As global temperatures rise and consumption trends steadily upwards, the circular economy—a concept that designs out waste, keeps materials in use for as long as possible and regenerates nature—has been spotlighted as an avenue for transformative change. But although the circular economy has reached megatrend status, the recent Circularity Gap Report 2024, launched by the impact organisation Circle Economy Foundation, notes that we’re not yet walking the talk: global circularity is on the decline.

One culprit: finance—or rather, the lack of it. Finance is the lifeblood of the economy. It determines which ideas are brought to life, and which will wither. Without sufficient funding, circular practices, initiatives and businesses won’t gain enough momentum to overtake our current ‘linear’ take-make-waste ones. The EU Horizon-funded project DEFINITE-CCRI (Deal Engine, with finance, investment and technical expertise for the European Commission’s Circular Cities and Regions Initiative) is set to tackle this across European cities and regions.

Launched in late 2022 by ICLEI Europe, Circle Economy Foundation, Bankers without Boundaries, the City of Ghent and the National Technical University of Athens, DEFINITE-CCRI aims to bridge the ‘bankability gap’ for circular economy projects, freeing them from relying primarily on grant-based financing structures. While grants are a great tool for circular initiatives, DEFINITE-CCRI instead looks to match shortlisted projects with private investors looking for a return on their capital—positioning the circular economy as a smart business decision as well as beneficial to people and the planet. DEFINITE-CCRI is part of the Circular Cities and Regions Initiative.

The project will provide support through both debt and equity financing structures, from project finance, revolving credit facilities and impact-linked loans to pooled funds, equity-to-debt convertible options and more.


| Supporting circular projects through the Deal Engine Mechanism

Underlying the DEFINITE-CCRI initiative is the Deal Engine Mechanism, a collaborative approach providing technical, financial, and circular expertise to cities, regional governments and project developers. The Deal Engine is set to become a fully digitalised, self-sustaining web portal by the end of 2025, connecting project owners, CCRI cities and financial stakeholders interested in advancing local circular solutions.

To date, nine projects have been selected to trial the mechanism, with a cumulative expected investment of €56.9 million: from the regeneration of a brownfield site into an incubation space for innovative circular solutions in Finland to the set up of satellite material banks and other logistical solutions for high-value reuse and recycling in Belgium. Projects were selected based on rigorous financial criteria, a certain level of maturity, a well-articulated budget that details spending plans for investor capital, long-term viability and potential for revenue. High impact potential—in terms of cutting material consumption and GHG emissions, creating jobs or furthering innovation—also influenced decision-making.


| DEFINITE-CCRI to provide shortlisted projects with financial expertise

Shortlisted projects will receive support through a range of services from financial experts, with larger initiatives to benefit from help identifying and bridging data gaps, developing detailed risk profiles, and shaping and refining their business and financial models. The support also extends to creating supporting documents such as market analyses, feasibility studies, circularity assessments, and environmental impact evaluations.

‘DEFINITE-CCRI doesn’t just aim to pioneer innovative financing solutions—it’s actively working towards the uptake of systemic circular solutions to achieve climate mitigation and other environmental objectives. Meanwhile, it aims to minimise economic and societal trade-offs to shape a circular economy centred on people and planet,’ remarked Nikolai Jacobi, Senior Expert in the Circular Economy team at ICLEI Europe and coordinator of the project.


| A new community to advance circularity

To disseminate knowledge, enhance capacity, and promote the integration of circular practices, DEFINITE-CCRI partnered with CircularInvest to launch the Circular Investment Readiness Network (CIRN). This community of practice brings together cities, SMEs, investors and circular organisations with the aim of exchanging practical knowledge on circular project development across Europe. Register to join the CIRN here.


| about

DEFINITE-CCRI is an innovative project funded by the European Union to support the transition towards a circular economy in European cities and regions. Launched in 2022 by ICLEI Europe, Circle Economy, BWB, the City of Ghent and the National Technical University of Athens, the project provides project development assistance and guidance to circular economy project developers to increase the likelihood of success in attracting investment.

All opinions expressed are those of the author and/or quoted sources. is an independent and neutral platform dedicated to generating debate around ESG investing topics.