Now a days we see more and more organizations providing case studies on Circular Economy principles on how waste or materials is managed. Whether it is use of Plastic recycle as quoted by The Dow Chemical Company or manufacturing of Shoes from Tires by Timberland or Recycled batteries quoted by Johnson Controls or even converting wastewater into fertilizer by Aquazone. One of the success for such initiatives is proper data gathering systems, monitoring and assessment tools to understand the circularity. Without adequate tools strategy can not be achieved. There are various tools mentioned in the literature on how to assess the Circularity within an organization. Some of the tools mentioned use the principles of Life Cycle Assessment, Life Cycle Costing or even Material input per unit of services. In this blog I would like to give a detailed overview of various tools and how Information Technologies can help in devising systems which can help in adoption of circular economy by timely assessment of the current status, bench marking or potential identification and actual implementation of strategy and continuous assessment.
Ellenmacarthurfoundation site list some of the tools which can be adopted for initial assessment of circular economy like Material Circularity Indicator or European Commission tools like ETV, PEF-OEF etc. Circular Economy Club also offers various tools and case studies on circular economy. Some of the tools which are cited for environmental sustainability include Eco-Indicator 99, CML 2001, EDIP 2003, EPS 2000, EPD 2007, Ecological Scarcity 2006, Impact, Recipe, Traci etc. However, for adopting Circular Economy within an organization, IT systems needed to be modified to capture the necessary data, analyze the data and provide insights. Some of the tools which can be adopted include i. Life Cycle Assessment ii. Life Cycle Costing and iii. Material Input per Unit of Service
Life Cycle Assessment is one of the widely used method for circular economy assessment. It is used to analyse the Cradle to Cradle environmental impacts associated with product or services. Analysis is carried out right from extraction of raw material, use and disposal activity. ISO 14040 can also be adopted for such assessments. The process involves identification of boundaries for assessment, identification of inputs or outputs for assessment, potential environmental emissions due to use and finally formulation of recommendations. For example, generic principles of material use during Design, Manufacture, and distribute are assessed using various criteria such as i. Quantity of material used ii. Biodegradability of material iii. Recyclability iv. Nature of material used like scares or abundant etc. Similar criteria used during Usage at Customer level by assessing criteria like i. Product failures ii. Product durability etc. During the Maintenance stages various criteria assessed include i. Cost of repair ii. Accessibility of maintenance iii. Component availability etc. For actual circularity various criteria assessed include Reuse or redistribution of product criteria like i. Market for seconds, ii. Shelf life of the product etc iii. Refurbishment scope or even iv. Assembly ability etc. Other assessment which carried out include assessing the offering product as a service or even capability of product recycling at the end of the life. Whatever may be the nature of the assessment you intend to carry out, the adoption of circularity needs set of tools. The advantage of Life cycle assessment is that it can be carried out before a product is placed into the market or even assessing materials which are already placed in market.
The life cycle costing is another tool which can be used for assessment of Circularity. It is used to calculate the costs associated with managing the ecological impact of the product. Some of the criteria used for calculation include the licensing costs, permit management costs, material disposal cost and for carrying environmental management system implementations. Even in literature other costs of health, society costs associated with environmental externalities are also referenced. Some of the assessment criteria include purchasing cost, product acquisition costs, cost of social or environmental externalities using the similar framework like Life cycle assessment, i.e., identification of boundary, classification of costs etc.
The other approach for Circularity assessment includes Material Input per Unit of Service (MIPS), which is used to measure resource efficiency. It uses amount of natural resource consumed to manufacture, use, recycling, or disposal. The challenge is identification of service unit for calculation of MIPS, widely cited example is miles travelled if you are comparing transport vehicle or energy generated etc.
To conclude, organizations on path for circularity can start developing IT tools for initial categorization and questionnaire for identification of status of the organization products. A simple checklist can be developed which can help identification of the status. It can be used to compile the basis information on energy consumption, wastes released, product raw material assessment criteria etc. Aggregator tools available in open source can be used for initial assessment as well. Once the basic information is aggregated from various sources, detailed assessment on Product analysis can be performed like material scarcity and prices, Life Cycle Carbon emissions, material input per unit of service or even material flow analysis. Some of architecture for such data collection can be similar to the GHG framework highlighted earlier blog.