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The city of Groningen, Netherlands, has been historically known for being located in a natural gas production area, which has been the country major supplier for the last 60 years. Following the decision of the Dutch National Cabinet to phase out gas production by 2022, the city set up the goal of becoming energy and CO2 neutral by 2035 and waste neutral by 2030. As such, Groningen is on the verge of a radical makeover and the circular economy is part of it.

Socioeconomic and environmental trends represent key drivers for the transition to a circular economy to take place: population growth, expected to reach almost 250 000 by 2038, generates the need for new houses (20 000 by 2030) that can be potentially built according to circular principles. New jobs opportunities are expected to develop at the crossroads of strategic sectors such as health, ITC, energy and creative industries to the circular economy, potentially reaching 5 000 new jobs in the short term.

In 2018, the City Council instructed the City Board to develop a sustainable and circular vision for the city and identified three strategic areas: i) public procurement, to foster the circular transition in the business sector; ii) waste management, setting the objective of becoming a waste neutral city by 2030; and, iii) knowledge, to create platforms to connect academia, businesses and civil society organisations with the municipality. A vice mayor with specific responsibilities regarding the circular economy also took office.

The circular transition is taking place step by step. Following the council’s decision, the municipality initiated capacity-building programmes on Green Public Procurement (GPP) and opened a tender for a 10-year service of refurbished furniture. Moreover, the municipality committed to include circular criteria for waste processing in the new waste management concession after 2022. A Circular Economy Hub is planned as an incubator space for small businesses and start-ups, and as an information centre, repair hub and second-hand shop. In 2019, the city initiated the “Front-runner Project” to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the implementation of more sustainable and circular business models.

There are relevant strengths on which Groningen is building its own circular economy strategy: a vibrant start-up and business scene in the health, information and communications technology (ITC), energy, agro-food, chemical and creative sectors, counting on 20 000 companies; a strong academic community developing and testing solutions to increase resource efficiency in production systems, use alternative energy sources for transport or bio-based product from organic waste as raw material; and environmentally aware citizens.

Going forward, a full-fledge transition towards the circular economy will require overcoming a number of challenges:

  • Building a coherent narrative on the circular economy across the wealth of existing sustainable initiatives with the aim of achieving common socioeconomic and environmental objectives;

  • Enhancing co-ordination amongst provinces and with the region, also engaged in the transition to a circular economy;

  • Improving more systematic data collection that could allow taking informed decisions, measuring progress and improving implementation;

  • Matching financial and human resources to the actions required to move from a linear to a circular economy;

  • Further engaging with stakeholders, contributing to create a circular economy culture.

    The report recommends concrete actions to improve Groningen’s ability to promote, facilitate and enable the circular economy. In particular:

  • To promote the circular economy, the municipality could:

    • become a role model for business and citizens in embracing circular economy principles in daily activities;

    • develop a strategy on the circular economy to enhance coherence across existing initiatives and building a strong and global vision for the circular economy;

    • promote a circular economy culture and awards and certifications for circular economy projects, and;

    • support SMEs, entrepreneurs and start-ups by being the first customer of innovative products and goods.

  • To facilitate collaboration among a wide range of actors to make the circular economy happen on the ground, the municipality could:

    • enhance co-ordination across municipal departments and across regional and provincial governments;

    • foster practice exchange amongst public, not-for-profit actors and businesses;

    • connect businesses and universities to stimulate innovation

    • strengthen existing networks to pick the “low-hanging fruits” from co-operation of local businesses;

    • establish a single-window for circular businesses and supporting entrepreneurship, and;

    • foster new cross-cutting solutions across urban and rural areas.

  • To enable the necessary governance and economic conditions, the municipality could:

    • identify gaps and ways forward on how to adapt laws and regulations and financial and economic conditions for the implementation of circular economy initiatives;

    • implement green public procurement;

    • develop training programmes and build technical capacities;

    • create spaces for experimentation, and;

    • develop an information, monitoring and evaluation system.


This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area.

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