The process of digging up materials, turning those materials into a product, and shipping it to an “end user” (who eventually tosses it in the trash) is called the “linear” economy, and it’s depleting our world of resources faster than they can be replenished. We need to ditch this old model and move to a “circular” economy. Instead of using raw resources (think timber and ore) to create new products, the circular economy keeps materials in circulation for multiple uses, whether they are maintained, reused, refurbished, or recycled.
Today, 54 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas accounting for 75 percent of natural resource consumption, 50 percent of global waste production, and 60-80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. So, the concept of the circular economy is especially relevant in cities.
Digital technology helps city leaders and citizens gather, refine, and analyze data to create cities that are circular by design. Today we published a white paper with our partners at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that explores how digital technology and a few of Google’s existing efforts can enable more circular cities. Google has captured insights across cities, from the quality of the air people breathe to the amount of solar power people could put on their roof at home. Google Cloud Platform allows for global-scale data sharing and provides the foundation for collaborative projects between public and private organizations, such as the Waze Connected Citizens Program.
Along with Arup and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, we’re also exploring how to build circular cities through a joint project called the Circularity Lab. Located in both the Bay Area and New York City, the Lab will raise awareness about circularity in the built environment and create a space where people can see how it could positively impact their lives and communities.
The circular economy model, enriched with technology, is a powerful and potentially highly productive combination. We’re excited to continue exploring these opportunities.