The Forgotten Building Block of the Circular Economy: Circular Metrics


© Photo provided by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development

For those of us in the business and sustainability world, “circular economy” is becoming the trending topic.

Some say circular economy is a way to address sustainability without ever having to say the word “sustainable,” and others say it’s an old concept that’s come back into fashion.

According to Accenture, the circular economy is a USD $4.5 trillion opportunity and the best vehicle for transforming production and consumption since the Industrial Revolution.

Circularity aims to reshape the traditional “take, make, dispose” economy to one that is regenerative and efficient by design. The goal is to retain as much value as possible from resources, products, parts and materials to create a system that allows for long life, optimal reuse, refurbishment, remanufacturing and recycling.

The ultimate goal is to move to a system where waste is eliminated. Landfill game over.

CEOs are excited, supply chain managers and other business practitioners want more information, companies are finding ways to integrate circularity into their business strategies - and there’s a strong appetite for more.

Just this year, over 30 leading companies with a combined revenue of USD $1.3 trillion joined forces under the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)’s Factor10 project to implement solutions that will deliver the circular economy.

By collaborating on solutions that go beyond business as usual, Factor10 wants to capture circular economic and sustainability benefits by implementing scalable solutions across diving deeply into sectors (automotive, buildings and construction) and products (plastics, bioeconomy, etc).

In each deep dive, Factor10 will bring value chain players together to identify new circular opportunities and solutions for closing the loops.

One of the critical challenges that companies face is how can they measure their circularity, and how can they monitor and track their performance. WBCSD is looking into this because 77% of the companies we surveyed need these circular metrics to drive business performance and strategy.

But, because circular economy is such a new and popular concept, there is no common framework for metrics nor approaches for defining and communicating – let alone consistently measuring – circular economy.

Many companies have established their own metrics and methodologies to drive business performance and communicate efforts externally. The result? A cacophony of circular metrics that are inconsistent and incomparable.

In other words, measuring circularity from company to company is, at present, extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible – because everyone’s looking at and talking about the circular economy differently.

We must address this issue if we want to demonstrate how the circular economy delivers tangible business benefits. Doing so will help propel circular business practices into the mainstream.

The next phase of WBCSD’s groundbreaking work in circular economy will focus on establishing a common framework for how to measure corporate circularity. Under Factor10, WBCSD is convening over 20 of the world’s largest companies to develop a draft framework by year’s end.

The results will help companies deliver high-impact, large-scale solutions where resources are used wisely, processes create the greatest possible value and nothing is wasted.

After all, the future of business is circular. Stay tuned for next steps.

[Editor’s Note: WBCSD’s Director, North America, Chris Walker, moderated a panel on how to communicate the Sustainable Development Goals at the Chamber Foundation’s Sustainability and Circular Economy Summit May 9—10. For more information, click here.]