How to asses a product “circularity”

The supply “side”
Recently, during GreenLigh4Business general meeting, I have had a brief discussion with some members regarding on what “side” of the market equilibrium they think the sustainable change should happen. As I am a strong supporter of the supply side, I was wandering what was needed to start a business with a sustainable business plan. While talking about these topics with my peers we came up with a question: what makes up a product’s circularity? Indeed, as G&Ss (goods and services) are the outcome of a firm’s activity, sustainable products should be designed so that circular economy is embedded in them. The purpose of this article is to find factors, and indicators that may help both people and firms to quantify a product’s “circularity”.

Adidas Futurecraft Loop: A Shoe that is 100% recyclable  (Picture:

A couple of “hard” indicators
Resources are the cornerstone of the sustainability issue. As they are scarce, the aim of a circular economy is to maximize the efficiency of their usage and minimize waste. The first scientific measure that might be effective in doing so is called “resources productivity”. Resources productivity is a, say, “Macroeconomic” indicator that is the ratio between an economy GDP and the overall materials used to produce that same GDP, aka the Domestic Material Consumption (DMC). DMC is the annual amount of the goods extracted by a national economy, adjusted for materials’ exports and imports. Indeed, as in many other cases, this indicator of sustainability might be a bit controversial and/ or tricky. In fact, economies that are more services-orientated result as more sustainable and this is true only for “MEDC” countries. MEDC countries would be advantaged by such an indicator, as their economies rely on services rather than manufacture or agriculture.

Anyways, such an indicator could be translated on a more Micro-level, assessing the quantity of materials needed to produce a set added value. Better, it could be the % quantity of recycled materials that are used to build a product and the % quantity of final good that is eventually recyclable.

The 100% recyclable shoe
Sounds impossible? Well, it is already happening. Indeed Adidas corp. is working on a 100% ratio as it launched a new product line called FUTURECRAFT.LOOP, that uses 100% waste collected plastic in order to manufacture shoes. “Once the shoes come to the end of their first life and are returned to adidas – they are washed, ground to pellets and melted into material for components for a new pair of shoes, with zero waste and nothing thrown away. Each generation is designed to meet the adidas sports performance standard, without compromise”- this is the description of the re-manufacturing process provided by Eric Liedtke, Executive Board Member at Adidas, responsible for Global Brands. This is, indeed, a great model for corporations that start to switch from a resources-consumption paradigm to a more circular.

The dark side of “natural” materials
One more indicator in assessing the sustainability of a product might be the efficiency of “renewable” resources that are used to make it. Let’s say company is using as materials “renewable” materials. In the green jargon, they are usually referred to as regenerative or biological materials, because they have a natural origin and thus, following nature cycles, they renovate with time. Thus, the ratio in between the quantity of resources need to get them and their actual quantity would be a reasonable indicator. Nonetheless, whether we want to face it or not, “natural” materials consume resources. The opportunity that science gives us to genetically engineer, say, cotton crops, is something we might want to tackle in order to increase the efficiency of resources consumption of “natural” commodities (such as water or land). GMOs, as controversial as this might sound, are probably a chance we are not seizing properly and they are sometimes both misunderstood and undervalued in the green community.

LCA and modularity
Finally, an indicator for European products is the LCA -Life Cycle Assessment- indicator. As its own name suggests the LCA assesses the overall life of a product: input and output materials, production, distribution and disposal. It has been regulated by standards defined in the ISO 14004:2015. This is the main indicator of the potential of environmental consumption that product causes and it is the outcome of a resolution of the International Organization for Standardization, that regulates standards for world trade.
One last feature that is imbedded in circular product design is modularity. Modularity is the property of a complex good to be assembled by base components called “modules”. This property facilitates the repairing of goods, thus increasing their duration and the time they spend into the value chain.

Coronadvice for green people
That’s it for today, I hope I’ll get some feedbacks if some of you readers have further knowledge on product circularity and, if you want, I leave my sources her below. One last recommendation: do NOT brag on social media the reduction of emissions due to Covid-19. I agree, it is probably one of the little positive things that are going on with this pandemic. But once it will be over people will remember those that were happy while anybody else was not, and trust me, they won’t listen to them anymore. Plus, this show us how the productive system urges a change, not a stop, and how we are far away behind that aim. This reduction should be a defeat for all of us.