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Re-design of sustainable and territorialized production systems — cross-fertilization of territorial ecology and political economy

Context and general issues

In order to adapt to ongoing global changes, in particular climate change (see [IPC18]) or loss of biodiversity [IPB19], the United Nations (UN) [UN18] has established a list of 17 sustainable development goals, including Goal 12: "Develop sustainable consumption and production patterns". To achieve this goal, the UN recommends in its target 12.5: "By 2030, significantly reduce the generation of waste through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse".

The exponential growth in demand and the logic of massive extraction of natural resources have contributed to the emergence of situations of scarcity, sources of geo-political tensions and social conflicts. Particularly present in the mining industry, these phenomena contribute to the progressive depletion of minerals and metals while raising questions about the availability of these resources in the near future. These supply issues have supported the emergence of initiatives to extract secondary resources from waste deposits, or more particularly from urban mines [SCE19]. However, despite an increase in the availability and wealth of these so-called secondary resources, their use still seems limited.

In France, the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) sector reported that it processed 742 tons of WEEE in 2017, or about half of the country's WEEE production. 80% of this waste in terms of weight is directly recycled [AD18], to the detriment of reuse or re-use, which is explained in particular by the principle of Extended Producer Responsibility [MI17]. In line with this national trend, only one tenth of the quantities of WEEE entrusted to reuse structures has been previously prepared for reuse. As far as the building and public works sector (BTP) in France in 2014 is concerned, construction and public works companies will produce 227.5 million tons of waste. Eighty percent of this waste is inert waste produced by public works sites, which is mostly directed, as soon as it leaves the site, either to other sites where it is reused or to recovery structures (material recycling, quarry backfill) [Min17]. Nevertheless, when we look at non-inert waste, we notice that only 12% of it is reused or recycled as soon as it leaves the building site.

To encourage the reuse and re-use of products before turning to recycling or treatment, France has issued a roadmap for the circular economy [Min18] and ADEME offers CODECs (Contrat d'Objectifs Déchet Économie Circulaire) to certain local authorities.
In the Grenoble Alpes Métropole area, beyond very ambitious waste reduction and recovery targets, the CODEC aims to initiate local circular economy loops adapted to the area. This new contract offers a real opportunity to tackle the problems of metropolitan waste management and aims to make its producers more responsible. Indeed, without the intervention of the local authority, the area risks becoming a passive territory that is subject to changes in the regulatory framework defined at the national and European levels. By leading the actors to emancipate themselves from the linear economy model and by revealing the potential for avoidance, the dynamics driven by the circular economy represent a transformative potential of local production systems to replace the extraction of natural resources by the recovery of "waste" deposits. A local production system is a concentration, on a geographically defined territory, of production units of the SME-SMI type, specialized in a sector of activity, around a trade or a type of product, both competing and complementary, supported by animation structures, training devices, in association with the other actors of the territory [TA08]. This notion derives from the work devoted to industrial districts by A. Marshall (Principles of Political Economy - 1890) and his successors.

However, in the face of the logic of free competition and economic rationality that dominates the waste management and treatment sectors, we are witnessing a flight of local resources towards centers of massification, then high-performance sorting centers. This phenomenon is all the more amplified by the export of the separated and sorted fractions to other regions or other countries due to the progressive detachment of the French industrial fabric for these sectors. The lack of infrastructure for the production of recycled materials, combined with the lack of knowledge and technical skills, accentuates the phenomenon of resource relocation and the associated environmental impacts, and reduces the resilience of the territory. The creation of an institutional environment around the sharing of standards, conventions and informal practices appears to be the missing link to adapt production systems to the recommendations of reuse professionals. By identifying the constraints limiting the exploitation of secondary resources at the levels of waste management and the use of materials, the local authority can act as a strategic coordinating center to initiate a territorial chain of circulation of materials.

The aim of this thesis is to contribute to the CODEC of Grenoble Alpes Métropole by jointly developing with the local authority a decision support tool to encourage greater adaptation of production systems to the local challenges of the circular economy and to the needs of the territory. Two sectors will be studied: the construction and public works sector and the WEEE sector. This choice is justified (i) by the interest for the territory, (ii) by the peculiarities of these two sectors which allow to approach different situations. The challenge of ecological and energy transition offers opportunities for a change in production systems and the emergence of an alternative socio-economic paradigm, based on institutional mechanisms and collective territorialized actions [BC19].

The objective of this project is to identify configurations of production systems in the territory that are more sustainable and that can be supported by a group of stakeholders. The community must therefore be assimilated to a steering structure of common interest at the center of the interplay of actors in order to establish new territorial resources resulting from collective dynamics [GB17].

Context and scientific issues

The question of adapting production methods to limit their environmental impacts has already been the subject of research [FG89]. This research has, for example, led to the development of industrial symbioses, the most emblematic of which remains that of Kalundborg in Denmark. Nevertheless, these practices do not seem to be able to contain the environmental impacts of production systems within the planetary limits [Ste+15]. Thus, when discussing the sustainability of production systems, Ceschin [CG16] indicates that a sustainable system is one that can be maintained over time without depleting natural resources or damaging the environment in which it is located. A strong version of sustainability also invites us to consider economic and social systems as one of the components of the biosphere, on which they depend and whose rules of operation they must integrate [TG19]. In this perspective, the substitution of natural resource extraction by resources from urban mining can be considered as one of the instruments for rebalancing the relationship between cities and their environment. The use of these secondary resources represents an opportunity to deeply transform territorial metabolisms as a deposit of material resources. However, it is not enough to limit and stabilize flows: the implementation of circular economy policies implies a reduction in incoming flows and net consumption of resources [AB16]. For this reason, we hypothesize that an adaptive approach towards a target of absolute sustainability compatible with bio-capacities is preferable to an approach of improving the existing situation in relative terms, an approach characterized, for example, by the search for an increase in material and energy efficiency without taking into account the rebound effects. The reappropriation of deposits must result from a process of activation and resource construction according to the strategies of the actors [CP18] and call for behavioral changes. As such, the social learning process proposed by Dryzek and Pickering [DP18] seems relevant (see following figure).

Indeed, territorial projects and governance modalities must be built from the socio-spatial context and the cooperation of the actors [GB17]. The productive system cannot be reduced to material or economic aspects. It is defined as "all the factors and actors contributing to the production, circulation and consumption of wealth" [CA15]. Studying the procedures used to develop consultations and instituting reflection on the mechanisms for developing solutions are two essential components in the implementation of territorial governance based on the participation of actors [LVZ2]. In order for the Grenoble Alpes Métropole local authority to achieve the objectives it has set itself in its CODEC, this thesis hypothesizes that it is possible to build circular chains on the scale of a metropolis using a social learning mechanism.

Continuous Adaptative Process

The aim of this thesis is to provide methods and tools for the analysis of production systems in metropolitan areas and their interactions with other territorial scales, based on the study of the construction and WEEE sectors. All the relationships formed within the territory, but also beyond its perimeter, must be studied to fully understand the regulatory mechanisms and the interplay of actors likely to act on the chain of material circulation. These tools and methods must meet the twofold objective of providing quantitative data on the flows involved in the material flow systems.
production and management of metropolitan waste and, on the other hand, the qualitative perspective necessary for the co-construction of operational actions with stakeholders in the sectors in order to mobilize them effectively. The aim is for the community to be able to rely on these tools to coordinate the construction of territorialized production systems offering secondary raw materials (venous industries among Asian researchers). In order for the alternative and operational vision of production methods to be in line with the perspective of material decrease and territorial resilience, a needs analysis must be carried out.

Nevertheless, to date, there is no model to describe production systems on the territorial scale of a metropolis, going beyond a vision dissociated by production subsystems. This representation seeks to account both for the circulation of physical flows (matter and energy) in the economy, and on the other hand, for the organization of the stakeholders in the production chains and the interactions that might exist between these different chains in the same territory. Indeed, territorial ecology imposes to emancipate itself from one of the fundamentals of rational industrial economy which reasons sector by sector, to consider the complementarities of materials between very diverse sectors: in Kalundborg for example, an insulin factory supplies materials to a plasterboard factory.
Driven by an interest in the socio-ecological dynamics underlying resource management [BUC19], territorial ecology will constitute a first framework for reflection. By taking the territory and the actors involved in the governance of flows as the object of study [BJ17], this discipline favors the initiation of a cooperation dynamic between territorial actors.

The epistemological framework will be provided by political economy, which allows a complementary look at the metabolism of social systems. This second discipline is concerned with the creation of wealth, but also with the conditions in which it is created and what is done with it [FBD18]. By making it possible to link socio-metabolic analyses to a theory of needs, political economy appears to be an appropriate framework for considering the organization and structuring of a community of actors around the creation of territorial value.
While quantitative analyses of flows do indeed show the interdependent relationships between different actors, little is said about the form taken by these flows, about the concrete practices that make possible the circulation of materials in urban environments and about the interplay of actors that shapes them [DE19]. The present study seeks to go beyond the input/output logic to analyze the logic of the circulation and transformation of matter within a given territory, through recourse to political economy.

Research questions


In order to make the scientific objectives of the thesis coincide with the operational expectations of Grenoble Alpes Métropole within the framework of its CODEC, this thesis will use a methodology centered on the fields of study constituted by two sectors targeted by the CODEC (because very present on the territory): construction and public works waste and WEEE. This choice is based above all on the need for knowledge of the community in order to target the potential for reducing and recovering deposits in the sectors in question. A comparative analysis will be carried out between the two sectors to highlight the common stakes or the potential pooling of networks and strategies. On the other hand, the implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility in the construction sector represents an opportunity to avoid replicating the dysfunctions present in the WEEE sector [JBB16]. The bill for a circular economy also wishes to make changes to respond to the difficulties that the system has faced in recent years. This thesis therefore aims both to target the bad practices observed for WEEE and to anticipate the application of the new directive for the construction sector. To replicate this scheme, the methodology is broken down into three steps: formulating the problem, proposing transformation levers, and testing them.

a. Formulating the problem

In order to identify the problem, a first stage of research will be necessary to constitute a double literature review in order to master the fundamental elements essential to the understanding of the context, the formulation of the problem and the proposal of an appropriate analysis framework. The first literature review will seek to establish an inventory of the current state of knowledge on the sectors concerned. It will have to provide all the information relating to the current situation of the sectors in question and the trends of evolutions likely to appear. In studying the methods of waste management and treatment, the readings should take up the advantages and limitations associated with them. An overview of the opportunities and obstacles relating to the reappropriation of local deposits can thus be presented to the Metropolis. Consequently, this first literature review should also take stock of pre-existing environmental assessments in order to provide points of comparison for the proposed alternatives. The second will examine the initiatives implemented in some territories.
Finally, the analysis of the territory will attempt to describe precisely the stages of construction of the organisational, institutional and regulatory context in which the study takes place. It will be completed by surveys and semi-directive interviews with the key players in the sectors in order to understand the components of the stakeholder network (motivations, interests, objectives, etc.). The objective is to understand on what basis and for what reasons relations between actors have been formed, what are the trends associated with production systems or what synergies could participate in the activation of territorial capital [GB17] and the specification of assets [CP18]. By focusing on the needs of the actors met, these interviews will mainly explore the informal and intangible dimensions of the construction and WEEE sectors. This information should enlighten the community on the institutional arrangements to be put in place, whether formal or informal, in order to bring about collective action [DM12].

b. Making an operational proposal

From diagnoses on : (i) material and energy flows in the area, (ii) waste management and treatment methods, (iii) the organizational context and the players involved, the local authority will be able to choose the synergy proposals best suited to its area.
This framework implies a study of the interrelations between the material, organizational and identity dimensions of the territory [CJ14]. Nevertheless, the construction of the perimeter of the action, the choice of governance and the actors to be involved are components specific to each proposed measure. The distinction between the scales of the territory and production systems already appears to be an essential issue that the thesis will have to address. Within the framework of the multi-scale approach, our scope of study will not be limited to the competences and administrative boundaries of the metropolis, but will include relations with neighbouring territories and higher geographical levels. The systemic approach, inherent to territorial ecology, will enable us to represent the sectors, actors and outlets of the deposits from these different perspectives. The methods for quantifying and characterizing flows will be able to propose an inventory and priority targets for action, while avoiding conflicts in the supply and use of materials. A combination of bottom-up and top-down approaches seems relevant to disaggregate the composition of flows and understand inter-territorial relations. In order to ensure the coherence of these flows with the upper and lower scales, this work will rely on downscaling and data reconciliation techniques [Cou16]. This work will also have to test the hypothesis that this strategy and the accompanying methodological proposals will make it possible to achieve sustainability objectives. To this end, it is envisaged to test the proposed systems using models based on the coupling of material flow analysis (MFA) and environmental impact analysis (LCIA).

In addition, a consultation process should be proposed to bring together the stakeholders in the governance of flows. The approach aims to involve stakeholders in a process of developing solutions. Workshops and working groups will be organized to initiate the process of reappropriating waste deposits with the stakeholders. Stakeholders will thus be able to share their visions and expertise on the room for maneuver, feasibility or the network of actors to be integrated. The local authority will thus have an overview of the sectors and of the territorial functioning, both on a theoretical and technical level. The quantitative and qualitative data analyzed through grids of reading of territorial ecology and political economy will thus be able to build a network of local actors that takes into account the socio-spatial and temporal context, the institutional aspects, the resource or material considered, as well as the needs of the territory.

c. Testing

The objectives pursued by the tests are twofold. On the one hand, it will be a question of confronting the hypothesis that the models developed are facilitators in the social learning process. To do this, it will be necessary to establish an appropriate testing protocol, the choice of which will depend on a synthesis of the literature on the subject, which will also be conducted during the thesis. This step will also be a good way to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the method of mobilizing the actors that will be chosen. On the other hand, this test will also have to test the hypothesis according to which the integration of territorial stakes in terms of needs, resources and waste reduction by the actors would make it possible to define a more sustainable organization of local production systems. This last stage will also be an opportunity for the metropolis to take full ownership of the approach and understand how to maintain the collaborative dynamics created around the material circulation chain.

Planning and deliverables

Firstly, and in accordance with the ANRT's requirements, this thesis will give rise to the production of two interim activity reports presenting the progress of the thesis work at the end of the 12th and 24th months of CIFRE as well as the response to the final evaluation questionnaire. Depending on the starting date of the thesis, and as far as possible, every effort will be made to ensure that these activity reports also correspond to the CODEC project calendar that motivated this thesis topic. Indeed, the latter foresees a meeting of the CODEC steering committee in the fall of 2020 and 2021 during which the diagnosis of the fields and the proposals of models would be of interest to be presented to the actors mobilized by the CODEC. A deliverable on the state of play of the two sectors (construction and public works, WEEE) will be provided to Grenoble Alpes Métropole. In addition, methodological proposals to enable stakeholders to identify levers for a circular territorial economy will be made in 2021.
Finally, the final deliverable of the thesis will be the manuscript itself.
From the point of view of the organization of work, the objective of the first year of the thesis is to make a diagnosis of the state of the two sectors on the metropolitan territory and to propose a biophysical and organizational model to represent the initial situation. The second year of thesis will be devoted to the development of improvements to the model used for the diagnostics during the first year. The objectives pursued here are, to allow the identification of levers to make the territorial economy more circular, to allow the realization of environmental impact assessments of the alternatives that could be formulated, to maintain a satisfactory level of involvement and appropriation of the approach by the actors concerned. Finally, the third year will be mainly devoted to the tasks of testing the proposal and writing the manuscript. Nevertheless, these activities will not be conducted only during this period since the research method envisaged is intended to be iterative. Thus, activities of preparation for the testing, in particular the mobilization of the network of actors, will be implemented throughout the thesis and as soon as necessary.