Green Cities

Amsterdam: The Green Standard of City Governance

Think back over the last 24 hours – how many things have you thrown out? I personally have no idea, and that’s the issue. We have become so accustomed to eating out of plastic containers and throwing away devices after a new one comes out, further diluting our relationship to the natural resources we use to produce these things. Luckily, several large cities at the forefront of sustainability are challenging this notion, few more so  than Amsterdam with its implementation of a circular economy.

  • What is a Circular Economy?

A circular economy is defined by the U.S. EPA as an economy that “keeps materials, products, and services in circulation for as long as possible.” This means designing goods and services with longevity and reusability in mind from the start. A move away from the prevalent “take, make, waste” cycle is crucial given that annual global waste generation is projected to increase 70% by 2050.

Amsterdam’s plan calls for cutting raw material use in half by 2030 and fully eliminating new raw material use by 2050. They call this plan a circular economy because the few raw materials used are going to be used over and over again, thus eliminating the need for any new raw material use. Sounds like recycling, right? Kind of, but not quite in the way we in the U.S. have come to think of it. 

 The plan first calls for producing less new goods out of raw materials, which is often unavoidable. Cars offer a good example of what Amsterdam hopes to do. The goal is to soon make them unnecessary with public transportation, but in the meantime, cars are to be shared and used for as long as possible, and then eventually recycled for parts. 

  • Earthshot Recognition 

In 2022, EARTHDAY.ORG nominated the city of Amsterdam and its efforts in creating a circular economy for the Earthshot prize. The Earthshot prize is the brainchild of Prince William and other environmentalists such as David Attenborough to inspire cutting edge environmental initiatives worldwide.

Earthshot selects five winners annually, one from each of the following categories: nature conservation and protection, air quality, ocean revival, waste-free living and climate action. These winners receive $1.2 million to continue their efforts. Out of 1,000 entries spanning 80 countries, the city of Amsterdam made it all the way to the end in the waste-free living category, and was recognized as a finalist

  • International Adoption

In the U.S., aspects of Amsterdam’s audacious plan are slowly creeping into city council meetings from coast to coast. First came Portland in 2016 when it mandated that all houses built before 1940 must be deconstructed slowly for spare parts, not just demolished. This move came in response to concerns of wastefulness in the demolition process in which nothing was salvaged. 

Portland, Milwaukee, Palo Alto, San Jose, and San Antonio have since followed suit with “deconstruction” ordinances. Proponents say that the next step in this movement is building new buildings with deconstruction in mind, so that large pieces are easily reusable.

Amsterdam offers a model for a green city, and the model shows change starts with citizens and their elected officials. EARTHDAY.ORG’s Green Cities campaign encourages people worldwide to advocate for low carbon initiatives in their cities. Tell your elected officials that you expect to live in a green city by clicking here.