Circularity IQ: Sparking the Circularity Domino Effect With Data
At the end of 2020, the world marked an alarming milestone: Human-made materials now weigh more than all of life on Earth.
In our latest episode of our podcast series on the Circular Economy, we spoke to Roy Verclouen of Circularity IQ.
The company works to address the issue of runaway resource use by helping organisations develop and procure products in a more sustainable way using smart data-gathering and analysis.
Circularity IQ’s goal is to ensure resources are used the best way possible, without diminishing or compromising their quality. “To achieve that goal, you need to have reliable information about material components and product characteristics,” says Roy.
Circularity IQ’s software analyses what goes into a product: the weight and provenance of the materials, whether they are primary or secondary, and whether they can be reused or recycled.
At a larger scale, the company uses the concept of a “product tree” to represent the way these materials and components are connected within the product itself. “That information has a lot of impact on the practical ability to achieve any potential for reuse or recycling,” says Roy.
The company offers three programs: One to support circular procurement, one to improve product circularity, and one to measure organisations’ circular performance. Each program provides reports for a wide range of departments – from procurement teams to contract managers, C suite executives, plant managers and business unit managers.
“Depending on your role within the organisation, you will be looking for different cross-sections of data to improve your decision-making,” says Roy. Based on the data they gather in collaboration with suppliers, Circularity IQ aims to be able to report on just about anything.
Working with Circularity IQ saves organisations' money, because it reveals where value is lost within products and which parts of these products impact human and environmental health.
From this empowered position organisations can take control of these impacts, while demonstrating increased quality. At the same time, legislation is tightening around pollution and waste, with the European Union applying incentives like a carbon tax and a ban on single-use plastics.
In most cases, sourcing more sustainably does not lead to increased prices, but Roy sees a reluctance in governments and businesses to make big changes. “There's anxiety about the unknown,” he says. “People don't like to embrace something new, because they understand their current operating process. It’s the same with starting to embrace the circular economy: it's something new, you don't exactly know what you're getting yourself into.”
To help overcome this initial resistance, Circularity IQ starts by defining what success looks like for organisations within this new, circular framework.
“Before we introduce the software, we have conversations with our customers about their goals,” says Roy. “We push them for clarity on what they want to achieve. When is it a success? What should this lead to? How will you measure your success? Is this about reusing existing products, decreasing virgin content, increasing recycled content?”
After helping a team or organisation define their goals, Circularity IQ presents them with strategies linked to relevant data points and discusses how to score and weigh these aspects as part of the procurement process.
Production and procurement processes are complex, often involving diverse global stakeholders.
That’s why, Roy believes, measurements have to be as straightforward as possible. “In the end, professionals just need a framework that they can apply and interpret.”
What’s more, the interconnected nature of value chains means that when an organisation takes action, it can spark a domino effect. “If the entity purchasing something values recycled content in the finished product, then this trickles down into the entire value chain. All the different actors will have an incentive to prefer secondary materials and non-virgin inputs.”
In this way, a simple purchasing decision can have a huge impact.
As the dominos begin to fall, Roy sees data management for circularity becoming the new normal.
“The first step... is to create more awareness [of the fact] that to be able to achieve a circular economy, you need to keep track of individual material properties throughout the lifecycle of a product,” he concludes. “Once we start tracking all these materials, then I really see the value of marketplaces where we can see which materials are out there and which will become available at what point in time.”