Luxembourg is renowned for its advanced capacities for storing, handling and processing data and is now investing to become a leading data economy. Clean technologies is one of the priority sectors in the data-driven innovation strategy published by the government in 2019, and the circular economy is a transversal theme.
Linking data with circularity
“For us, there is an obvious link between the use of data and the circular economy,” confirms Christian Tock, Director Sustainable Technologies at the Ministry of the Economy. “No product is circular in itself unless it is at the centre of an appropriate business model. In order to achieve this, circular data needs to be available.” Dr Tock is playing a leading role in the Circularity Dataset Initiative launched in Luxembourg in 2018 with the aim of developing an international industry standard that provides a regulated framework for circular data on products. It will cover the whole value chain, from raw materials to finished products and from the use phase to re-usage and recycling.
We wanted to find a simple way for companies to provide relevant, reliable information without having to reveal any trade secrets.
“Information about a product’s circular characteristics rarely travels the whole way through the value chain, and some data can be highly confidential,” says Dr Tock. “We wanted to find a simple way for companies to provide relevant, reliable information without having to reveal any trade secrets.
Datasheets: a pragmatic solution
The solution is called the “Product Circularity Data Sheet” (PCDS) which includes all information known about the product and the type of end of use cycle for which it has been designed. It shows, for example, whether a product is biodegradable and can be reused, repaired, recycled or used as a material bank for new products.
When different components are integrated into the same product, the accompanying PCDS has to be updated accordingly. The data confirming the product’s circular characteristics remains with the producer, but will be audited in order to verify the accuracy of the statement.
“With this approach, we avoid having a central storage for data that is heavy to administer and difficult to keep up to date,” Dr Tock points out. “Companies can also be confident that there is no risk that the PCDS will give their competitors access to information that they want to keep confidential.” The project group is now working on an auditing model of the data behind each PCDS that is both cost effective and reliable, and accessible for all companies including SMEs.
Towards an industry standard
Around 50 companies from 12 countries are part of the working group that has formulated and initially tested the PCDS. “The next step is to launch tests on a larger scale, including suppliers, and to involve authorities in other countries,” says Dr Tock. “Our ambition is to formalise the approach into an ISO standard, but we hope that it will become an industry standard even before that. If a company such as ArcelorMittal, Tarkett or Saint Gobain, which are members of the dataset working group, would decide that they want to establish a PCDS for each of their products, the approach would spread through their network of suppliers and cut the costs linked to the tedious requests and questionnaires used today. It should become a competitive advantage for them to report this standardised information and leave no doubt about the circularity of their products.”
It should become a competitive advantage for companies to report this standardised information and leave no doubt about the circularity of their products.
The hope is, however, that having a PCDS for each product will be a legal requirement in a not too distant future. Dr Tock is confident. “We think that this is a potential game changer that could clear some of the obstacles that the circular economy is currently facing.”
Photo credits: Tristan Schmurr, Anne Lommel