Professor Juste Rajaonson and his research team explored the processes, policies and instruments that enable cities and regions to design and deploy circular economy policies tailored to their context. Discover the summary of their work.  


In recent years, many cities and regions have committed themselves to developing a circular economy within their territory. As this interest in the circular economy on the part of local and regional governments is relatively recent, the analytical frameworks needed to better understand the diversity of territorial strategies and the conditions in which they are implemented are still in the early stages of development.  

Until now, existing frameworks have struggled to grasp the realities of a city or region, attempting to be either too theoretical and exhaustive, or too universal and prescriptive. For example, most focus on the technical aspects of circularity, from reduction at source to product optimization, while others focus on one or a few strategic sectors such as agri-food, textiles and building materials, or on material flows (e.g. tonnage, monetary value, carbon content). Generic guides or toolkits are also proposed, often based on classic Deming cycles or specific fields of expertise, which do not necessarily take into account the diversity of policy instruments that different levels of government can mobilize according to their context, nor their respective institutional frameworks. 

In order to offer governments a contextualized and operationalizable solution, we have developed a dynamic analytical framework that draws on recent studies of circular cities and regions around the world, previous research on typologies of policy instruments at sub-national scales, and geographical perspectives on urban sustainability. 

This framework makes it possible to explore the convergence of the instruments and governance players targeted by public policies with the actions typically expected in moves towards a circular economy, depending on the sector under consideration. In a territorial context, these actions include both direct circularization actions (such as regenerating, adapting, rethinking and recycling resources) and supporting actions (such as reducing needs, localizing, substituting and sharing products and services). 

Designed as a tool for local public authorities wishing to develop a circular economy on their territory, it is based on three interdependent principles. 

  1. The principle of synergy between existing and planned initiatives: This principle underlines the importance of recognizing and optimizing the many public or publicly-funded initiatives that deal directly or indirectly with the circular economy, before launching new initiatives. It involves identifying overlaps, gaps and complementarities between these initiatives, thereby enhancing the effectiveness of efforts already underway. 
  2. 2. The principle of adapting policy instruments: This involves adapting public interventions to the specific local context (including the institutional framework) and to the state of progress of circularity initiatives, including those contained in other environmental or economic action plans for the area. It involves visualizing the spectrum of possible interventions, from soft approaches (such as education and awareness-raising) to more restrictive methods (such as regulations), to ensure that the nature of interventions are aligned with the needs, priorities and competencies of local governments. 
  3. 3. The principle of complete circularity: The aim is to ensure that circularity is considered in its entirety, affecting all links in the value chain of products manufactured and consumed in and around the region, rather than focusing on isolated segments. The proposed analytical framework helps determine the extensive or intensive nature of public intervention in the circular economy. An extensive intervention consists in broadening the scope of actions to encompass all aspects of circularity, covering several channels simultaneously. An intensive intervention, on the other hand, focuses on intensifying efforts in a specific area, either to capitalize on the locality’s strengths, or by targeting aspects of circularity that are often overlooked, such as initiatives to reduce material and energy requirements at source. This means recognizing that some circularity loops will operate at local level, others at regional level, and some at national level. 

We are currently testing this analytical framework on an initial case study to assess its effectiveness and limitations. The “Our Food Future” initiative in Guelph and Wellington was chosen as a preliminary case study, because of its maturity and the diversity of policy instruments mobilized. Our current approach includes the examination of planning documents and actions, as well as interviews with political, administrative and technical leaders to validate and refine our analytical framework. The next stage of our research program will be to apply this framework to the analysis of a larger number of territories, political-administrative contexts and different strategic sectors, and to include in the spectrum of analysis the instruments deployed by other levels of government in these territories.

About the project

The project “Circular cities and regions in Canada: exploratory analysis of policy instruments and territorial and political-administrative conditions inherent in various circularity strategies” was led by Philippe Genois-Lefrançois and Valérie Lacombre, both PhD students, under the supervision of researchers Juste Rajaonson, Fanny Tremblay-Racicot, Thi Thanh Hien Pham and Chedrak Chembessi. 

The RRECQ is supported by the Fonds de recherche du Québec.
Fonds de recherche - Québec