Circular Economy

The measurability of circular products

Is circularity and thus the sustainable production of furniture measurable? This is one of the questions that all companies must address as they transform their business models from linear to circular. Andre Hempel provides an overview.

Jul 18 2022

The answer is a clear YES. The decisive factor is the selection of the relevant criteria and the appropriate analysis methodology. It is an interplay between science and the companies from industry and services, also for the furniture sector. 

Circularity does not arise and exist on its own, but is firmly anchored in a lived sustainability with a focus on a more efficient use of resources.  

Many circular instruments for transparency, comparability and ultimately also measurability are closely linked to measurable sustainability, represent a further development of the existing structures or the underlying characteristics.

© Canva 

Map of Sustainability 

The view of the sustainability universe can be confusing at first glance, but there is a lot of structure and systematics behind it.  

From the global to the European to the national, resolutions, laws, ordinances, regulations and recommendations provide security of action in terms of sustainability and climate protection for producers and consumers – and transfer these into circular systematics. One example at European level is the EU Green Deal and the EU Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP). 

Already in the Green Deal programme, the following is fixed as a benefit and goal, among other things with reference to more resource-efficient products: "The European Green Deal ensures a better and healthier life for us and future generations through more durable products that can be repaired, recycled and reused." 

In the transition from the sustainability approach to circular implementation, a focus of the CEAP with defined measures and content is - among others: 

  • Improving the durability, reusability, upgradability and repairability of products, addressing the presence of hazardous chemicals in products and increasing their energy and resource efficiency, 
  • Rewarding products based on their different sustainability performance, including linking high performance levels to incentives, 
  • Incentivising 'product-as-a-service' or other models where manufacturers retain ownership of the product or responsibility for its performance throughout its lifecycle,
  • Reducing the carbon and environmental footprint, 
  • Mobilising the potential of digitising product information, including solutions such as digital passports, labelling and watermarking. 

Which brings us to the topic. How can circularity in general and circular products in particular be measured and which criteria are of primary importance as a basis for measurement?

© lab of rent

Circular Metrics 

The measurable possibilities of circularity cover a wide spectrum – they range from countries and companies to products and material flows to the Product Carbon Footprint. 

The tools and methods are as varied as the spectrum. Here is an overview of some of them:  

Circular Transition Indicators (CTI).

"The CTI process helps companies review the assessment and interpret its results, understand their risks and opportunities, prioritise actions and set SMART targets to monitor progress." Definition World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). 

Circulytics 

Since 2020, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has made the assessment tool "Circulytics" available to companies free of charge. This measurability via data and metrics at the company level goes beyond the assessment of products and material flows and shows circular company development. The tool is already used by well over 1000 companies, including ABB, Ahrend, BASF, H&M, HP, IKEA, Solvay, Unilever and Coca-Cola. 

Circular Metrics 

Circle Economy offers measurement and tracking systems for monitoring circularity metrics through Circular Metrics for business and government to set the baseline for current resource use and integrate the measurements into business practice (for example Circularity Gap Reports). 

Circularity Assessment 

The calculation for a circular company assessment based on qualitative and quantitative criteria is the basis in the Circularity Assessment at Circulix with a focus on the areas with the highest impact and the primary company goals (among others CO2 reduction, ESG, EU taxonomy). 

A variety of criteria are necessary for robust measurements. The characteristics vary depending on the reference variable to be measured.  

Which circular criteria play a primary role in product assessments – in general and in relation to furniture?

© Canva

Circular Criteria 

Norms and standards play a central role in the definition of circular product characteristics. This is visible at European level in the standards project ISO/WD 59020 "Measuring circularity framework". 

It is intended to specify general frameworks for measuring circularity worldwide, taking sustainability (environmental, social and economic) into account. An important instrument for the implementation of CSR strategies in companies. 

In Germany, the focus is also on products in the "Standardisation Roadmap Circular Economy" project launched last year by DIN, DKE and VDI.  

In addition to the cross-industry analysis for standardisation needs for circular product criteria, this also plays an important role in this year's DIN Connect competition in the selection of funded projects with reference to the furniture industry. 

Features such as durability, modularity, reparability, reusability, multiple use, material input and product carbon footprint will take decisive positions in the fixation on measurability. 

And here – in the truest sense of the word – the circle of sustainability and circularity closes again. To ensure that circular products are also sustainable, selection criteria such as the measurement of the product footprint will become very important. 

In the field of sustainability, the Deutsche Gütegemeinschaft Möbel e.V. (DGM) and RAL have set new standards with the "Climate Pact for the Furniture Industry" and the label "Climate Neutral Furniture Manufacturer". A good starting point for a further development and consolidation of the different activities for a common circular measurable product criterion. 

Cooperation and coopetition – Circular Economy only works with new thinking and new stakeholders. Also in the measurability of circularity.  

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