In 2015, London reached a historic milestone: the population soared to more than 8.6 million people, surpassing its 1939 peak. And the British capital is still growing – in fact, it’s bigger than ever.
Booming with 8.96 million residents, London is one of the fastest growing regions in the UK and it’s projected that by 2050, more than 11 million people will call the magnetic, global city their home.
As rapid population growth continues to redesign the urban landscape of London, how will this impact the future sustainability of one of the world’s top financial, political and cultural hubs?
It’s no secret that the rising surge in London’s resident, visitor and worker population is putting intense strain on the environment. As the number of inhabitants occupying the city increases, so does the demand for earth’s finite resources – like water, minerals and natural gas. This means more people are not only consuming resources at a faster rate than their natural regeneration but also producing more waste – a critical challenge London is facing head-on.
Ambition for resilience
Driven by the ambition to become a more resilient, resource-efficient and competitive city of the future, the UK’s capital is leading the way in transitioning from a linear economy to a circular economy. Our current linear model follows a make-use-dispose pattern, while a circular economy focuses on designing out waste and pollution, extending the lifespans of materials and assets and regenerating natural systems.
The shift towards this systemic approach is a sustainable and affordable solution that will enable London to efficiently respond to the challenges related to population growth in the areas of critical infrastructure and housing. It is estimated that the circular economy could provide the city with net benefits of at least £7 billion per year and 40,000 new jobs by 2036.
Recognising the long-term economic and environmental benefits of a circular supply chain, the London Waste & Recycling Board (LWARB) embarked on a journey to develop a new Circular Economy Route Map for London. The first to be launched by a city or region in the world, the route map reflects the Mayor of London’s ambition that the capital becomes a world leader in implementing an overarching strategy for the circular economy.
Developing a route map
The route map – a comprehensive, action-oriented document – aims to inform economic, environmental and social policy development in the capital, raising awareness across the private and public sectors of what makes a circular economy.
LWARB selected Wood to join them on their quest as they outlined their vision to transform London into a regenerative city and explored where opportunities exist to create the right conditions to adopt, expand and accelerate a circular model. Our pioneering team of economists and resource efficiency experts discovered five areas of high material turnover and environmental impact which offer the greatest potential for circularity: infrastructure and construction, electronics, textiles, food and plastics.
We provided a robust mapping of material flows across the five areas, including an economic assessment of the benefits of adopting circular practices across each. Embedding a circular economy requires significant buy-in from key stakeholders in the public and private sector. Our team designed an extensive stakeholder engagement and mapping exercise to build support and ownership of the route map across each of the five areas.
Focusing on cross-cutting themes, we worked with stakeholders to build viable action plans that reimagined London as a global leader in driving a circular business approach. The action plans displayed opportunities to reduce material loss through design, cut waste, adopt product life extension, and enhance the reuse of materials in London. It also identified barriers for each sector to achieve circularity and created strategic partnerships between stakeholders, with clear activities, that will deliver desired outcomes.
Implementation of the route map will generate 12,000 net new jobs in reuse, manufacturing and innovation and £2.8bn of immediate local benefits from the actions outlined in the document alone.