Award-winning project Be circular - Be Brussels

Brussels Capital Region, Belgium

A call for projects encourages local entrepreneurs to develop creative business initiatives that use circular economy concepts with support from local government agencies.

Be Circular - Be Brussels is a call for initiatives with the objective of moving business activities towards a more sustainable model through the application of circular economy principles. The project was launched jointly by government agencies, Brussels Economy and Employment, Brussels Environment and, who provide a one-stop-service for entrepreneurs seeking information, support or funding.

Be Circular – Be Brussels is one of the key measures of the Brussels Regional Programme for a Circular Economy (BRPCE) that seeks to guide and accelerate Brussels’ transition to a circular economy model. All BRPCE measures combine both top-down and bottom-up approaches, business community’s insights into needs and opportunities as well as government assistance, political support and funding.

To date, two editions of the call for projects have been conducted (2016 and 2017) and a total of 70 projects have been funded. The 29 projects selected in 2017 benefited from €1.7 million of subsidies; for every 1€ of public investment, companies invest twice as much, this has also contributed to job creation in the region.

Originally published by EUROCITIES, the network of 130 European cities - PDF:

Award-winning project

This project was awarded the 'EUROCITIES Awards' in 2017 in the following category: Innovation. Learn more about the award.


City information
Brussels Capital Region

Size and population development
The population of Brussels Capital Region was recorded as 1,191,604 in 2017. By 2030, the total population is expected to reach 1,309,264 people, corresponding to an increase of approximately 10% over this period.

Population composition
65% (777,465 people) of the Brussels Capital Region are of Belgian nationality. Due to the high number of European institutions and businesses located in Brussels, a large proportion, 23%, of the population are from other EU countries. 12% (38,972 people) are from countries other than Belgium and the EU. The average age of the population is 37, in comparison with the European average of 42.

Main functions
The Brussels-Capital Region was formed in June 1989 and is part of both the French and Flemish communities of Belgium. It has bilingual status and is one of the three federal regions of Belgium along with Flanders and Wallonia. The Brussels Capital Region is the administrative centre for many international organisations, including the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the World Customs Organization and EUROCONTROL as well as a large number of international corporations.

Main industries / business
From 1995 to 2015, the Brussels Capital Region experienced economic growth of approximately 1.5% per year and accounts for nearly 9% of all exports from Belgium. Despite this, the unemployment rate in the Capital Region was recorded as 17% in 2017. The main industries operating in the Brussels Capital Region include electronics, chemicals, printing, publishing, clothing, telecommunications, aircraft construction, and the food industry. During the 2016-2022 period, the ‘other market services’ industry, including business services, is projected to make the largest contribution to economic growth in the Brussels Capital Region.

Sources for city budget
The National Government of Belgium and taxation revenue from the Brussels Capital Region.

Political structure
The Brussels Parliament is made up of 89 members, elected by universal suffrage every five years by Belgian adults registered in one of the communes of the Brussels-Capital Region. The regional deputies are split into two groups: 72 parliamentarians are elected from a list for French speakers and 17 from a list for Dutch speakers. The Parliament chooses the members of Government of the Brussels-Capital Region and the regional state secretaries from among the elected parliamentarians, who are then replaced by their substitutes on the electoral list. The Government of the Brussels-Capital Region is comprised of a Minister-President, 4 Ministers (2 French speakers and 2 Dutch speakers) and 3 Secretaries of State. The Government is elected every five years by the Brussels Parliament (the Council of the Brussels-Capital Region). The Parliament of the Brussels-Capital Region represents the legislative branch of government that prepares, debates and votes on the laws. The members of the Government are responsible for matters defined by the regional competences.

Administrative structure
The policy of the Regional Government is implemented in a number of areas, particularly in economic and territorial matters by the Brussels Regional Public Service and the regional bodies. The Brussels-Capital Region is the competent authority in: Urban development (plans, planning permission, urban renewal, real estate policy, protection of monuments and sites) and housing; Environment, water and nature conservation; Economy (economic expansion, foreign trade) and Employment policy; Transport; Public works; Energy policy; Local authorities and subsidiary authorities; External relations; Scientific research. The Brussels-Capital Region is composed of 19 communes, including the City of Brussels. The communes manage matters relating to the daily life of citizens and the communal territory. They play an essential role in urban governance and are responsible for a range of services in diverse areas including water, energy, waste management and telecommunications.

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Background and objectives

When the government of the Brussels Capital Region launched a programme to trigger its transition to a circular economy, it quickly recognised the need to get start up and small businesses involved. The government acknowledged that while most larger companies have the resources to instigate their own move towards more sustainable ways of working, smaller companies need financial and administrative support. To harness the creativity and passion associated with start-ups, self-employed citizens and non-profit organisations one of the principle measures of the BRPCE was aimed exclusively at ensuring their participation.

Be Circular - Be Brussels has three main objectives.

  • support innovative business ideas
  • identify projects that would have a trigger effect on the development towards a circular economy
  • advance public support for different models of this new economic exchange and production system, such as the reuse of waste and the collaborative economy.

The first call for projects in 2016 resulted in 85 proposals - far more than expected. 41 projects were selected for funding related to four areas:

  • closing the circle through reuse, repair, remanufacturing and recycling (the “4R”),  projects in this area contribute to the reuse of resources and the reintegration of  resources considered as “waste” into a new life circle;
  • developing new business models: this area covers projects that use new models such as functionality economics, collaborative economics, short circuits and similar models  to generate value that is less dependent on resource use;
  • optimising resource use in production processes;
  • creating tools and guides to aid the transition to a circular economy.

The second call for projects in 2017 saw the definition of areas simplified and optimising resource use and creating tools and guides was replaced with alimentation and construction. 108 proposals were submitted and 29 projects were selected for funding.

Among the winning initiatives are:

  • Dropstore, where unwanted computers and technological devices are collected, dismantled, repaired and resold as spare parts or reconditioned equipment
  • Au Marché Noir, organic food take-away, work with local producers to ensure a short supply chain
  • Belgomarket is a new kind of supermarket that sells Belgian-only, organic products in bulk.
  • Terre Group has set up a factory shopping outlet selling low-cost clothing recovered from its network of 2,600 textile collection points and has ambitions to open a further four outlets in the region.
  • City Depot optimises and closes goods flow loops, consolidating deliveries and the collection of waste on cleaner, smaller and more city-friendly vehicles.
  • Usitoo is testing a membership community concept enabling the sharing of DIY, camping, gardening and sports equipment via an online library platform.
  • MCB Atelier’s Comodu project creates wooden modular structures that can be rented and reused by theatres and businesses as scenery, stands and exhibition walls.
Financing and resources

On 10 March 2016, the government of the Brussels-Capital Region adopted the Brussels Regional Program for a Circular Economy 2016-2020, with a budget of €12.8 million for the year 2016.

“Be Circular - Be Brussels” has received €1.7 million annually from this budget. For both editions, each winning initiative received funding of up to €80,000, corresponding to a maximum of 50% of the project’s expenditures.

Results and impacts

Support for initiatives undertaken in the first year has resulted in the creation of 30 new jobs, investment in machines and feasibility studies and a total spend, including companies’ own investments and co-financing arrangements, of close to €8 million.

Many of the second year’s proposals were collaborations involving businesses, suggesting the initiative is creating a vibrant network of co-operative entrepreneurs active in the circular economy.

Lessons learned and transferability

Through the evaluation processes undertaken, the project team has learned that while collaboration between the three supporting agencies is one of the most complicated aspects of this initiative, it also makes the greatest contribution to its effectiveness. The team believes that encouraging the private sector to promote the project has given it increased credibility among the target audience. Critically, all three agencies are gaining a better understanding of the difficulties faced by enterprises attempting to integrate circular economy principles - and what can be done to help this transition moving forward.


External links / documents