Design infrastructure and the built environment for resource efficiency - Knowledge Hub | Circle Economy Foundation
Design infrastructure and the built environment for resource efficiency

Ensure that infrastructure and built assets in the city are designed and upgraded to be as resource-efficient as possible.

Consists of:

🍏 Optimised food logistics

Urban food transportation is a crucial component of both food and mobility systems, and significantly influences the level of urban sustainability and the total carbon footprint of foods. Cities can reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with food transportation, commonly known as “food-miles”, through various urban logistics measures. These measures require the participation of multiple actors, from city users and inhabitants, to urban food suppliers, logistics providers and carriers, and distributors. Local governments can optimise the distribution of food to small retailers and consumers, reducing the associated environmental and social impacts generated by the urban food deliveries, for example, carbon emissions, congestion, mobility, and food loss. They can do this by incentivising the use of environmentally-friendly vehicles by, for example, using spatial planning to reserve spaces, regions and lanes in the city for low-carbon modes of transport. Local governments can also use Information and Communications Technology (ICT) tools and local businesses to explore the challenges and barriers for food logistics in the city, and to identify how the city’s spatial planning can be optimised to reduce food loss and waste.

🍏 Resource-efficient food production

With the continued growth of urban populations, cities are commonly facing a key challenge: how can we feed our residents with sufficient healthy and sustainable food? More resource-efficient methods and technologies for urban agriculture present opportunities to cultivate the urban landscape, for example through hydroponics and aquaponics systems. Resource-efficient systems can require less space, be more water efficient, and minimise inputs of artificial fertilisers and pesticides, and could be key to secure a sustainable and healthy future for cities. Resource-efficiency in urban farming methods could mean prioritising renewable energies, for example, solar/wind energy, biogas, making efficient use of different resources, for example, reuse or recycle of heat, water, nutrients and/or spaces, applying cutting-edge emission reduction technologies, and reusing waste or by-products from urban sources, for example, industries and households. Local governments can leverage land use and spatial planning tools to create and maintain a resource-efficient infrastructure including concepts like aquaponics, indoor agriculture, vertical farming, rooftop production, and edible walls. As well as support innovation in new urban agriculture technologies through in-kind and financial support for start-ups.

⚡ Energy efficiency improvement programmes

Energy efficiency means to use less energy to perform a function—that is, eliminating energy waste, a core strategy in a circular economy. Since 2015, global improvements in energy efficiency have been declining. Reversing this trend will be needed to achieve global climate and sustainability goals. Indeed, energy efficiency could deliver more than 40% of the reduction in global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions over the next 20 years (<a href="">IEA). In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency can also help reduce energy extraction and imports and bring cost savings for households and industries. Energy efficiency can be applied to a range of sectors, such as in buildings, energy generation, industry and mobility (<a href="">EESI). In buildings, energy efficiency can lead to the creation of zero-energy buildings. In regards to power generation, energy efficiency could mean smart grids for electric generation, distribution, and consumption. For mobility, energy efficiency could mean vehicles that require less fuel to cover the same distance as well as better rail and truck transportation. Cities can create energy efficiency programmes that involve both the public and private sector. Actions involving the private sector can be implemented in various forms, such as: regulations (e.g. setting energy efficiency standards in buildings), incentivisation (subsidising energy saving products) and informative campaigns (encouraging energy efficient behaviours). Actions involving the public sector may also be implemented in various forms, such as: public procurement standards (e.g. energy efficient power generation equipment), retrofitting public buildings (e.g. improving insulation) and upgrading energy inefficient infrastructure (e.g. replacing lighting with more energy efficient alternatives such as LED street lighting). These programmes generally have goals and timelines in which the actions are intended to be taken.

💧 Improving water infrastructure efficiency

One of the greatest challenges of a city is to provide its inhabitants with safe, clean water from a limited fresh water supply. Improving the city’s water infrastructure efficiency, such as minimising leakages, reduces the strain put on the limited supply, which in turn, helps to ensure inhabitants gain access to clean and affordable water. The water infrastructure of a city typically consists of components such as surface water diversions, wells, pumps, transmission pipes and canals, treatment and storage facilities, and distribution network elements (<a href="">Burian et al.). Options for improving the efficiency of the system include investing in water loss reduction systems, creating and following a regular maintenance program, and better matching water supply and demand (<a href="">Global Water Partnership). Cities can improve the efficiency of their water system infrastructure by conducting a water audit, in which all water flows are traced and losses in the system are identified to map where the most efficiency improvements can be gained. Alongside this, asset management can be used to create a short-term and long-term strategy of investing in new equipment, refurbishing existing equipment and developing maintenance programmes to ensure infrastructure is as efficient as possible, and leaks are minimised. Such management programmes create financial transparency amongst all stakeholders and provide useful long-term planning for larger infrastructure changes (<a href="">US EPA).

Relevant case studies and reports

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