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RETRACE – A Systemic Approach for REgions TRansitioning towards a Circular Economy

RETRACE project is financed under the first call for proposals of the Interreg Europe ETC Programme, 4.2 Specific Objective – Improving resource efficient economy policies.

This programme aims at improving the implementation of regional development programmes and policies, mostly of the investment, growth and employment programmes and when appropriate, the ETC objective programmes by promoting experience exchange and policy learning among regional actors. The programme has a budget of 359 mil. Euros and will fund interregional cooperation projects and policy learning platforms. RETRACE project has a budget of EUR 1.514.352 (EUR 1.241.994,50 ERDF), out of which, euro 160.465 for ADR Nord-Est (EUR 136.395,25 ERDF and EUR 20.860,45 Ministry of Regional Development and Public Administration).


  1. Politecnico di Torino (IT)
  2. Piedmont Region – Directorate for regional system competitiveness (IT)
  3. Azaro Foundation (ES)
  4. BEAZ (ES)
  5. Higher School of Advanced industrial Technology (FR)
  6. Association for Environment and Safety in Aquitaine (FR)
  7. Government Office for Development and European Cohesion Policy (SI)
  8. North-East Regional Development Agency (RO)

Project duration : 48 months (April 2016 – March 2020)

RETRACE addresses the EU challenge of transitioning towards a Circular Economy following the priorities set up by the “Flagship Initiative for a Resource Efficient Europe” for a shift towards a resource efficient, low-carbon economy to achieve sustainable growth as enshrined in Europe 2020 strategy and the EC Communication “Towards a circular economy: A zero waste programme for Europe”.

RETRACE partners deem that the adoption of more systemic approaches at territory/regional level can play a leverage effect in such transition. Specifically, the Systemic Design approach seeks to create complex industrial systems. It aims to implement sustainable productive systems in which material and energy flows are designed so that waste from one productive process becomes input to other processes, preventing waste from being released into the environment.

RETRACE’s main goal is to promote the adoption of Systemic Design as a method allowing regional and local policies in their transitions towards a Circular Economy, focusing thus both on a territorial/regional policy perspective and on systemic approaches for a Circular Economy.

A transition to a Circular Economy shifts the focus to reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products. The benefits of adopting such model go well beyond the environment protection and resources saving, as it is considered that the transition to a CE model should lead to systemic and innovation intensive processes, leading to new business opportunities and models. Thus, Circular Economy and Innovation are closely linked. Such transition must be mainly led by companies and industries, and can be primarily fostered by more strict regulatory frameworks and by more exigent and conscious consumers. Nonetheless, it is also considered that regional authorities might also play a key role on such shift. This is precisely the scope of RETRACE. The regional perspective has been one of the least explored of the shift towards a CE model. RETRACE deems that regions can play a key role in this shift, as they:

  • Have a high concentration of biological and technical nutrients: between incoming and outgoing flows of materials, a process of accumulation takes place at regional level. Regional industrial, commercial and distribution value chains offer a scale of supply large enough to create valuable collection and recovery opportunities.
  • Provide the perfect innovation ecosystem for innovation needed for a CE model. RIS3 can lead the whole of the R&I infrastructure, human capital and policy support measures into more decided investments in this field.
  • Offer greater proximity between stakeholders, be they citizens/consumers, industrial/services clusters, R&I stakeholders, public authorities, etc, allowing Quadruple Helix approaches for the development of new business models.

RETRACE fits under INTERREG EUROPE Priority Axis 4, Obj. 4.2. ). In this field, different policy responses have been adopted such as measures providing ecoinnovation and ecoconception support to SMEs, development of cleantech solutions and advanced manufacturing initiatives,… but seldom have regions embraced integrated and systemic approaches taking into consideration the whole of the territory’s natural assets and their economic and industrial activity.

RETRACE partners deem that the adoption of such systemic approaches at territory/regional level can play a leverage effect. Specifically, the Systemic Design approach seeks to create complex industrial systems. It aims to implement sustainable productive systems in which material and energy flows are designed so that waste from one productive process becomes input to other processes, preventing waste from being released. The adoption of systemic approaches can additionally lead to the emergence of new emerging industries and/or the adaptation of traditional ones, contributing so, to the objectives of Europe's new industrial policy (EC Comm. “For a European Industrial Renaissance”).

RETRACE looks thus to improve regional policies facilitating the transition towards a Circular Economy focusing in Systemic Design approach by the means of capitalizing experiences on a process combining 3 approaches:

  1. Exchange & Learning on policies on 2 fields:
    a. Adoption of regional/interregional Systemic Design approaches at policy level and
    b. Increase of absorption capacities for transitioning by stakeholders;
  2. Strategic thinking process leading to Regional Action Plans (RAPs), with the engagement of stakeholders and concerned regional authorities,and
  3. Action, by the implementation of the RAPs.

North-East RDA seeks to generate improvement for the Regional Operational Programme (ROP) PA2 - Competitiveness of SMEs, supporting both new companies and start-ups in priority sectors, including eco-innovation, and the support of investments on infrastructure and equipment by companies and industries in order to gain energy and resource efficiency among other competitiveness criteria are planned.

The measures to be supported by the PA fail to mainstream systemic approaches for a Circular Economy. The application of the concept of environmental sustainability is limited to the increase of resource efficiency, use of renewable resources, reduction of waste production and preservation of environmental heritage.

IB and MA of the OP are aware of this limitation, reason why they are engaged in the proposal, looking specifically for the delivery of new projects and governance models for the creation of new companies and startup around the Circular Economy concept applied to RIS3 priority sectors, such as agrofood, clothing and wood/lumber fields.

RETRACE is expected to improve the OP mainly on the implementation of PA2 at three levels:

1) Strategic approach: Exchange on different methods and approaches will be shared allowing MA of the IB (and the 8 IBs of the OP) to reflect on how to tackle a systemic approach for a Circular Economy strategy, which might spill over exiting instruments and activities, mainly managed by these stakeholders and the MAs of other OPs, with close links to the Circular Economy, like the OP Large Infrastructures, focusing on water management investments.

2) Structural change: As a result of such exchange, the practical implementation of systemic approaches on priority industry sectors (lumber/wood, agrifood and clothing) is expected, through the promotion of technology transfer activities between research and companies, looking for the creation of new products, services and startup in these fields (IP1a).

3) Evolution of instruments: Integration of further criteria for the specific support of startups (IP3a) and modernisation investments (IP3b) by companies for advancing on the greening of the economy by the adoption of Circular Economy approaches is looked after. The simplification on the management of such instruments or grant programmes is also expected.

RETRACE’S main goal is to foster and promote the adoption of Systemic Design as a method allowing regional and local policies in their transitions towards a Circular Economy. It looks for improving the policies and capacities of EU regions in the adoption of systemic approaches leading, ultimately, to the further identification of synergistic opportunities and models and to an increase of the absorption capacity of companies in their implementation.

Specific Objectives :

1) To provide methodological tools for regions to adopt Systemic Design approaches at territory and crosssectorial level.

2) To exchange and disseminate good practices in the field of Circular Economy, 1) allowing the adoption of systemic approaches for holistic assessment of new business opportunities and models, and 2) increasing the absorption capacity of companies in their implementation.

3) To lead strategic thinking processes with all relevant stakeholders, organised around Stakeholders Groups, leading to the adoption of Action Plans with specific proposals of improvement of existing regional policies, programmes, or instruments.

4) To implement and evaluate the impact of Action Plans

5) To contribute to the regional smart specialization strategies of partner regions, thanks to the identification of new business opportunities and models coming up from the strategic reflection following a Systemic Design approach.

6) To raise awareness among politicians and policymakers in the tangible benefits for a transition towards a Circular Economy.

7) To deliver a Policy Road Map, making visible the benefits of adopting systemic approaches.

8) To disseminate project results at the widest level, looking for synergies with other INTERREG EUROPE related projects and existing networks and initiatives in the Circular Economy field.

9) To contribute with good practices, policy briefs and recommendations to the INTERREG EUROPE Policy Learning Platform on Environment and Resource Efficiency.

RETRACE looks to improve regional policies facilitating the transition towards a Circular Economy (CE) through the adoption of Systemic Design (SD) approaches by the means of capitalizing experiences in referred field. The process relies on the contribution of 5 stakeholders groups, composed by authorities, including target OP's MAs, policymakers, industrial clusters, public services providers, etc. engaged all along the project.

General approach :


B. HOLISTIC DIAGNOSIS: analysis of regional framework conditions, in order to identify policy gaps and potential opportunities upon which to build supportive policies.

C. EXCHANGE OF EXPERIENCE: Good practices in 5 policy fields addressing 2 perspectives, coming from the 5 partners regions and 2 additional good practices identified in Scotland, UK (Circular Economy Strategy implemented by Zero Waste Scotland, regional agency) and The Netherlands/Amsterdam (Circular Hotspot Strategies), totalling the Field Visits to 7 locations

D. REGIONAL ACTION PLANS (RAPs): a participatory strategic thinking process will be initiated by stakeholders groups. The process will end at the last stage of Phase 1, when 5 RAPs will be defined and agreed.

RAPs will be complemented by an annex with the potential impact of the process into new priority areas on RIS3, both in terms of industry niche specialization areas and Key Enabling Technologies of partner regions. RAPs will include a description of agreed measures to be integrated into policies, activities planned to that end, timeframe, responsible actors and funding sources.

E. POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS: elaboration of regional Policy Briefs targeting politicians and policymakers with tangible benefits of Circular Economy, adapted to the knowledge and interests of these target groups, with a summary of proposed RAPs.

F. RAPs MONITORING: Stakeholders groups including MAs of target OPs will remain engaged in the 2nd phase, monitoring the implementation of the 5 RAPs and the further exchange and dissemination of lessons learnt.

Main Expected Outputs:

- regional Holistic Diagnoses with assessment on the potential connections and synergies of the territorial natural/environmental assets

- experience exchange program: 7 Field Visits and Peer Review workshops

- 30 Good Practices identified in 5 different policy areas.

- Regional Action Plans + 5 Annexes with project impact and recommendations into RIS3 + 5 Annexes with Monitoring Plans for impact assessment.

- Policy Briefs

- 3 publications produced and disseminated to different target groups:

a) “RETRACE Method for Systemic Approaches on Circular Economy” aimed at regional policymakers and policy managers.

b) “RETRACE Good Practices Guide on Systemic Approaches on Circular Economy” aimed at policy managers, companies, industries, NGOs, society.

c) “Policy Road Map for a Systemic Approach on Circular Economy”: aimed at politicians and policymakers.

Main Results:

Policies, programmes and objectives of 5 ERDF/ESF OPs 2014-2020 influenced by RETRACE by the end of the project, with an estimated impact of 2.000.000 €.

10 exchanged good practices influencing / impacting on target policies.

5 RIS3 influenced in terms of identification of new smart specialization niche areas, priority of Key Enabling Technologies and new business opportunities resulting from transitioning towards regional systemic approaches.

North-East Regional Development Agency Contact:

Ramona Tanasă
Expert – External Cooperation Office
Communication, Cooperation and Business Development Directorate

North-East Regional Development Agency

Piatra Neamţ, Str. Lt. Drăghescu nr.9, 610125 Romania
Telephone/ Fax: 0233 218071; 0233 218072




Presentation event 26.09.2016 Iasi