Not every circular solution makes a sustainable impact

By Maria Kravchenko in News feed

Circularity has become an important competitive parameter, but not all circular initiatives are truly sustainable. To make an actual positive change, a circular economy solution should be analyzed on its sustainability potential as early as possible.

During her Ph.D., our sustainability consultant, Maria Kravchenko, developed a screening tool that can assess how sustainable a circular solution in reality is.

At SustainX, we are proud to have Maria on our team, who contributes with essential knowledge to the sustainability and circular economy fields.

Why circular solutions are not always sustainable

Imagine a pair of sneakers that are made of plant leaf fiber and are biodegradable. This solution aligns with the fundamental principles of a circular economy – finding an alternative solution to a fossil plastic material and designing for a natural degradation at the end of a product’s life. However, replacing plastic is not enough to call this circular solution sustainable. What if the sneakers are not durable and get worn quickly, thus needing a frequent replacement? What if they are left to biodegrade in nature, thus emitting carbon dioxide? Has the producer ensured safe working conditions during sneakers production? 

Asking these and similar questions helps ‘uncovering’ the potential issues of any circular solution, including those that might seem like a perfect solution from the start.

Why it matters

The need to assess a circular solution on its sustainability potential, i.e., simultaneous positive contribution to the environmental, economic, and social spheres, arises from the awareness that a circular solution cannot be deemed sustainable ‘by default’. To make those assumptions and claims, a circular solution needs to be analyzed as early in the development phase as possible. Why?

  • to show where it brings ‘gains’ and ‘pains’ sustainability-wise,
  • to be able to introduce design improvements before it is too costly, and 
  • support fact-based and informed decisions. 

How can it be done in practice? 

A sustainability screening tool for a circular economy, proposed by Maria, aims at assisting manufacturing companies in understanding what questions to ask and what to analyze in their circular proposals. The screening relies on key performance indicators that cover various aspects of sustainability and can be implemented during the early design process.

It is known that working with sustainability might not be easy for companies. This work becomes even more complicated when another layer of ‘circular’ complexity adds on. Therefore, the developed tool intends to help industrial actors use indicators they can relate to and understand, thus increasing the chance of a circular solution being analyzed from a sustainability point of view and improved by the company.