Ana Birliga Sutherland
Luba Glazunova
Circularity Gap Reporting Initiative
Circle Economy’s
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Montréal taking concrete steps towards circular economy transition

Circularity Gap Report Montréal and the city’s first circular economy roadmap launch amid Montréal Climate Summit 2024

Montréal taking concrete steps towards circular economy transition

Last summer, Montréal, Canada was making headlines for all the wrong reasons. As wildfires ravaged Québec's forests, the city was awarded the title of ‘world’s worst air quality’, even if only for a few days. Unexpected, perhaps, given its notably more positive superlative of ‘North America’s most sustainable city’; but of course, climate change is nothing if not indiscriminate.

While summer 2023 may have gone up in smoke—literally—there’s hope for summer 2024, following the recent adoption of the Ville de Montréal’s new circular economy roadmap. The circular economy, which involves cutting material use, recycling products and materials, and regenerating nature, is increasingly linked to the climate agenda and beyond. Research indicates that worldwide adoption of circular strategies could limit global temperature rise to well below 2-degrees while also reducing pressure on the planet’s other limits. At the city level, circular initiatives show immense promise: this is highlighted by the recently released Circularity Gap Report Montréal, from Circle Economy in collaboration with the Ville de Montréal.

Before we can manage, we must measure

It’s a simple adage but a ubiquitous one in the sustainability space: before we can manage, we must measure. Measuring a baseline state—and modelling the benefits various circular interventions could bring—are crucial processes for cities to set targets and ensure progress is being made in the right direction. The Ville de Montréal recognises this, with Mayor Valérie Plante noting that ‘It’s really important to base our decisions—even the difficult ones, and the less popular [ones]—on data.’ This provides a jumping-off point and showcases potential positive impacts, which can help sway voters and other stakeholders—both the weary (those suffering climate fatigue) and the wary (sceptics and denialists).

Montréal took the ‘measure’ route, first working with Circle Economy in 2022 to uncover its baseline and highlight key action areas and stakeholders, guiding the content of its draft circular economy roadmap. In consultation for the roadmap, the Ville de Montréal referenced the world’s circularity—then 8.6%—as well as that of its home province, Québec, which lagged behind at 3.5% when measured in 2021. These benchmarks—coined the ‘Circularity Metric’ by Circle Economy—measure the proportion of secondary materials (out of total materials) flowing into an economy and take a consumption-based approach. This means, for the case of Québec, that products produced elsewhere—whether food or fuel, clothing or cars—but consumed within provincial boundaries are accounted for by the analysis.

The Circularity Gap Report Montréal, launched in May, followed 2022’s City Scan and revealed a Circularity Metric of 3%. This is slightly below that of Québec (3.5%) but slightly above the Circularity Metric of Munich (2.4%), the only other city for which Circle Economy has conducted this analysis. Montréal’s residents consume around 27 tonnes of materials per capita each year—well below the Canadian average of 36 tonnes per capita (perhaps helping cement its reputation for sustainability) but leagues beyond the estimated sustainable global target of 8 tonnes per capita.

Importantly, the report quantified the impact of circular economy measures, allowing the City to finalise its roadmap and set priorities and targets accordingly. The construction sector emerged as the most impactful lever for change, with measures like reusing and prolonging the lifespan of buildings having the potential to cut material use by 12% and reduce carbon emissions by 9%. Armed with these figures, Montréal now has a starting point—as well as a viable target: it aims to double circularity to 6% by 2030 and 17% by 2050.

Photo by Matthieu Joannon on Unsplash

‘With even more tools at our disposal, Montréal is heading towards a more circular economy,’ said Natacha Beauchesne (Economic Development Commissioner for Circular Economy, Ville de Montréal), presenting the report’s results at the World Circular Economy Forum 2024 (WCEF) ahead of the roadmap’s launch. ‘In the coming weeks, we will officially launch Montréal’s circular economy roadmap—the first comprehensive planning document specifically tailored to drive the circular transformation… And we will continue our efforts to equip Montréal with additional indicators to better understand and track our progress in the circular economy.’

The roadmap, now freshly launched, nods to Circle Economy’s crucial role in shaping the City’s plan of action: ‘... the City of Montreal has collaborated with Circle Economy to assess the state of circularity in the urban agglomeration of Montreal by providing a portrait of the current situation… this first step to diagnose circularity has allowed the City to identify opportunities and guide solutions for the circular economy transition.’

Beyond measuring circularity in terms of material use, the City of Montréal is also exploring how many ‘circular’ jobs are present in the city, with results expected by autumn 2024. It’s using Circle Economy’s Circular Jobs Methodology to break down how many jobs directly or indirectly contribute to circularity in each sector.

Transformative goals for a circular transformation

The City’s goal of becoming 6% circular by 2030 was informed by the report, too: it’s close to the Circularity Metric Montréal could achieve (7%) if it rolls out circular solutions to cut material use across key areas, including the built environment, food, mobility, manufacturing and lifestyle. Achieving 6% may not seem like a huge leap: it would be nearly on par with the current—and worryingly low—global average of 7.2%. Crucially, however, these strategies could reduce material use by more than a third and cut Montréal’s carbon footprint nearly in half.

The City’s loftier 2050 target of 17%—which aligns with Circle Economy’s mission of doubling global circularity to limit global temperature rise—is expected to bring even greater benefits and tie into climate goals such as carbon neutrality by 2050.

‘The fruit of a rigorous process, this Circularity Gap Report provides us with our first quantifiable portrait of Montréal’s economy,’ notes Marie-Andrée Mauger, who’s responsible for the ecological transition at the Ville de Montréal. ‘It is an essential tool for mobilising Montréal's entrepreneurial forces around our ambitious goals for an ecological and economic transition.’

A legacy of circular Canadian cities

While Montréal is certainly a circular frontrunner, it’s not the only Canadian city interested in making the transition. Circle Economy and the David Suzuki Foundation worked with the City of Toronto—the only city more populous than Montréal in Canada—in 2021 to uncover its circular landscape. Highlighting Toronto’s active participation in multiple circular economy networks and initiatives, as well as its foundation of grassroots community-led initiatives, the report also points out key leverage points for improvement in the areas of food, construction and waste management.

Now, Toronto is developing a roadmap of its own: ‘Like Montréal, establishing a baseline for the circular economy was a critical first step to help us build towards this strategy and policy framework,’ Meaghan Davis (Manager, Circular Economy and Innovation, City of Toronto) noted at WCEF 2024. ‘One of the benefits of the baseline for a circular Toronto is that it really helped us to articulate a compelling vision of potential circular goals that the City of Toronto can work towards.’

Other cities eager to uncover where they stand and where they should be heading are following suit, with a Circularity Gap Report for Richmond—part of Metro Vancouver—expected later this year. A growing ecosystem of circular cities is emerging—and Montréal’s roadmap recognises the importance of collaborative learning, noting that ‘collaborations with…Circle Economy as part of the development of the Montréal Circular Economy Roadmap have enabled Montréal to benefit from other cities’ experiences.’

And here at Circle Economy—we’re excited to continue working with Montréal as it becomes a circular city!

Read the full Circularity Gap Report Montréal here, and get in touch to request a Circularity Gap Report for your city, region or nation here.

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