Assessing the impacts of circular projects

An interview with Nikolai Jakobi, Circular Economy Senior Expert at ICLEI Europe and with Eleni Kanellou, Research Associate at the National Technical University of Athens

Nikolai Jacobi - Eleni Kanellou

Could you briefly introduce your organisation and specify its role in the DEFINITE-CCRI project?

Nikolai: I am a senior expert for circular economy at ICLEI’s European Secretariat, which is based in Freiburg, Germany. ICLEI — Local Governments for Sustainability is a global network working with more than 2,500 local and regional governments committed to sustainable urban development. Active in 125+ countries, we influence sustainability policy and drive local action for low-emission, nature-based, equitable, resilient and circular development. I am the coordinator of the DEFINITE-CCRI project, managing the overall implementation of the project, as well as a contributor for various technical work packages related to the development of relevant processes for the set-up of the Deal Engine, the selection of projects and their technical impact potential assessments.  

Eleni: I am a research associate at the School of  Electrical and Computer Engineering at the National Technical University of Athens in the Energy Policy Unit. The lab is a multidisciplinary scientific and policy consulting unit conducting research and development as well as scientific and technical support. It has long-standing experience in scientific consulting, promotion, training, and research activities in areas of management and decision support systems for energy and climate policy, including science-based climate decision support at a national and EU level, technical and financial feasibility assessments for clean energy and energy efficiency investments, and sustainability planning at the regional level. Our role in the project is to carry out the Technical and Impact Potential Assessment of the shortlisted projects as well as provide due diligence services to eligible projects. 


Why is it important to assess the impact of circular projects? 

Eleni: The EU strives to transition to a circular economy model to reduce pressure on natural resources, create sustainable growth and jobs, achieve its 2050 climate neutrality target and halt biodiversity loss. Despite the importance of such a transition and the existing policies aimed at enabling it, investments in circular economy projects are not yet mainstream. One reason for this is the lack of quantifiable impact for circular economy projects. It is thus very important to assess the impact of circular projects. On the one hand, it can make them more bankable and viable for investors. On the other hand, it helps all stakeholders understand circular projects’ added value and their important role in climate mitigation and adaptation.


What societal, environmental and economic benefits can circular projects offer as opposed to linear ones? 

Eleni: The transition from a linear to a circular economy comes with multiple benefits, first and foremost, waste minimisation. From a societal point of view, the benefits comprise access to affordable goods and services, job creation, including new roles for existing jobs, and community engagement, which can result in a higher sense of responsibility and foster cohesion. The environmental impacts include resource conservation, waste reduction, climate mitigation and adaptation and more. The economic benefits include cost savings (with lower production costs through material efficiency), waste reduction, energy savings and market opportunities that stimulate innovation and the development of new markets for reused or refurbished materials. In addition, circular business models like Product-as-a-Service can create new revenue streams and extend products’ lifespan. 


This project is funded under the EU's Circular Cities and Regions Initiative (CCRI). Why are circular innovations important for cities and regions, and how do you involve them within DEFINITE?

Nikolai: By selecting and assisting projects with high potential for success, DEFINITE-CCRI will achieve transformational impacts for Europe's cities and regions, making them more circular and sustainable. Social structure in cities and regions is very specific and challenging. Cities are responsible for more than 75% of resource consumption, two-thirds of energy demand and approximately 70% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally while typically receiving almost all the material and energy assets needed from outside of their territory. On the other hand, cities are hubs and testbeds for innovation, with constantly changing populations, consumption patterns, living conditions, modes of mobility and more. At the same time, cities are often densely populated, allowing for efficiency gains and scaled interventions. 

Municipalities and smaller regions have a clear scale in which to implement policies and the relevant mandates, such as waste management and other services. This is why circular solutions are most impactful when piloted and scaled in cities in collaboration with local governments, across different sectors and in a systematic way. This allows for maximising interactions and minimising trade-offs with other sustainability targets. Therefore, to benefit from DEFINITE-CCRI project development assistance, projects must involve the local governments.


How is DEFINITE-CCRI assessing the impact and sustainability benefits of circular projects? 

Eleni: Circular economy projects are complex because many factors interact and impact each other. The scope of the DEFINITE-CCRI methodology is to assess the impact of circular economy projects with regard to their circularity potential, as well as the environmental, social, and macroeconomic impact they have on a local level. The approach to assess impact is based on the nine R-strategies and is in line with the EU Circular Economy Action Plan, the EU bioeconomy strategy, and the EU taxonomy. Within the DEFINITE-CCRI approach, we developed a framework to assess the impact and innovation potential of circular economy projects that is easy to adapt to the specific needs of each project. 


DEFINITE-CCRI will provide circular projects with Project Development Assistance. What does this entail? How will it support projects in becoming investment-ready?

Nikolai: Next to financial assistance, DEFINITE-CCRI delivers several technical and impact-related services aimed at optimising the projects’ impact as well as building an evidence base to demonstrate the impact prospects to investors. These services include feasibility studies, impact calculations (GHG emission, impacts on water, soil, etcetera,  as well as social impacts such as jobs and inclusion), stakeholder mapping and engagement, benchmarking and other modules as needed. Furthermore, DEFINITE-CCRI assists its projects with legal and other highly specialised services that can be requested by supported projects and are paid for by DEFINITE-CCRI to allow for maximum flexibility and impact of the support.

Publishing date: