Creativity and metrics for the circular economy


Belgian economist and entrepreneur Gunter Pauli is the standard-bearer for the so-called “Blue Economy”, a strategy that focuses on promoting entrepreneurship, particularly in developing countries, through the smart use of both human and natural resources, fully respecting the environment. Pauli’s vision has sparked a global movement that has resulted in the launch of dozens of businesses and helped many communities to grow, achieve a better overall standard of welfare and reach economic freedom.

Last 18 February, Pauli was in Milan, guest at one of the Talk4Growth conferences organised by the Accenture Group and “L’Economia”, the business and finance weekly by Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera. In his address, Pauli drove home the fact that the main route to a genuinely circular economy must involve broad-ranging lateral thinking focused on “disruption” – meaning the rules of the game need to change completely.

Pauli is convinced that new products coming from the green and circular economy must be able to both speak to people’s hearts and be strikingly ingenious and creative. “The green economy that we have developed thus far can’t work, because its products are more expensive. The new green economy, on the other hand, must be sustainable not just because it will help the environment but also because it will produce better financial results, be more fun and make us happier”.

Pauli mentioned an example from his own company, Ecover, which makes eco-friendly, sustainable cleaning products. “We pay employees who cycle to work 50 cents per kilometre. Think it’s too expensive? It’s not. It has spared me from building a 200-car parking lot, for which I would also have to pay maintenance and security costs – which would be higher”.

The Belgian economist’s keynote speech was followed by a panel discussion chaired by Corriere della Sera journalist Massimo Fracaro, with our Group’s Head of Circular Economy Luca Meini, Accenture Strategy Sustainability Lead Beatrice Lamonica, Conad General Manager Francesco Avanzini, and Nino Tronchetti Provera, Founder and Managing Partner of Ambienta.

Meini in particular focused on the crucial issue of metrics, that is the development of methods to objectively measure the results of circular activities. “To us, the circular economy is not a way to remedy the negative impact of our actions. Rather it is the key to completely rethink the business in terms of innovation and competitiveness,” he explained. To put this principle into practice, Enel has begun changing its relationship with suppliers, measuring their performance in terms of circularity because the only way of implementing the circular economy for our assets is to improve the entire supply chain. Take renewable sources, for instance. “We have become the main player in this sector. But while all clean energy production systems were seen favourably in the beginning, now only those that have a positive impact considering their entire cycle – from production to recycling – can be considered virtuous”.

Thus, to evaluate the real results of the circularity of our corporate activities, we need to measure their real impact: “We realised – Meini continued – that there were no tools to objectively carry out this evaluation. So we created them, and made them available to anyone who wants to use them, or discuss with us the methodologies we adopted”. These tools make up our CirculAbility Model©, which was also created to help to define a globally shared system of circularity metrics. Partly because today, as Meini concluded, “There is a lot of information about circular economy out there, but also a lot of misinformation: projects that are presented as circular, but in reality are not at all. Being able to identify them is crucial for the benefit of consumers”.