Use, manufacture and discard ... this linear model has reached its limits. The circular economy offers a new path. Through intelligent product design and innovative business models, we can ensure that materials continue to circulate within our economic system. This allows us to dissociate growth from the use of limited raw materials.
The advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) offers opportunities for circular innovation. Connecting an ever-increasing number of devices to the Internet creates an incredible flow of valuable data that can boost the circular economy. Just think of the information about the location and condition of an appliance, how it was made, the materials it contains, and so on.
- Recovering used products is a challenge when it comes to closing materials cycles. The IoT allows manufacturers to set up traceability systems. For example, the sensors used to detect where valuable materials can be found in the “urban mine”, or data analysis used to optimise journeys during collection. By giving insight into product performance and the way end users treat them, the vast quantities of data (big data) collected also allow designers to develop products that are more efficient and more circular.
- New business models, in which the manufacturer offers the customer the use or function of its product while retaining ownership, can contribute to the circular economy. Such models encourage manufacturers to make products that last longer, are more energy-efficient, are easier to upgrade and repair, and whose components and materials can be re-used or recycled when the device goes back to the manufacturer after a certain time. But it also means that the manufacturer takes on the risks throughout its product’s life cycle. Sensor networks can facilitate the implementation of such performance contracts and preventive maintenance contracts and make them more cost-effective. This is already the case for expensive specialised hardware. Soon, all smart devices will be able to tell us if and when they need maintenance, repair or replacement.
The focus is now on the smart city, circular economy and the realm of possibilities offered by big data... We are at the dawn of exciting developments. Are you looking for digital solutions for your circular economy projects or do you design digital technologies that help close materials cycles? Do let us know by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org! In our “technology-inspired community”, we offer a forum for companies.
Agoria is also participating in an initiative of the influential European Policy Centre think-tank aimed at better harmonising European policy in relation to the circular economy (Circular Economy package) and digitisation (Digital Single Market strategy). Your input is most welcome (email@example.com)!