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Green city of the future

Cocreation process provided information for circular economic cooperation in the water sector with China

The European Union has been developing cooperation with China in the water sector for a long time, and the circular economy of wastewater is one of the newest themes of the cooperation. Sweco’s international experts created a white paper on the matter, proposing a multidisciplinary holistic approach to addressing matters concerning circular economy.

The China Europe Water Platform (CEWP) is a cooperation program that covers a wide range of sectors, such as water policy, research and business cooperation. In 2018, the Forum launched a four-year EU project in which European countries promote the objectives of the program with Chinese partners.  

In the business program of the project we export European water sector know-how to China and support the access of companies to the Chinese market,” says, Senior Officer of the Water Unit at the ELY Centre for Southwest Finland Johanna Lantto. During the spring, the ELY Centre for Southwest Finland was given the task of producing background information as a basis for future cooperation. “We ordered a white paper from Sweco on how the municipal wastewater circular economy has developed in Europe and what its opportunities will be in the future.”  

International expert view on the circular economy 

The perspective of the background paper was intended to be international, and the time allotted for its implementation was two months, up to the Aquatech China Shanghai trade fair in June. “We didn’t just want the perspective of Finland; it was important to take the whole of Europe into account,” Lantto emphasizes. 

The agile international implementation was facilitated by the ability to easily gather a diverse team of experts for the task. “Our industrial and environmental experts from Finland, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands were brought together through a participatory cocreation process,” says Water management expert Tia Haavisto from Sweco. 

Sweco’s circular economy expert, senior advisor Mika Kierikka, emphasises that the internal and external networks of the circular economy, built as a result of long-term work, were essential for the success. “The summary report required interviews with the CEOs of, among other places, pioneering wastewater treatment plants.” 

Future scenarios were discussed together with the customer at a cocreation event. “Distance working was greatly facilitated, and we were able to gather cost-effective experience and ideas from several experts,” Lantto says. “Collaborative development is a good and rewarding way for participants to create an overall overview on a difficult topic.”  

Resolving circular economy issues requires a holistic perspective  

The main inference of the white paper is a holistic perspective and the use of data in decision-making.  There is a clear export potential in circular economy know-how, but regional and local solutions must be sought together.  

“Issues such as circular economy cannot be solved by one single actor or sector. Sector integration is needed, where wastewater infrastructure is taken into account, for example, in regional energy network and stormwater management solutions”, says Kierikka.  

Lantto also believes that a holistic view will be the future direction of urban water management. “A holistic view takes into account, for example, how wastewater can also be a source of heat, energy and raw materials for cities.” 

A holistic perspective is believed to fit well with the needs of Chinese cities. “There are already examples from China of the design of regional entities from a clean slate,” says LanttoFor example, urban water is treated in entire model cities with the Sponge City concept. “China is also interested in optimising processes digitally and with artificial intelligence.”  

Due to COVID-19, international events have been cancelled this year, but the white paper will be presented at webinars and other events with Chinese partners.  

“The assembly serves as a basis for discussion at events where we will meet with European and Chinese companies, as well as other actors,” Lantto says. “It’s a long-term job, the subject of which will not become obsolete any time in the near future.” 

Read more about the China Europe Water Platform