Mechelen and its citizens: together with the city towards climate neutrality and circularity

Repair Cafés, collective vegetable gardens, a tool library and cohousing…: Communal efforts are key to a strong social cohesion within neighbourhoods, but also to tackle climate change. In order to reduce CO2 emissions, the city of Mechelen stimulates citizen-led initiatives which contribute to the city’s climate neutrality and circularity.

Picture 1. Together with the city towards climate neutrality and circularity. Photo: Pexels (CC0)

Cities are the places where both the majority of greenhouse gasses is emitted, and most energy, water and materials are consumed. Actions on city-level can thus have a big impact and play an important role in curbing climate change. That is why the City of Mechelen has been taking the lead and setting up an ambitious climate policy since 2012 already, leading to the European Green Leaf Award in 2020. One of the strengths of the city’s climate action is the fact that we cooperate with and support citizens financially to achieve climate neutrality together.  

Collective poultry runs and a library for baby supplies  

Since 2016, the city provides subsidies for citizens or non-profit organisations to try out a good idea that reduces CO2 emissions and stimulates social cohesion. A long-term initiative can be granted maximally 5000 euros per application. A one-time climate awareness initiative, such as a workshop or a reading, may be granted maximally 500 euros. At least four citizens need to work together to hand in a completed form and budget proposal, which is then screened by a jury two times a year.  

With a relatively small budget from €15.000/year to €30.000/year, the city has been able to support the rise of many citizen-led or non-profit initiatives that give way to a more circular and social economy. As time passed and citizens became more familiar with this possibility, more and more initiatives arose: neighbourhood composting, collective poultry runs, a shared e-cargobike, the library for tools, the library for baby supplies, the guidance of a cohousing project by a sustainability expert. or a mobile solar energy system for events have all been realised thanks to the subsidies and the citizens’ efforts.  


In total, the city has subsidized almost 50 projects, which adds up to almost 100.000 euros invested. The 50 projects involve over 1000 citizens in concrete actions. However, it remains challenging to reach all citizens of Mechelen. Targeted communication and guidance in project application writing is needed in order to broaden the group of applicants.  

Also, for those initiatives that do find their way towards subsidies, the longevity and viability without the support of the city remain an issue. The question is how to find a business model for these initiatives, to let them work independent from subsidies, without changing the social goals or solidarity principles. 

Gaining support for climate-neutral actions 

Because citizens themselves raise the initiative, they feel involved in the city’s endeavour to reach climate neutrality and circularity. The subsidies thus create a strong basis for other climate-neutral actions and to reach the circular city ambition. 

Moreover, the subsidies and campaign foster cooperation and dialogue with citizens, and grant ownership to the citizens who start to ask for circular consumption models according to their needs. In this way, the city administration also learns from the citizens and organisations to feed decision-making that needs to accelerate the transition to a circular and climate-neutral society.

Read more about the related CECI Good Practice: Subsidies for climate neutral neigborhoods and circular citizen initiatives in Mechelen or explore other CECI Good Practices related to citizens involvement in circular economy.