 41-46% and waste going to landfill by 90% (Brick, 2008). It demonstrates one approach to delivering circular resource flows at a neighbourhood or potentially city-scale. This has a beneficial impact on green-house gas emissions produced, by avoiding fossil fuels (used in heating and vehicles) and the production of methane from landfill. However, it is at the lower end of the circular hierarchy, as its focus is on energy recovery rather than on resource recycling or reuse. It also requires waste importation, which has implications for greenhouse gas emissions.

The ecocycles system was implemented in Hammarby through a coordinated action across several local government departments (planning, energy, waste, water and transport). Initially, the services and infrastructure integral to the ecocycles system were publically operated (at city or county level). This helped with infrastructural integration and goal alignment between stakeholders involved in the implementation of the system (Williams, 2019b). It also utilised existing infrastructure. This helped to avoid barriers created by sunk costs. The city coordinated the integration of resource streams between urban sub-systems, focussed on service delivery (i.e. providing affordable warmth; clean and accessible public transport; reducing waste going to landfill) rather than maximising unit throughput (Williams, 2019b). This service-based approach encouraged a more efficient use of resources (via exchange, recycling and recovery).

Nevertheless, some political pressure was needed to implement ecocycles and overcome the initial inertia within government departments. This inertia resulted from perceived high transaction costs including sunk investment costs, separate and parallel delivery of services, loss of control over systems difficulties communicating and negotiating systems integration (Williams, 2019b). The goals for effective service delivery across the city and county councils were largely aligned. Thus, institutional barriers diminished over time. Trust and understanding was built between actors which enabled effective management of the system. Thus, capacity to deliver circular resource flows developed within the city (ibid).

The planning process and the strategic plan were used as vehicles for implementing the system and ensuring its longevity. The collaborative planning process was used to engage and build support for the system amongst the service providers and developers. The strategic plan guaranteed that both urban form

Ecocycles system

FIGURE 3.2 Ecocycles system.

Sonne: Stockholm City Council Website, http://www.hammarbysjostad.se/ (accessed 24-04-20).

and the development of new infrastructure would continue to support the expansion of the system across the city (ibid).

There was a lack of involvement of residents in the design process for Ham- marby. After the post-construction evaluation, the Stockholm City Council realised their mistake of not including the community in the process. However, this was hard to do given it was a speculative development. The GlasHut (an information centre for residents) was set up to provide environmental education programmes and technical advice for residents and businesses operating on site. However, success in changing social practices was limited. Evidence for this could be seen from the misuse of the vacuum waste system and increased expenditure on energy hungry activities outside the home. Although residents were attracted by the environmental profile of the Hammarby development, they remained passive consumers with limited pro-environmental behaviour. Ecocycles 1.0 could have produced greater resource savings, had the community been more engaged in the design and development process.

Circular Stockholm Royal Seaport

Stockholm Royal Seaport (SRSP) is the second generation model for circular urban development in the city. It combines all three circular actions in its development and operational processes. In the Royal Seaport, the development corporation aimed to move up the waste and energy hierarchies, to encourage more recycling and reuse of materials and use of renewable energy. Processes were established in SRSP, to build a greater degree of civic engagement, in the design and operation of the development, in order to change social practices.

SRSP is an important port hub for the movement of both freight and people. Annually 9.7 million tonnes of freight and 16 million passengers pass through the port (Ports of Stockholm, 2018). It is Sweden’s third largest freight port and number one passenger port. It creates 8,000 jobs in the region (Ports of Stockholm, 2018). SRSP covers an area of 236 hectares (City of Stockholm, 2017). The land is owned by the City of Stockholm and is very close to the city centre (3.5 km). It is well connected by bus networks. It is a site in need of regeneration. The decline in industrial activities and freight services in SRSP has resulted in a significant reduction in economic activity on site. There are some industrial functions which continue to thrive (e.g. cement industry) alongside the commercial port functions (ferry and cruise services). Other industries have closed (e.g. the gasworks) leaving brownfield sites in need of decontamination and regeneration. Closure of these activities has resulted in job loss and economic deprivation amongst those communities remaining on the site. Alongside the need to regenerate the port, the Stockholm region is suffering from an undersupply of housing, particularly affordable housing (City of Stockholm, 2015).

SRSP benefits from good access to water and green space, to the east is the Baltic and to the north and west is the Royal National City Park. However, both land-based and aquatic environments have been degraded by industrial

(contaminated land and disused infrastructure) and commercial port (emissions and waste-water produced by vessels) functions (Ports of Stockholm, 2018). Finally, SRSP (in common with the rest of Stockholm) has been suffering increasingly with problems of flash-flooding, probably resulting from climate change (Communication, 2016).

The municipality aims to regenerate the site over a 20-year period (Figure 3.3), integrating a liveable city district with industrial and commercial port functions. It also aims to connect the city district with the rest of Stockholm, enabling walking and cycling (City of Stockholm, 2017). Once complete 12,000 new apartments, 35,000 work spaces and 135,000 m2 of commercial space will be constructed on site (ibid). It is hoped that the redevelopment will produce 30,000 jobs in port-related operations, financial services, media, start-ups, and the relocation of cultural services (City of Stockholm, 2018). The remaining port operations will be modernised. The container port and oil facilities will be moved from Loudden to Norvikudden. blousing will be built in its place.

Stockholm Royal Seaport aims to be fossil fuel free by 2030. This will result in a reduction of36,000 tons of carbon dioxide per annum compared to business- as-usual. This will be achieved through the development of energy efficient buildings2 and smart grid3; the use and production of renewable energy onsite4; waste management3; traffic and mobility management6 and resource-efficient production. The new development will integrate the ecocycles system with low carbon transport (e.g. biogas buses, cycle and pedestrian networks, electric car- share schemes).

The plan is to move progressively towards the fossil-fuel-free target over the 20-year period. For example, the energy provider (Fortum) operating ecocycles will gradually increase the renewable content of the system to replace the fossil fuels used (Communication, 2016). Currently, the system uses biofuels (37%), waste incineration (31%) and fossil fuels (32%) (Stockholm City Council, 2015). Fortum plans to increase the quantity of woodchip (biofuel) imported into Viir- tahamnen to reduce the use of fossil fuels in the future (City of Stockholm, 2018). This will be complemented by the solar technologies installed on all new buildings.

The port also aims to be climate-adapted to rising temperatures, sea and groundwater levels, as well as increased precipitation (Ports of Stockholm, 2018). This goal will be achieved by raising ground levels on site and using local storm-water management provided by blue and green infrastructure integrated into the development (ibid). A Green Space Index will be applied to all new development, which identifies the optimal planting regimes, for regulating ecosystem services for storm-water management, biodiversity and recreational purposes (ibid).

The City of Stockholm is investing 130 million euros in the project (Communication, 2016). It is responsible for land remediation and infrastructure (e.g. streets, public spaces, cycle paths, bridges and park). It is also responsible for public engagement in the regeneration process (Communication, 2016).

Regeneration time-line for SRSP

FIGURE 3.3 Regeneration time-line for SRSP.

Source: City of Stockholm (2018).

The public have been engaged in the planning process through a digital dialogue, an onsite open house, focus groups with selected audiences (e.g. business owners and young people) and the sustainable kids’ forum (City of Stockholm, 2017). A collaborative planning approach engaging developers and service providers at an early stage in the development process (before the design competitions) has created a more integrated approach to provision and enabled the delivery of the stringent environmental targets set for the site (Communication, 2016).

Looping actions

Looping actions are being applied to the commercial port, industrial and living areas in SRSP. Ecocycles 2.0 operates across the port (Figure 3.4). It has been expanded to include additional waste generators (e.g. port functions, green infrastructure). Organic wastes produced on ships and from the maintenance of green spaces in the seaport and national park are used to feed the system. This reduces the amount of waste going to landfill and provides an energy alternative to fossil fuels. It creates compost which can substitute for fertilisers made with petrochemicals. It reduces the damage to the aquatic environment, the eutrophication of water-ways, caused by the release of waste-water into the harbour. A grey-water reuse system has been added to Ecocycles 2.0. The system stores storm-water in retention ponds or caverns, which limits flash-flooding in SRSP. Later, it is reused for watering vegetation in the port.

The whole lifecycle of the development has been considered as part of the ecocycles approach. Thus, the city has promoted circular construction and management processes in SRSP. One example is the minimisation of construction waste, by re-using materials on site. A second example is the treatment of contaminated soil for reuse on site. A third example is the recycling of garden and park waste within the port to produce compost and biofuel to be used on site. These actions close resource loops locally, thus reducing the need for transport.

Adaptive reuse of infrastructure using biological processes has also been adopted. Contaminated caverns on site (previously used for storing naphtha) were cleaned by filling them with water, then introducing archaea microbes to break down the naphtha (City of Stockholm, 2018). The waste products from the process (water, C02 and compost) were harmless. The caves are now used as a garage (for 1,200 cars).

The waste-water from vessels (black- and grey-water) creates the second biggest environmental challenge for the port (Ports of Stockholm, 2018). Waste- water can be offloaded at all quay berths in Stockholm. Since the 1990s the vessels operating routine scheduled services have offloaded their waste-water in port. Today, 98% of the waste-water generated by ferry passengers and 80% of the waste-water generated by international cruise ships are offloaded in port.

The waste-water is recycled to produce fertiliser and biogas (ibid). This reduces eutrophication caused by the release of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium into the aquatic environment. The port authority also requires the solid

Ecocycles 2.0 in Stockholm Royal Seaport. Source

FIGURE 3.4 Ecocycles 2.0 in Stockholm Royal Seaport. Source: Ranhagen and Frostell (2014).

waste from ships to be separated (ibid). This enables the port authority to feed the waste generated into the closed-loop system operating in the area to produce electricity, heat, biofuel (for public buses), biogas for cooking and fertilisers.

The knowledge that is built in the port around circular construction and management processes is communicated to key actors: industry, government and the public. A lifecycle analysis tool7 is being tested on site by developers (City of Stockholm, 2018). The tool helps to reduce resource consumption and waste in the construction process. The REFLOW model, based on ecocycles 2.0, visualises the port’s hidden resource flows and demonstrates how these interact with local, regional and global flows of energy, water and materials. The tool is available online and is used to inform those living in or visiting the port area about resource flows and looping actions (ibid).

These looping actions create a cleaner, safer and healthier living environment for those working and residing in the port. They reduce the wastage of resources and avoid the environmental and economic costs of landfill, pollution and flooding. Looping actions will also generate jobs, for example, in waste collection and separation; energy generation and distribution; production and redistribution of compost and biofuel; soil and cavern decontamination; systems monitoring and training operatives. However, opportunities for industrial symbiosis, remanufacturing, reprocessing, recycling and reuse of waste materials/goods are currently under-developed in the port.

Ecological regeneration

The ecological regeneration of the site is also extremely important. Green and blue infrastructure will be integrated across the port to restore the land-based and aquatic ecosystems as well as reinforce the identity of the port (City of Stockholm, 2018). It will also create a healthy and attractive living environment. The introduction of blue-green infrastructure into the port will generate jobs associated with maintenance, conservation and recreational activities (Communication, 2016). It will offer a more attractive environment for tourists, which could generate further job opportunities in hotels, retail and catering (ibid).

Green rooves, courtyards and tree-planting have been integrated into new and existing development. It is estimated that green rooves and green courtyards will cover 14,000 m2 and 28,000 m2, respectively, when complete (City of Stockholm, 2017). The city plans that residents will have good access to parks and areas with high recreational and conservation values. The development plan requires that 100% of apartments have access to parks or natural environment within 200 m (ibid), which has mental and physical health benefits.

Green infrastructure will be connected across the site and will link with the national park and the waterfront. Green areas will be designed to be multifunctional to cope with future climate change, including storm-water management, to contribute to biodiversity and create good habitats (City of Stockholm, 2017). Gardening and urban agriculture on site will help return nutrients to the soil.

Vegetation will reduce noise and air pollution within the port, which has health benefits. The green infrastructure provides a dispersal network for oak-dependent species, pollinators and amphibians (ibid). This will increase biodiversity.

Blue infrastructure has also been integrated into the port. The aim is to reduce the impact of flash-flooding, which is a major problem (ibid). A mixture of permeable surfaces and retention ponds are being used. Storm-water runotf from streets and pavements is led to the surfaces of the planting beds by macadam mixed with bio char (ibid). Water is also led to lawns in the urban park, which serve as retention areas (ibid). The bio char is made from Stockholmer’s garden waste and is ideal as a soil conditioner, and for capturing and binding C02 from the air (ibid).

Storm-water retention ponds prevent flash flooding, but they can also be used for watering vegetation and reducing pollution in adjacent waterways. Water bodies are being protected and extended in the port to strengthen and develop their recreational and conservation values. For example, in Kolkajen, a new island at the mouth of Husarviken creates a water-arena for residents and visitors (City of Stockholm, 2018). Thus, blue infrastructure protects grey infrastructure and the properties of those living in the port. It also provides opportunities for recreational activities which promote the health and well-being of those living and working in the area.

The Green Space Index (GSI) was developed and tested in Kolkajen and Sodra Vartan. It is a tool for calculating eco-efficient space,8 which rewards a range of ecosystem services. This has enabled developers to test the environmental benefits and economic feasibility of delivering different blue-green solutions for their projects in the port (Communication, 2016). It is used by city planners to ensure that adequate blue-green infrastructure is provided in new developments across the port. It has subsequently been integrated into the planning process across the rest of the city (Communication, 2016).

Adaptive actions

The adaptive capacity of the infrastructural systems and community has also been developed in SRSP. The physical planning and urban regeneration of SRSP is characterised by long-term robustness and flexibility (City of Stockholm, 2017). To make this possible, the area’s zoning plans are flexible enough to accommodate a range of functions and future changes. Public buildings are designed to be multifunctional, to ensure optimal use (ibid). Public spaces are designed for different functions throughout the year. For example, a square could be used as a skating rink in the winter, a farmers’ market in spring and an entertainments venue during the summer.

Public spaces are able to accommodate temporary events and activities during the construction period and when the area is completed. Some pop-up activities have already emerged, including a local market and a pop-up reuse centre (Communication, 2016). The pop-up reuse centre enables residents to recycle, repair or swap household items close to their home. It is now travelling around the rest of Stockholm, being used to test and build demand for such a facility (ibid).

Urban living environments also need to be able to adapt to changing demographic and environmental trends. Thus, the port otfers a range of services for all ages (City of Stockholm, 2018). It also provides accommodation across a range of sizes (ibid). Thus, households of different sizes, at different life-stages, should be able to live in the port. However, the reality is the apartments are expensive. Thus far the development has largely excluded lower-income groups (ibid). The buildings and public spaces in the port have also been climate-adapted. This has been achieved though the elevation of buildings and public spaces, and the integration of blue and green infrastructure (ibid).

The adaptive capacity of those living in the port is being developed through their engagement in fora, workshops and resident groups. The public are engaged in decision-making processes (City of Stockholm, 2018 and Communication, 2016). Public understanding of problems and solutions develops through this engagement and builds support (ibid). It also creates networks through which the community can self-organise and learn. In addition, online apps have been developed to engage a wider audience in decision-making processes and provide learning platforms (ibid).

Stockholm Royal Seaport begins to provide us with a basic understanding of the dynamic relationships likely to emerge from a circular development pathway (Williams, 2019c). There are positive synergies between regenerating and looping actions in the seaport. For example, waste-water recycling (looping action) removes pollutants causing eutrophication in the local water-ways (regenerative action). Microbial remediation of naphtha (looping action) in the caves enables local storm-water storage (regenerative action). Land recycling and soil remediation (looping action) increases potential for green infrastructure to flourish locally (regenerative action). Storm-water captured by blue infrastructure (regenerative action) is reused for watering trees on site (looping action).

There are also positive synergies between regenerative and adaptive actions in the seaport. The provision of green and blue infrastructure (regenerative action) helps the environment to adapt to climate change (adaptive action), particularly by reducing flash flooding. Regenerated blue and green spaces (regenerative action) are used for pop-up activities (adaptive action), for example, sports and cultural festivals. Finally, there are also positive synergies between adaptive and looping actions. For example, the adaptive reuse of caverns (adaptive) is enabled by biological remediation (looping action).

SRSP also demonstrates some of the synergies between circular actions and other urban strategies. For example, localising activities helps to support looping actions by reducing costs of transportation. Construction, garden waste and contaminated soil are reused and recycled locally in SRSR There is also a positive relationship between local activities and adaptation. Local engagement in collaborative planning, community fora and residents’ associations has helped to build adaptive capacity within the local community (ibid).

However, conflicts have also emerged. For example, optimisation and substitution both reduce the potential for operating waste-to-energy systems (i.e. Ec- ocycles 2.0). By reducing waste generated within SRSP or increasing renewable energy production, the feasibility of operating the closed-loop system is reduced (ibid). Equally, the existence of the district heating system in Stockholm also reduces the impetus to substitute with renewable energy (Communication, 2016). By understanding the dynamics between these actions, we can begin to identify the combination of actions which are more likely to be successfully implemented.


Stockholm does not have a circular strategy. Nevertheless, it has applied circular thinking to urban development for several decades. Thus, the development regime has already transformed. Stockholm demonstrates two distinct pathways for circular development. The first pathway is a strategic, city-regional approach based on the ecocycles waste-to-energy system. The second pathway uses planned eco-districts to demonstrate and test the application of the circular actions in new build developments (e.g. Hammarbv and SRSP). Both cases highlight challenges to implementation, which have emerged over a 20-year period. SRSP also demonstrates the dynamics between circular actions and with other urban strategies. Circular actions appear to broadly synergise with each other. However, there are conflicts between circular actions and other urban strategies, especially optimisation and substitution.


  • 1 Funding streams included Local Investment Programme 1998, Swedish delegation for Sustainable Cities 2008 and Climate Investment Programme 2012.
  • 2 New build energy requirements 55 kWh ntVyear for residential buildings.
  • 3 A pilot smart grid system is being installed under a new model of collaboration between the private sector, academia and local government. This joint venture was additionally sponsored by the Swedish Energy Agency and the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems.
  • 4 Developers must install solar PV to cover 10-20% of building electricity need.
  • 5 Zero waste to landfill target and the automated waste management system reduces energy use by 75-80%.
  • 6 The mode split should include 70% of work-related trips by public transport.
  • 7 The tool was developed by the Swedish Environmental Research Institute.
  • 8 Space that makes a positive contribution to its own ecosystems and local climate, and to the social values associated with greenery and/or water.
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