February 3, 2021

How can subnational regions drive the transition to a circular labour market?

Webinar write-up
Esther Goodwin Brown
Esther Goodwin Brown
Head of Strategic Initiatives
Esther Goodwin Brown
How can subnational regions drive the transition to a circular labour market?

National governments have a powerful role to play in the design and implementation of roadmaps and circular economy strategies. They have the mandate to develop national legislation, can create an enabling environment and incentives to drive the circular transition, and are the leading actors in national, supranational and multilateral coordination.

However, circularity is also strongly embedded in sub-national regions and local economies. Regions can bring governance systems closer to their communities and actively engage all relevant stakeholders to support access and broaden participation. They can easily understand the public’s demands and could be in a better position to respond to some of them.

Considering that the circular transition will change labour markets, a crucial question is: what role can sub-national regions and local governments play in supporting a positive transition to circularity for work and workers?

On Tuesday the 19th of January, Circle Economy's Circular Jobs Initiative hosted a webinar on this topic, together with expert speakers. 


  • Burcu Tuncer (Head of Circular Development & Global Coordinator—ICLEI, Local Governments for Sustainability)
  • Kris Bachus (Research Manager—HIVA Research Institute at KU Leuven)
  • Fiona Craig (Education and Skills Manager—Zero Waste Scotland) 


  • Etienne Angers (Recyc-Québec)
  • Katrijn Siebens (Circular Flanders)
  • Zoe Laird (Highlands and Islands Enterprise)

Below you can find a summary of key insights as well as answers to questions asked by participants during the webinar. 

Global perspective: The role of regional and local governments

Burcu Tuncer exposed the extensive work done by ICLEI worldwide as promoters of sustainability policy and driving local action for  low-emission, nature-based, equitable, resilient and circular development. Tuncer emphasised the different intervention areas ICLEI uses to promote the strengthening of green and circular jobs at the local level. Those span from public services, such as circular urban infrastructure, passing along interventions focused on circular businesses up to circular household practices. ICLEI works in close collaboration with Circle Economy and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to monitor the transition from linear to circular through local circular jobs. Click here to read more about our joint work in Bogor City with ICLEI and UNEP

The case of Flanders: How can regional approaches ensure a just transition to the circular economy? 

Local and regional governments (LGRs) often do not possess the minimum legal and governmental competences to transition to the circular economy by themselves. In these cases, LGRs may be subordinated and coordinated to national policies and taxation systems, which means that to reach circular ambitions, strong communication is needed between different levels of government, as is efficient coordination with the private sector, civil society and academia.

Kris Bachus exposes the Flemish case, where the topic of circular jobs has become a priority for the region. The Belgian federal system allows Flanders to have almost exclusive competencies on labour and environmental issues. That means that Flanders can set out its own strategic circular policies, and play its own role in developing  post-covid-19 recovery plans.

During the webinar, Kris Bachus exposes the Flemish case, where the topic of circular jobs has become a priority for the region.

Bachus highlighted some trends in the evolution of circular sectors in Flanders (read the report here):

  • The employment growth rate of circular sectors doubled the employment growth rate of the Flemish economy as a whole (this tendency is expected to continue in the future)
  • The circular economy in Flanders is predominantly a male sector
  • A great extent of people working within the circular economy hold low-skilled positions
  • Circular sectors could add 30,578 jobs by 2030 (approximately 1% additional to the total employment)

Beyond that, Flanders works to facilitate collaboration between industry and education:

  • Government, civil society, research, industry and financial institutions have set joint priority areas: construction, plastics, bioeconomy, food, manufacturing and water
  • Employment and skills is a cross-cutting area: developing a scheme that allows the transferability of skills between different types of jobs
  • Embracing the European regions’ skills agenda

The case of Scotland: How can regions provide the skills needed for the circular economy?

Fiona Craig emphasises that although Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, Scotland has devolved responsibilities, such as the skills development agenda. The skills strategy followed by Scotland considers the regional and sectoral levels, which allows it to influence the provision of skills and education to match the economic needs of rural and urban regions.

The Future of Work report written by Zero Waste Scotland and Circle Economy shows the current landscape of the circular economy for Scotland, as well as implications for the future. 

According to the report, 8.1% of jobs are related to the circular economy. Construction, the bioeconomy and capital equipment were identified as three value chains that show significant job potential in the circular economy. Craig concludes mapping out the route towards the achievement of skills to enhance this transition to circular labour markets necessitates the following:

  • Strengthening transferable and digital skills
  • Developing holistic thinking across the workforce
  • Promoting the circular economy as a career destination
  • Integrating circularity into the existing skills landscape
  • Introducing innovative forms of learning and knowledge exchange
  • Harnessing skills for the energy transition

The Future of Work report, here introduced by Fiona Craig, shows the current landscape of the circular economy for Scotland, as well as implications for the future. 

In addition, Zoe Laird from Highlands and Islands Enterprise laid out how job opportunities arise from the use of natural resources in the Highlands and Islands region of Scotland:

  • Highlands and Islands Enterprise works closely with businesses and local communities, which are very active in carrying out their own initiatives. They are working with and supporting community energy generation through wind farms. Some of these local projects have been in place for around ten years.
  • Innovation in construction for using forestry as a resource. For instance, increasing the use of timber for construction projects.
  • Bioeconomy projects in which the goal is to achieve autonomous local food production.
  • Projects exploring the value of marine products such as seaweed cultivation. The advantage of it relies on the substitution of plastic packaging for more sustainable alternatives, and at the same time creating jobs in rural areas.

The case of Québec: Transforming waste from one business to a resource for another 

During the last five years, Recyc-Québec has launched two funding programmes for industrial ecology options to build the bridge between businesses that transform trash into resources.

They invest in local promoters (animators) who are in charge of the communication of the advantages of this transformation related to circular economy strategies such as repair, ecodesign or refurbishment, among others. These promoters possess good communication skills, trustworthiness, scientific knowledge and have strong networks within the local regions.

To achieve their goals, Recyc-Québec set up with partners

Working with the social economy sector to make the circular labour market more inclusive 

The social economy yields potential for inclusive and decent work in the circular economy, the latest report by Circle Economy finds. How can regions realise this potential?

  • Québec has an active social economy sector. At this moment, partners are researching which social business models have the biggest impact. The goal is to create a guide and replicate the most impactful social business models from region to region, that can then be adapted to the local context (more information here).
  • Flanders is giving support to local business models, promoting the entrepreneurial spirit within the social economy sector.
  • The Highlands and Islands region is trying to help vulnerable groups and people traditionally distant from the labour market through initiatives driven by social economy organisations. 

During our panel discussion, we explored how regions can collaborate with the social economy sector to make the circular labour market more inclusive.

Your questions answered

How can regions influence the demand for regional circular products?

  • The Flemish region has created a network to train procurement professionals so they are able to describe what circular criteria must follow. 
  • Flanders also organised Buyer Meets Suppliers, to stimulate the purchasing of circular products.
  • Case studies for public and private procurement in Flanders can be found here and international examples here.
  • Guidelines are also available for people interested in knowing more about the specificities of procurement for different sectors.
  • Sharing economy schemes, repair cafes and local publicly managed markets are options for market development thinking of circular products and services.
  • ICLEI has the Global Procurement Network, a repository of tools and examples on sustainable public procurement.
  • In Québec, under the covid-19 pandemic, circular products have become more present and more important for the population.

What is the current progress on the identification of Circular Economy activities within the traditional NACE, SIC or NAICS? 

  • Data collection is a big issue, mainly because data disclosure is not at all a common practice.
  • Circle Economy uses NACE in its methodology for measuring the number and range of circular jobs across territories. 
  • HIVA Research Institute is starting a four year project which has as one of its main objectives the identification of sectoral codes for circular economy activities and sectors.
  • Recyc-Québec works with the Ministry of Economy of the region in the identification of those sectors that can be considered a part of the circular economy. However, it is still necessary to get more data to make this challenge easier to overcome. 

What recognition is there that traditional waste management practices will be needed, albeit on a dwindling basis, and is there an expectation of the timescale for this transition?

  • The Waste to Wealth Programme of Baltimore aims to support inclusive circular job creation. By supporting businesses that are making products out of valuable materials captured from the waste stream, the jobs created will support the anticipated population growth in the city. The initiative is a multi-stakeholder project: Baltimore City Housing and the Office of Sustainability have teamed up to make deconstruction a component of housing demolition contracts. Materials salvaged and recycled from homes slated for demolition can be sold as reprocessed materials. The city works with two nonprofits, Details Deconstruction and Brick+Board, that help prepare unemployed and under-resourced residents for jobs in the construction industry. 

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