Circular economy (CE) has become a central concept of sustainable production and consumption since its introduction into the public eye. As part of the European research project CRESTING under the Horizon2020 programme, one of the work packages aims to evaluate whether CE actors and networks actually perform according to their sustainable image. Indeed, to ensure CE does not only increase the economic performance of companies, but also delivers on its promises regarding the social and environmental dimensions of sustainability, it is vital to measure the impact of CE practices in an integrated way. Otherwise, CE would risk becoming a purely profit-driven endeavour, potentially having adverse effects on other sustainability aspects. Especially sustainability assessment approaches, but also approaches to measure circularity take a multitude of forms. Therefore, appropriate approaches to measure the sustainability performance of CE practices are examined in this paper. This allows the authors to create an inventory of approaches that can be mapped and improved according to identified shortcomings. The method used is a systematic literature review which analyses frameworks, methodologies, methods, indicators and tools of the CE and industrial ecology (IE) to measure the sustainability impact of CE practices. 108 academic articles and conference papers are assessed and categorised according to assessment type, their link to life-cycle thinking (LCT), sustainability and circularity dimensions addressed, as well as system level of application. Then, the research identifies different ways in which the measurement of circularity and sustainability are connected. The results show most of the measurement approaches stem from the IE tradition and are based on LCT, often combined with a mass balance approach. Indices covering the three sustainability dimensions are another frequently used methodology, combined with decision-making methods. Of the three typical sustainability dimensions, the social one is least measured and least integrated into the general sustainability impact assessment. Moreover, scholars have already started to connect circularity to the sustainability dimensions by integrating circularity indices with sustainability indices or LCT methodologies. Coupling circularity and sustainability measurement implies an additional layer of complexity in the measurement process, potentially yielding opposing results among the three sustainability dimensions and circularity. Yet, such holistic measurement is vital to enable transparent decision-making, clearly indicating possible trade-offs. Finally, an additional research field, namely supply chain management – with a focus on closed-loop supply chains and reverse logistics – was identified as a promising source of suitable measurement approaches for sustainability impacts of CE practices.

Measuring the sustainability impact of circular economy practices: a systematic literature review from an industrial ecology perspective

Anna Maria Walker
;
Andrea Raggi;Alberto Simboli
2019

Abstract

Circular economy (CE) has become a central concept of sustainable production and consumption since its introduction into the public eye. As part of the European research project CRESTING under the Horizon2020 programme, one of the work packages aims to evaluate whether CE actors and networks actually perform according to their sustainable image. Indeed, to ensure CE does not only increase the economic performance of companies, but also delivers on its promises regarding the social and environmental dimensions of sustainability, it is vital to measure the impact of CE practices in an integrated way. Otherwise, CE would risk becoming a purely profit-driven endeavour, potentially having adverse effects on other sustainability aspects. Especially sustainability assessment approaches, but also approaches to measure circularity take a multitude of forms. Therefore, appropriate approaches to measure the sustainability performance of CE practices are examined in this paper. This allows the authors to create an inventory of approaches that can be mapped and improved according to identified shortcomings. The method used is a systematic literature review which analyses frameworks, methodologies, methods, indicators and tools of the CE and industrial ecology (IE) to measure the sustainability impact of CE practices. 108 academic articles and conference papers are assessed and categorised according to assessment type, their link to life-cycle thinking (LCT), sustainability and circularity dimensions addressed, as well as system level of application. Then, the research identifies different ways in which the measurement of circularity and sustainability are connected. The results show most of the measurement approaches stem from the IE tradition and are based on LCT, often combined with a mass balance approach. Indices covering the three sustainability dimensions are another frequently used methodology, combined with decision-making methods. Of the three typical sustainability dimensions, the social one is least measured and least integrated into the general sustainability impact assessment. Moreover, scholars have already started to connect circularity to the sustainability dimensions by integrating circularity indices with sustainability indices or LCT methodologies. Coupling circularity and sustainability measurement implies an additional layer of complexity in the measurement process, potentially yielding opposing results among the three sustainability dimensions and circularity. Yet, such holistic measurement is vital to enable transparent decision-making, clearly indicating possible trade-offs. Finally, an additional research field, namely supply chain management – with a focus on closed-loop supply chains and reverse logistics – was identified as a promising source of suitable measurement approaches for sustainability impacts of CE practices.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11564/709393
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