From greenhouse gas prevention to rescued food finding new purpose, final program report delivers insights and triumphs of building a regional circular food economy
Guelph, Ont., December 13, 2023 — The Guelph Smart Cities Office has released its final report, detailing the considerable accomplishments realized during the Office’s four-year mandate to establish the region’s first modern circular food economy in Guelph and Wellington County.
The Seeding Circularity in Communities report highlights the program’s journey, milestones, and outcomes in 16 key performance areas. It includes essays from 18 community partners involved in the project, including University of Guelph, Guelph-Wellington-Dufferin Public Health, 10C Shared Space, Boundless Accelerator (formerly Innovation Guelph), and The SEED. The partners share their project experiences, lessons learned, and how communities can support ongoing work to sustain the circular economy.
From a seed to fruition
In 2017, Infrastructure Canada launched the Smart Cities Challenge, encouraging local governments to pitch an idea to address a community problem through data, partnership, and innovation. Collaborators from the City of Guelph and County of Wellington explored how the food system could be improved to address climate change and food insecurity. The joint pitch from the City and County proposed that, by adopting the practices of a circular economy, communities can reduce waste, cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, foster business and social innovation, and improve access to nutritious food.
In May 2019, Guelph-Wellington’s pitch was awarded $10 million through Infrastructure Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge and the work to build a regional circular food economy began. Our Food Future welcomed circular economy experts and more than 100 local collaborators from various sectors, including government, agriculture, business, academia, and not-for-profits to join workstreams that would define goals and project priorities.
Within a few months of Our Food Future’s launch, its collaborators were analyzing waste hotspots and discovering solutions to fix them, providing food businesses and social enterprises with free courses and coaching to foster new ideas, and sprouting food access projects in neighbourhoods around the city and county.
“The energy and enthusiasm were infectious as word spread across the food sector and community,” says Andrew Telfer, acting executive director for the City of Guelph’s Smart Cities Office. “It became clear that there was a huge interest in adopting circular practices, especially when we demonstrated that they can lead to climate-action, stronger businesses, and improved access to food.”
Pivoting in a pandemic
The program’s momentum had only just started when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The pandemic heightened community awareness of food inequity and the importance of the work already underway. In response, Our Food Future’s Grow Back Better plan was created; it included emergency food home delivery, food gardening kits for kids during lockdown, and increased support for affected food businesses.
Early successes included accelerating 50 businesses into circular practices ahead of schedule. In 2021, Circular Opportunity Innovation Launchpad (COIL), a sister initiative to Our Food Future, was launched thanks to an additional Government of Canada contribution of nearly $5.5 million through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).
In total, the initial $10 million through Infrastructure Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge increased to more than $40 million in funding and community investment, and significantly ramped up support and opportunities for businesses and social enterprises in Guelph-Wellington and beyond.
“Working together proved be the secret recipe. Over the program’s four years, thousands of organizations and community members have played a role in Our Food Future and COIL,” adds Telfer. “From research and data analysis to imagining new ways to use perfectly good food that might otherwise be thrown away, or simply adopting less wasteful food practices at home, everyone saw themselves in this movement.”
GHG reductions equivalent to taking 37,560 cars off the road for a year
From Our Food Future’s launch until October 2023, nearly 84,860 tonnes of food was diverted from landfill (equal to about 565 million apples), 20,500 people saw increased access to affordable and healthy food, 310 businesses adopted more circular practices and product innovation strategies, and 168,788 tonnes of GHG emissions were prevented, equal to driving 37,560 gas-fueled cars for a year. The program has been celebrated by national and international organizations such as the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact.
Municipalities across the country are adopting practices developed through Our Food Future and COIL, meeting one of the Government of Canada’s goals: to ensure the program’s blueprints are transferable. In 2022, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Green Municipal Fund published A guide to catalyzing a circular economy in your community, a comprehensive case study of Our Food Future and COIL, and a circular economy primer for municipal waste management and operations.
While the Guelph Smart Cities Office closes in December, the stage has been set for long-lasting opportunities through ongoing initiatives:
- The Food System Resiliency Table updated Guelph-Wellington’s Charter for Food Justice which describes the community’s vision and values for a just and sustainable food system.
- The Arrell Food Institute at University of Guelph has established a Community Food Lead position to increase strategic connection between food access organizations across Guelph and Wellington County, and to lead and support innovative approaches to community food access.
- COIL published Advancing Circularity: Investment Opportunities in the Circular Economy to support the growth of climate-smart, circular solutions across Canada by connecting over 25 investment-ready Ontario businesses that are leading circular innovation.
Wellington County’s Smart Cities Office will remain in operation, working with County departments to bring circular insight to local policies, and leading initiatives including the Experimental Acres regenerative farming program.
Our Food Future has also published a legacy website containing the project’s research reports, action plans, and a concise 10-point summary of Lessons for a Circular Economy.
“It is with immense pride and gratitude for all that we have been able to accomplish that we wrap up this first phase. We’ve learned that transitioning to a regional circular food system is an important step in combatting climate change, regenerate our natural systems, and take meaningful strides to address food insecurity in communities,” said Telfer.
What is a circular food economy?
In the current “linear” food system, material flows in one direction – from production to disposal. This model has excessive waste and requires unnecessary energy, making it expensive both financially and environmentally.
A circular food system strives to eliminate waste or find new value in by-products that were previously wasted. It creates the conditions for business and social collaboration and innovation, and prioritises access for everyone to affordable, nutritious, and culturally relevant foods that support a healthy, resilient community. It enables the systems change required for a circular regional economy through collective knowledge, governance, and action.
The Honourable Filomena Tassi, Minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario: “COIL is making a big difference for small businesses, local economies and our environment. COIL is driving sustainability and changing things for the better while ensuring that businesses can make green choices. The Government of Canada is dedicated to supporting these important efforts and building a brighter future with innovation.”
The Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities:
“It’s truly amazing what can happen when you take a bold idea and put it into action. Our Food Future has made lasting impacts on Guelph and Wellington County and has paved the way for other communities to adopt a circular food economy. I congratulate the City of Guelph and County of Wellington and the hundreds of collaborators and partners who have made Our Food Future such a success.”
Lloyd Longfield, Member of Parliament for Guelph:
“The Guelph region is home to numerous transformative organizations and businesses that are boosting our economy, creating jobs and supporting environmental sustainability. It is great to see the impact the Government of Canada’s investment in COIL is having across the region.”
Cam Guthrie, Mayor of Guelph: “Guelph’s role in the Smart Cities Office was that of a leader and catalyst. Smart Cities started the spark of circular economic development in Guelph-Wellington and showcased to Canada, and the world, what a successful circular economy model looks like. What Smart Cities staff and its partners have accomplished in the last four years is a true legacy for Guelph! Our Food Future will continue its work as a place-based urban-rural test site with a goal to build and expand the local circular food system.”
Andy Lennox, Warden, County of Wellington: “The dedication, innovation, and expertise that has gone into introducing circular practices into Guelph-Wellington’s food systems over the past four years has been truly inspiring. Wellington County has had great success incorporating new technologies and developing creative urban-rural partnerships throughout our communities, and we look forward to seeing how our circular projects will continue to evolve in the years to come.”
About Our Food Future
Inspired by the planet’s natural cycles, a circular food economy reimagines and regenerates the systems that feed us, eliminating waste, sharing economic prosperity, and nourishing our communities. In Guelph-Wellington, we are working to build a regional tech-enabled circular food economy that will achieve a 50 per cent increase in access to affordable nutritious food, 50 new circular economy businesses and collaborations, and a 50 per cent increase in circular economic benefit by unlocking the value of waste.
About Circular Opportunity Innovation Launchpad (COIL)
COIL is an innovation platform and activation network focused on creating, proving, and scaling transformative solutions across all sectors – starting with food and environment – in southern Ontario that will move Canada toward a more sustainable, circular economy.
Our Food Future and COIL are some of the ways the City of Guelph and County of Wellington are contributing to a sustainable, creative and smart local economy that is connected to regional and global markets and supports shared prosperity for everyone.
About FedDev Ontario
For 14 years, the Government of Canada, through FedDev Ontario, has worked to advance and diversify the southern Ontario economy through funding opportunities and business services that support innovation, growth and job creation in Canada’s most populous region. The Agency has delivered impressive results, which can be seen in southern Ontario businesses that are creating innovative technologies, improving productivity, growing revenues, creating jobs, and in the economic advancement of communities across the region. Learn more about the impacts the Agency is having in southern Ontario by exploring our pivotal projects, our Southern Ontario Spotlight, and FedDev Ontario’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.
- Circular food economy illustration
- Program impact graphic
- Seeding Circularity in Communities Final Report
Executive Director (Acting), Smart Cities Office
City of Guelph
Smart Cities Project Manager
County of Wellington
519-837-2600 extension 2540
Office of the Minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario