Researchers Create a Model of Efficiency

Their framework takes two factors into account—the circularity and longevity of a resource—to make it easier for companies to participate in the circular economy.

Sustainability experts agree that humans must conserve the planet's natural resources. That effort will rely on companies embracing the circular economy, in which all materials are reused or recycled after initial use.

Five scholars from Kedge Business School in Talence, France, have created a framework to make it easier for organizations to participate in the circular economy. The researchers include Frank Figge, professor of corporate social responsibility and sustainable development; Andrea Thorpe, assistant professor of entrepreneurship, innovation, and strategy; Phillipe Givry, assistant professor in finance; Louise Canning, associate professor of marketing; and Elizabeth Franklin-Johnson, research professor.

Their framework focuses on two metrics: circularity, the number of times resources can be reused; and longevity, the time period over which reuse can occur. For example, resources that can be reused many times for short periods could possibly be less sustainable than those that can be reused fewer times over long periods.

The ideal scenario is a material with high circularity and longevity, Figge explains. Sustainable development will require "dramatic increases of efficiency," he adds. "We need to use resources longer and more often."

The co-authors apply their model to the use of gold in mobile phones. A phone's initial use might last for two yearsif the phone is then refurbished and eventually recycled, the gold's circularity increases by 17 percent; its longevity, by 11 percent. This model shows that "refurbishment and recycling add more to the circularity of gold, than to its longevity." Such data could help organizations make more sustainable decisions in their supply chain models.

"Metrics that capture current rates of eco-efficiency are significant," the authors write, but tools that "inform better decision making to improve eco-efficiency are arguably even more important."

"Longevity and Circularity as Indicators of Eco-Efficient Resource Use in the Circular Economy" appears in the August 2018 issue of Ecological Economics.