A circular economy is a way of reducing society’s resource consumption and environmental impact, and it can produce cost savings and competitive advantages for businesses. Although, it is difficult to measure how circular a product or business model really is at present. RISE works to create new possibilities of measuring and comparing circularity, thereby contributing to less resource consumption.
By using materials more efficiently, their longevity and value can be increased. At the same time, raw material extraction and waste disposal can both be reduced. In order to accelerate the transition to a more circular economy, it is important to be able to measure and compare products. At present, there are no established metrics or indicators related to circular products, neither in Sweden nor globally.
– “We usually say that what gets measured gets done,” says Marcus Linder, who works with circular business models at RISE. “If you can find a way to measure circularity, it will be possible to accelerate the pace of transition substantially.”
Sweden can lead
In the Swedish government’s new strategy for a circular economy, one of the aspects being focused on is measurement, and Marcus Linder chairs an expert group that will advise and present recommendations in the area. The group’s task involves offering suggestions in areas where there is great potential and value for Sweden in terms of taking the lead and trying to influence the rest of the world.
– “The major challenge is to establish metrics that can be used more generally,” says Linder. “For example, it would be difficult to buy a piece of furniture if the suppliers all used their own metrics. So the important thing is not which metric it will be, but that we ensure consensus.”
Many businesses work with different types of management systems with a focus on continuous improvements. For this, measurement and follow-up are absolutely crucial. According to Linder, an established metric for circularity could be imperative for getting these systems to work towards the transition to circular products and business models.
A goal of RISE’s project for measuring circularity is to produce a legitimate indicator which can be standardised and function as a lever in the transition to circularity in the manufacturing industry, both in Sweden and internationally. The indicator will also help companies to identify opportunities for and obstacles to transition internally, and to promote innovation.
We cannot wait for a metric to magically be established
The public sector can take the lead
In order to advance development, the public sector can play a vital role when it comes to procurement.
– “Through public procurement, it is possible to create a market for circular products and business models that can also provide competitive advantages for Swedish companies in a global market.”
The project has also investigated whether circular products increase demand and how consumers react to information about circularity. A survey conducted among consumers in the UK showed that there are clear differences between different customer segments. Some customers saw circular products as something negative, while a sizeable group had positive associations. In terms of the whole group, products with some circular content were seen as more attractive than products that were not at all circular. However, many were sceptical of paying full price for a completely circular product, probably because it was still considered to be a used or second-hand product.
Growing commercial interest
The market’s view of circularity has changed, and RISE is now seeing much greater interest in circular business models from commercial operators. This means it is all the more important to advance development to create metrics that make comparability possible, according to Linder:
– “We cannot wait for a metric to magically be established. It needs to happen through the use of the metric. In order to drive change and innovation, you have to go into the microscopic level for products, where it isn’t possible to just use one single metric.”