There is a growing number of online tools available to map out flows and stocks of materials and to identify circular economy opportunities. Shifting Paradigms selected five tools which allow you to quickly identify hotspots in material use and understand environmental and socio-economic impacts at country level. They can help you identify opportunities without having to delve deep into all the data yourself.
The transition to a circular economy can not go fast enough. Therefore it is important that consultants, including Shifting Paradigms share their knowledge with the growing group of passionate circular economy practitioners in countries all around the world.
This is an overview of five freely available tools and resources which we found very useful to verify the data and findings in our detailed metabolic analysis for Almaty, Vanuatu, the Gambia, Lao PDR and the global circularity gap reports. We hope that when a detailed metabolic analysis goes too far, these tools can still help you identify and develop circular economy initiatives. Share and enjoy!
First of all: What is a metabolic analysis?
When identifying circular economy opportunities in a jurisdiction, region or company we look at all the relevant stocks and flows of materials. All materials have an origin and a destination. To understand how circular a country is, you also need to know how the extraction of materials effects the quality of the natural resources from which thy originate, and whether their value chains add value in terms of new “produced stock” like buildings and infrastructure.
Very often, circular economy analysis looks at flows alone. However, just as you cannot assess the health of a company by looking only at its cash flow, you can not assess the metabolic health of a country by looking only at its material flows. In the words of the
OECD: ”Our ability to sustain economic and social progress in the long run will depend on our capacity to reduce dependence on natural capital as a source of growth”. The alternative proposed by the circular economy is to tap into human creativity to avoid waste and the excessive use of finite primary resources and transition from a development trajectory based on natural capital, to one which properly values and allocates human capital.
Now, let’s move on to the five tools.
1: UNEP Sustainable Production and Consumption – Hotspot Analysis Tool (SCP-HAT): Identifying environmental hotspots
UNEP developed a Hotspot Analysis Tool for targeted action on Sustainable Production and Consumption. The Tool has a country-focus and relies on publicly available datasets. The Tool has undergone several improvements and since its launch in 2018.
SCP-HAT provides insightful visuals of the environmental impact of countries and their sectors. In its data visuals, the tool distinguishes consumption-based, from production-based impact assessments. This helps understand the impact and mitigation potential from the production-side (which includes exports) and from the demand side (which includes imports).
- Distinction between the consumption-based and production-based socio-economic and environmental impact of a country and its sectors.
- The impacts are related to GDP but also to HDI and population.
- The tool helps identify hotspots but does not provide recommendations on policies or promising circular economy interventions. For that you will need other tools.
2: MIT Observatory of Economic Complexity: Overseeing international trade
The Observatory shows which products are traded between countries. It provides a quick overview of the imports and exports of a country, distinguishing a detailed list of product types as well as their origin or destination.
- National focus with great visuals.
- The tool provides quick insights in trade dynamics, distinguishing imports, exports and product destinations.
- A downside is that it shows trade flows in monetary values, showing the economic rather than the environmental relevance.
4: MaterialFlows.net: Tailored resource visualisations
MaterialFlows.net discloses data from the International Resource Panel. The site supports the analysis of material extraction, use and flows with country-specific datasets and visualisations. MaterialFlows.net aims to accelerate the adoption of material flow analysis as a means to map and understand resource flows.
- Focus on visuals with material flows per country, which nicely complements the information on sectoral environmental impacts in SCP-HAT.
- Distinguishes domestic extraction from materials exported and imported.
- Includes timelines and information on resource efficiency.
2: Circle Lab Knowledge Hub: Circular economy case studies
The knowledge Hub is an open-collaborative library of over 3,300 circular economy case studies. The library contains articles, business strategies and policy instrument. Users can easily find relevant case studies through a smart set of filters.
- Over 3,300 case studies covering policies and business cases.
- Filters distinguish over 80 different circular economy strategies.
- The database is tied to tools like the Circle Assessment Tool for companies, and Circle City Scan for cities. These tools connect specific features of your company or city with the most relevant circular economy case examples from the Knowledge Hub.
5: UN Environment Inclusive Wealth Index: Understanding stock dynamics
How do we measure the productive base of a nation and the sustainability of development programmes over time? Focusing on gross domestic product (GDP) alone is clearly not the answer when it comes to measuring human wellbeing. The Inclusive Wealth Index is the accounting value of an economy’s stock of assets. (i) manufactured capital (roads, buildings, machines, equipment), (ii) human capital (knowledge, aptitude, education, skills), and (iii) natural capital (ecosystems and subsoil resources).
- Focus on stocks rather than flows of materials.
- Provides insight in the durable assets which enable the production and allocation of a nation’s manufactured, human and natural capital.
- Complements data on material flows.