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University of Bath

Waste Food-Energy-Water Urban Living Labs- Mapping and Reducing Waste in the Food-Energy-Water Nexus

WASTE FEW ULL will map, model and reduce waste in the urban food-water-energy nexus by coordinating an international network of four Urban Living Labs.

The aim of the WASTE FEW ULL project is to map, model and reduce waste generated by dysfunctional linear pathways in the urban food-energy-water nexus. We will do this by coordinating an international network of four Urban Living Labs (ULL) - in the UK, Netherlands, South Africa and Brazil – with partners in Norway and the USA providing economic valuation and international dissemination, respectively. The five main objectives of the project are:

  1. To co-create in each ULL an understanding of the FEW system's complexity, resilience, sustainability, leverage points for change and thresholds by mapping all current waste streams.

  2. To quantify in monetary terms the micro and macro-economic impact of these resource inefficiencies using both market and non-market costs to inform risk management.

  3. To enable each ULL to close (or start to close) the loops in two critical resource flows and infrastructures in the city FEW nexus within the 3 years of the project.

  4. To develop and disseminate a system model and knowledge “tool-box” for each ULL and to share with other ULLs within the project and with other urban regions around the world.

  5. To contribute to tools and networks in each ULL so that the ULLs can continue working after the end of the project (project legacy).

Project outline

We use the ULL concept to develop a participatory research approach that systematically includes stakeholders (e.g. users and service providers) as co-creators from the beginning through the different cycles of learning produced by the project (including planning, designing, implementation and dissemination phases). Comprehensive stakeholder analysis will allow us to ensure members from underrepresented groups are fully involved.

As a first co-creative step, the stakeholders comprehensively map waste in the often critically-dysfunctional, linear pathways of food, energy and water in each ULL. Together with ULL stakeholders, we identify key barriers and opportunities to enable transformative shifts in existing soft and hard „infrastructures‟: e.g. evidence gaps, key actors, power centres, technology application. Each ULL considers inter-relationships common to each city and across multiple levels of governance: e.g. local-national control, public-private partnership, land ownership. This is of particular interest in the Cape Town ULL where informal settlements figure strongly, and where the lack of land tenure is a complicating factor.

A key challenge for ULL stakeholders is identifying which variables are outside of their control (exogenous) and which are endogenous, and determining the best approach to rebalancing the resource flows within each targeted sub-system. Two specific topics are developed in each ULL. Rather than determining single solutions for food, energy or water, we seek to identify innovations that impact across the nexus. The final decision on specific topics is left to the ULL stakeholders in each urban region in consultation with all partners.


The main focus of the proposal is to integrate a transdisciplinary study of the FEW nexus by establishing ULLs to map and model multi-level governance and management processes within their unique spatial context to understand what strategic and social innovations and practical solutions (e.g. augmented management strategies and institutional processes) can close dysfunctional linear resource flows loops (e.g. recapturing nutrients from sewage and energy from waste). Each ULL will use two specific case studies to examine the complex network of interdependent agencies and processes, endogenous and exogenous variables.

A secondary focus is around stakeholder dialogue, and co-creation of knowledge. This will include end user interviews in combination with more traditional impact assessment techniques to identify, assess and manage risks and uncertainties in particular related to proposed solutions. A key aspect of this is the linking of knowledge to decision-making and implementation. The international consortium will work closely together over the project period and beyond to develop a knowledge platform, connecting researchers and stakeholders. This will serve as a hub for research results.

Finally, to achieve project goals, stakeholders will have a clear understanding of the challenges around ULL case studies, including societal, regulatory and market pressures to integrate food, energy and water management and governance, as well as barriers / pinch-points and opportunities to close resource loops and maximise resilience. The value of the social, environmental, economic and political costs and benefits over time will enable strategies to be developed for effective change (including political transitions) across different contexts and cultures. Thus the opportunities ULLs can bring will be emphasised, encouraging uptake of the ULL structure and networks after the life of the project using the knowledge brokerage information and tools. Publications will be used to inform decision-making to make the FEW nexus into a „system innovation for urban governance globally‟.


This project is focused on real world solutions that will be co-developed and co-designed in the ULLs by bringing together urban entrepreneurs to connect the flows and identify opportunities and leverage points for the FEW nexus in every city, hence the intrinsic role of stakeholder dialogue and the significant role of economic valuation and risk management as well as outreach and communication relevant to key stakeholders. We will link value impact and risk to real world practitioners and investigate the application of the project outcomes to other cities worldwide. The case studies in our project will generate high-level models reflective of commonalities found in the FWE nexuses across these different locations. It should also be possible to apply some of the strategies targeted to close identified loops across ULLs.