I remember my research days some 20 years back working on presentation on Cleaner Production Technologies and Circular Economy. This CE has taken prominence in recent years due to increased pressure on Natural resources and changing consumer behavior. As we all know increased resource consumption results in increased waste generation which returns to environment, if not properly managed. That is the linear economic model (take, make, use, dispose) is an unsustainable practice. Recent heightened interest in carbon emission management, smart cities, waste management, water usage etc, are also acting as enablers for adoption of CE models. Given the recent explosion of technologies like Big Data & IoT, mobility changes, there seems tremendous opportunity to enable rapid adoption of CE in manufacturing and other sectors.
Using the digital technologies for managing CE has an estimated business benefit of around 1.8 Billion Pounds by year 2030. In the same lines Ellen Mac Aurther foundation states, CE model consists in a continuous and positive development model focused on preserving and enhancing natural capital, optimizing resource yield and minimizing system risk, by managing finite resource stock and renewable flows and keeping components and material at their highest utility all the times. Some examples of such initiatives include Some initiatives includes Alternate fuel and raw material use. recovering metal waste like slag, reuse of waste gas, sludge, extracting metal, using waste to generate electricity, waste treatment and reuse.
Inspite of such huge perceived business benefit the amount use of digital technologies for CE is limited partly due to the fact the business is trying to adopt to latest digital business models and in the path of implementation. Be it moving to latest ERP systems, implementation of CRM or Sourcing modules or realignment of business models.
Some of the technologies which are referenced in Circular Economy models include digital technologies like RFID, Internet of Things, Advanced ERP modules, Big Data systems and AI/ML platforms.
Radio Frequency Identification has been in use since many years like for managing the waste management for bin identification, segregation and disposal / refilling. In fact it has been one of the suggested business models for years. Now these techniques which when used for managing CE help in tracking the material flows to enable recover value recovery through the basic steps like reuse, repair and re manufacture.
Internet of Things is there since years though was named differently, these can monitor or manage health and actions of connected objects and machines. These can collect information on the health of the equipment and help in data to service process resulting business co-evolution of circular economy.
Advanced ERP systems or similar technologies have business processes which take data from diverse sources can integrate with Big data technologies, Sensors systems and have ability to couple with Machine learning which help in repair management and other supply chain business processes which help in CE as well.
Machine Learning / AI can also help in identifying the patterns in the data and extract information without elaborate mathematical modeling techniques. These systems can derive insights which will help in proper management of resources like in metallurgical industry to control processes and understand the systems. Similarly techniques like big data help in achieving circular economy by handling huge database to process the data and derive the insights. It can be used to link the data from sources like Sensors, IoT devices to enable better decision making.
Block chain has also been quoted as being the enabler for the circular economy. It has a potential to bring circular economy closer, enables the sub economy, increases transparency and facilitates information about carbon foot prints and origin of materials.
The above technologies can no doubt help in creation of Eco-Efficient Services, Dematerialization, Servisitisation etc Some of the examples which are cited in CE literature are Philips Lighting which gives a very good example access over ownership similar to the one’s of AirBNB, UBER we have been witnessing for automobile industries. Other being the redistributed manufacturing models of CISCO sport shoes. Significant one in the real estate one is the pre-fabricated components use for buildings like ARUP circular buildings. Some other uses include, improving product design, attracting customers, monitoring and tracking products, providing technical support using IoT technology. Using Big data to manage Preventive asset management, Optimizing product use and enhancing renovation and end of life activities. Other example include Siemens, wind turbines equipped with sensors, Hello Tractor, A.P. Moller -Maersk temperature tracking trucks etc.
There are also references of many businesses adopting CE into their business models like the examples of British Sugar, Daimler, Caterpillar, Active Disasembly, Desso, Michelin, Rolls Royce which explained very well in the book by Roberta De Angelis (Business Models in the Circular Economy)
To conclude there are many references which cite use of Information systems and their direction towards Circular economy like simplifying use of mechanical components by software systems, development of remote services, reducing physical transport of goods 3D printing etc, optimizing travel routes and many others like sector wise implementation of platforms for Circular Economy like for Agriculture section which encourages various approaches for using agriculture wastes, use of fertilizers and animal waste, storage facility management, including precision agriculture techniques etc, which can be dealt separately.
To quote the words from the book – Strategic Management and the Circular Economy by Marcello Tonelli & Nicolo Cristoni – Circular Economy has capacity to integrate environmental protection, social development and economic prosperity all within a single, coherent and actionable framework – with the use of digital technologies it not only help achieve this even beyond that in to a more sustainable business models.