Salerno, Italy


Positioning the past to reimagine the future

 How culture and heritage

can advance sustainable,

circular development

September 15, 2023



Cristina Garzillo

Małgorzata Ćwikła
Katherine Peinhardt
Gioele Racca
ICLEI Europe

Salerno, Italy


Culture and heritage have a broad scope, encompassing architecture and the built environment, food, the arts and creative industries, religion, traditions, and lifestyles. These examples of culture and heritage are not only impacted by, but can also address rapid global challenges, changes, and disruptions. We can look to culture for solutions in many moments – for example, as we confront the hazards posed by climate change or as we strengthen community resilience. Culture is also a part of how we face increased mobility due to remote work and other labour trends. It can be a part of addressing urban sprawl, looking to existing vacant buildings for creative renovation opportunities. The possibilities span as widely as the definition of culture itself.


So how does this look in action? How can culture meaningfully drive forward shared sustainability goals?


In many ways, culture and heritage have already become a part of the policy conversation, reaching their way into sustainability commitments. And these changes are becoming apparent in areas like tourism – one area in which the link between sustainability and culture is taking root.


Larnaca, Cyprus


Culture in Action




Larnaca, Cyprus


Ideas in Action: Sustainable and Circular Cultural Tourism


At the local level, the connection between development and culture is playing out in sectors like tourism, which is undergoing a rapid transformation toward sustainability and circularity. Circular cultural tourism is an emerging concept still in its infancy, but with high potential for further development, generating increased circular, zero-pollution and climate-neutral practices and facilitating circularity in job creation in different sectors. The idea behind this type of tourism is to prioritise responsible and ethical travel practices and improve outcomes for communities impacted by tourism. From a human-centred perspective, circular cultural tourism means regenerating traditional knowledge and human capital, enhancing a sense of place and common belonging.


Today’s growing awareness of the impact of tourism on cultural heritage sites goes beyond anxieties about tourists’ potential effects on sensitive heritage assets, places, and cultural objects. We see a shift towards sustainable tourism that better serves local communities and their visitors, while preserving and protecting these sites for future generations. This move shows the compatibility between protecting humans at the same time as their built and natural environments.


A few types of touristic innovations are spreading along these lines, among them, community-based tourism, circular tourism, technologically enhanced tourism, and tourism’s interface with the climate crisis. These paradigms are shifting the way that people relate to their surroundings, and the ways that their travel impacts the environment and the cultural heritage they wish to experience.





Salerno, Italy


Innovations in Community-Based Tourism




It is important to remember the opportunity to centre the role of local assets in order to cement trust and tap into local pride as we reframe heritage. One idea could be to adapt the widely popular concept of 15-minute cities to 15-minute heritage sites, supported by the intelligent planning of tourist flows, circular approaches to resource use on-site, and the procurement of resources produced and delivered locally.


Circular Tourism


As part of a broader movement by cities toward circular economy principles, many communities see an opportunity to apply them to the way they host visitors and grow or maintain their tourism industry. This can look many different ways, from adaptive reuse, to changing resource flows and educational outreach.




Rijeka, Croatia


Technology Enhancing Tourism






Pakhuis de Ceuval, Amsterdam


Climate, Resilience, and Culture



Cultural programming can not only provide an opportunity for the sharing of historical narratives about resilience-building practices, but also the chance to collaborate on solutions.


A Sustainable, more Equitable Future through Culture


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