How can systems thinking be used to build circular cities?

The Sensemaking meetup is Systems Change Finland’s monthly meetup where we explore topics related to applied Systems Thinking and Complexity with interesting speakers. Instead of being one-sided lectures, our meetups are spaces where participants can also make sense about the topics with each other.

November’s meetup was organized in association with the Nordic CityMaking Week on Tuesday 9.11.2021 17:00–18:30 and the discussion was be ignited by Jorrit Vervoordeldonk from the Dutch company Metabolic that combines Systems Thinking and Circular Economy in their city development work. The event had around 30 live participants on Zoom and YouTube.

At Metabolic, Jorrit Vervoordeldonk (WWW, LinkedIn) is a sustainability consultant in the cities and regions team, where he specializes in circular strategies for cities and regions as well as monitoring the progress to a circular economy. Material flow analysis, frameworks and guidelines for circular area development and the development of indicators for the circular economy are at the core of his work. Jorrit has worked as a project manager across different scales in the Dutch and European context.

Jorrit has a multidisciplinary background in engineering, sustainable energy and management of technology. As a strong believer in ‘show don’t tell’, Jorrit built a car powered by solar energy, and raced it through Australia, to show the world the possibilities of sustainable energy. He also founded a start-up to develop engineering concepts. Jorrit strongly believes that to transition to a sustainable economy, data-driven insights are needed, as well as strong communication, education and collaboration between businesses and government.

In the event Jorrit outlined Metabolic’s systems-thinking approach to working with cities and we had a great discussion on the potential circular solutions for our rapidly expanding cities. We have to transform our cities so they can function within the planetary boundaries. We aren’t there yet: we are fuelling our cities through an extractive economy, using lots of land, bringing resources in through complex supply chains, and manufacturing these resources into products we can hardly take apart. We can transform our economy by using a systems approach to design and plan our cities and our value chains.

This was the topic of the first part of Jorrit’s presentation where he spoke about Systems Thinking and Circular Cities and introduced Metabolic’s holistic approach to the circular economy.

The way Metabolic operates is through a five phase process that moves from researching and using data to understand the current state and it’s possible leverage points through goal setting towards practice and monitoring.

The second part of Jorrit’s presentation was about practical cases where the approach has been used the first one from the Buiksloterham area where Metabolic’s office resides and one from the City of Rotterdam.

The Buiksloterham case concerned the ways that a polluted area might be transformed into a greener one while growing the area in terms of population. It is a great example of building the agency of a whole neighbourhood around a common vision for the future.

The City of Rotterdam case introduced the concept of Urban Mining and Circular Construction which was based on enhancing the reuse of building materials. To be able to do this a city should have a picture of where and when buildings will be torn down or renovated and where new buildings are built. The task would be to help bridge the needs of both.

A huge thank you to Jorrit Vervooldendonk for his presentation, Systems Change Finland’s Beatriz Ramirez for hosting him and Katja Lindroos for creating the space for collaboration during the Nordic CityMaking Week!

We look forward to seeing Metabolic do work in Finland! Also, make sure to follow and join the Nordic CityMaking Week!

Watch the recording:


Interested to learn more about Systems Change Finland and about how to join our community?

Systems Change Finland seeks to cultivate a society that can deal with systemic and complex challenges. The purpose of Systems Change Finland is to promote the application of approaches that help people, organizations and society understand and work with systems and complexity.

● Join the Systems Change Finland group on Facebook

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Mikael Seppälä

📈 Project Manager #InnovationManagement & #Ecosystems @LaureaUAS | ⚡️ @systemschangefi #SystemsChange | 🔥 #SystemsThinking #Complexity