Development of Circular Economy Core Indicators for Natural Resources : Analysis of existing sustainability indicators as a baseline for developing circular economy indicators

University essay from KTH/Industriell ekologi

Abstract:

More resources are being defined as critical, which can be attributed to the linear economy of ‘take, make and dispose’. An alternative is to implement the circular economy (CE) which could reduce several negative effects, among other things resource depletion. The aim of this thesis is to identify what current sustainability indicators are lacking to assess a resource with the CE concept. This is done by developing CE core indicators, which then are compared with sustainability indicators. The life cycle of rare earth elements (REE) is used as a case study to validate the CE core indicators. To achieve this literature studies and comparative analysis will be performed.

Existing definitions and indicators of CE were studied to compile a complete set of core indicators. These compiled CE core indicators were then compared with adapted United Nation (UN) sustainability indicators. The UN indicators were chosen after analysing several different sustainability indicator system and their compatibility with the resource perspective. The main differences between the UN indicators and CE core indicators is that the UN indicators does not include economic aspects such as market diversity and social aspects such as consumption behaviour. However, the UN indicator system includes transportation and governance that could be beneficial to include into the CE concept.

The economic viability to perform the CE analysis and non-existing CE indicators for companies and countries were identified as two barriers that could hinder development and efficient use of a CE indicator system. A way to increase the economic viability is to use already generated data for the CE indicator analysis, though the economical aspect has to be studied further. The non-existing CE indicators for companies and countries are counted as a barrier due to the risk of sub-optimisation of one resource.

Additionally, the CE indicator results could be misinterpreted to blame a few for the problems of the resource instead of using the results to improve all parts of the life cycle. Further research is also needed to investigate how, or even if, social aspects such as culture and society could be indicated within a CE indicator system. In conclusion, the UN indicator system could be a good baseline to develop a CE indicator system for a resource though further research is needed. 

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