A subsidy channel to support circular initiatives initiated by citizens in view of climate neutrality goals
In 2012, the city of Mechelen signed the Covenant of Mayors, engaging itself to reduce CO2 emissions by more than 20% by 2020, and 40% by 2030. To warm the citizens up for this target, the city provides a yearly budget to citizen-led initiatives, which contribute to the city’s climate neutrality. Examples of subsidized initiatives are collective vegetable gardens and poultry runs, a shared e-cargobike, or the guidance by a sustainability expert in a co-housing project. For non-profit organisations, the subsidies are seed-money to start or support their activities. All kinds of circular initiatives, such as a library of tools, a library of baby supplies, repair cafes, or a mobile solar energy system for events, have been realised thanks to the subsidies and the citizens’ labour. The subsidies are distributed with a call to action two times a year. At least four citizens need to hand in a completed form and budget proposal, which is screened by a jury existing of staff of the city but from different departments. A long-term initiative can be granted maximally €5000. A one-time climate sensitization initiative, such as a film night or a workshop, may be granted maximally €500.
The yearly budget which is distributed is €30.000 per year, since 2020. Before 2020 it was €15.000. Additional budget is needed to pay the staff that manages the call for applications and the communication involved (1/5 FTE).
Evidence of success
Since 2016, the city has subsidized almost 50 projects, which adds up to almost €100.000 invested. Among these are many circular consumption modes (repair and sharing). The 50 projects involve over 1000 citizens. Because citizens themselves raise the initiative, it is in their interest that the initiative is viable in the long term. Citizens feel involved in the city’s endeavour to reach climate neutrality, so a strong basis for other climate neutral actions of the city is created in this way.
At first, organisations were hesitant. This improved when knowledge on the subsidy channel grew. However, a simple call to action is not enough to reach all citizens. Targeted communication, and guidance in project application writing, is needed in order to broaden the group of applicants.
Potential for learning or transfer
With a relatively small budget, the city provides an opportunity for citizens or non-profit organisations to try out a good idea and test its viability. In this way, different circular consumption initiatives within the city were born, and pioneer work has been done. However, 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. For the city, the subsidies are a concrete way to build a cooperative network of companions to reach the climate neutrality target. It fosters cooperation and dialogue with citizens, and grants ownership to the citizens who start to ask for circular consumption models according to their needs. So, the city can learn from the citizens and organisations to feed decision-making that needs to accelerate the transition to a circular and climate neutral society.