Do We Have the Right Performance Indicators for the Circular Economy?: Insight into the Swiss Waste Management System

Haupt, M., Vadenbo, C. and Hellweg, S. (2016), Do We Have the Right Performance Indicators for the Circular Economy?: Insight into the Swiss Waste Management System. Journal of Industrial Ecology. doi:10.1111/jiec.12506 [Open access article]

Abstract: A material flow analysis of the 2012 Swiss waste management system is presented, highlighting the material content available from waste. Half of municipal solid waste (MSW) is materially recycled and the other half thermally treated with energy recovery. A key component of an industrial ecosystem is increasing the resource efficiency through circulating materials. Recycling rates (RRs), an indicator for the circulating behavior of materials, are often used as measure for the degree of circularity of an economy. This study provides an in-depth analysis of the recycling of paper, cardboard, aluminum, tinplate, glass, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) from MSW in Switzerland by splitting the RRs into closed- and open-loop collection rate (CR) and RRs. Whereas CR refers to collected material that enters the recycling process, RRs measure the available secondary resources produced from recycling processes. For PET, the closed-loop CR of 45% and the open-loop CR of 40% compare to an RR of 31% and 37%, respectively (including exports and recycling of polyethylene and metals from collection). Official collection rates for paper and cardboard are very high (97%), whereas CR of 74% and 89% and RR of 59% and 81% for paper and cardboard, respectively, were found in the present study (including export). For a majority of the separately collected materials investigated, the rates that are determined are substantially lower than those that are officially communicated. Furthermore, given that official rates often do not provide information on the availability of secondary materials, the improvement potential for increased resource recovery is hidden.

What You Need to Know About the GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards

Read the full story in Environmental Leader.

Corporate reporters rejoice: in a move aimed at making it easier for companies to report on their sustainability initiatives and progress, the Global Reporting Initiative today launched the GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards.

Is using less water the secret to cutting our greenhouse gas emissions?

Read the full story in The Guardian.

California, which uses 20% of its electricity in supplying water, just passed a law to collect emissions data from water utilities.

Why sustainability metrics fail to measure achievement, and how to fix them

Read the full post at GreenBiz.

Most major corporations have adopted public reporting to communicate their performance in moving to sustainable management of their business. These reports reveal the companies’ total impact in terms of resource consumption and waste generation as well as normalized versions that attempt to convey corporate improvement in using resources and reducing wastes.

Companies strive to reduce their overall environmental footprint regardless of their overall growth, but the normalized version of the metrics are used to portray their actual efficiency. A growing company might increase its total water consumption but still claim improved efficiency by showing a reduction in water consumption per unit output. The claims based on this type of metric (overall average intensity) generally have been accepted at face value.

Closer examination, however, reveals that overall average intensity seldom, if ever, provides an accurate measure of corporate improvement in efficiency.

Why Measuring Waste GHG Emissions Matters

Read the full story in Environmental Leader.

Accounting for greenhouse gas emissions from waste isn’t as straightforward as, say, measuring those from corporate fleets. But as stakeholders increasingly demand companies reduce their carbon footprint — and firms seek zero-waste accreditation — tracking and disclosing waste GHG emissions is key.

To help companies track more accurate data on GHG emissions from their trash, waste management startup Rubicon Global has teamed up with data company Trucost.

New Waste Tracking Feature Helps Building Managers Save Money and Support a Healthy Environment

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled today a waste and materials tracking feature in its Energy Star Portfolio Manager, which is a free benchmarking and tracking tool for commercial building owners and managers. Reducing waste and reusing materials more productively through sustainable materials management over their entire lifecycles conserves resources, helps communities remain economically competitive and supports a healthy environment.

EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager is already used to measure energy, water and greenhouse gas metrics in more than 450,000 U.S. buildings, representing over 40 percent of U.S. commercial space, as well as in more than 10,000 buildings in Canada. Now owners and managers using Portfolio Manager will be able to benchmark 29 types of waste across four different management metrics alongside their existing sustainability management indicators. Types of waste include building materials, glass, paper, plastics, and trash.

Currently, U.S. commercial buildings and manufacturing activities are responsible for as much as 45 percent of the 150 million tons of waste in the United States that ends up in incinerators or landfills each year. The transportation, decomposition, and burning of this waste generates greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants.

The addition of waste tracking is the culmination of a year-long collaboration between EPA’s Energy Star and Sustainable Materials Management programs and members of the industry to identify key performance metrics for waste and materials management.

To learn more or register for a free webinar on the new waste tracking feature: www.energystar.gov/trackwaste

To learn more about sustainable materials management: www.epa.gov/smm

Center for Corporate Climate Leadership Greenhouse Gas Inventory Guidance

The Center for Corporate Climate Leadership’s Greenhouse Gas Guidance is based on The Greenhouse Gas Protocol: A Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard (GHG Protocol) developed by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). Organizations are encouraged to consult the GHG Protocol for foundational guidance on GHG accounting principles, defining inventory boundaries, identifying GHG emission sources, defining and adjusting an inventory base year, and tracking emissions over time.

The Center has developed specific GHG guidance meant to extend upon the GHG Protocol, to align more closely with EPA-specific GHG calculation methodologies and emission factors, and to support the Center’s GHG management tools and its Climate Leadership Awards initiative.

The site includes: