The digital Circular Indicators Library was created to spark discussion around and increase the uptake of indicators for measuring the impacts of a transition to a circular economy. Created by the Circular Economy Indicators Coalition (CEIC), it is unique in providing the first publicly available online database of circular economy indicators for public and private sector use. The library is not linked to any particular framework and instead includes indicators developed by a wide range of parties.
The indicator library aims to:
While creating and further expanding the library, the CEIC is focusing not only on material flow indicators but equally on indicators that can be used to assess the socioeconomic and financial dimensions of a transition to a circular economy. In the future, the coalition plans to expand the library with additional indicator topics.
Currently, the library includes a set of indicators for financiers, as well as a set of indicators with relevance to employment in the circular economy geared toward policymakers. In the future, the CEIC plans to extend these sets by including commonly used material flow indicators that could be of specific interest to regional or national policymakers, and sector or industry-specific indicators for the built environment or textiles, for example.
To compile the finance indicators, interviews were conducted with different financial market participants such as banks, rating agencies, asset managers and private equity. Based on their input, it was concluded that not much alignment exists. The CEIC reviewed the indicator landscape for measuring the circularity of potential business investments, which spanned over 100 different frameworks, tools, papers and inventories— such as the Circular Transition Index and IRIS+—to identify circular economy-related indicators, as well as more broad ESG focused indicators that could be relevant to finance.
Based on the interviews and research, the coalition decided to narrow the focus to financiers who would like to provide a loan to a company, for example. The first selection was based on the CSRD ESRS E5, the EU directive on non-financial corporate disclosure for various sustainability angles (including the circular economy and resource use). We cross-checked with the most common methodologies to see in which frameworks the indicators already appear (such as CTI, GRI and Circulytics) and indicated this on each indicator card.
The CEIC interviewed representatives from leading institutions in the field of circular or green employment and related social indicators—including the International Labour Organisation (ILO), IndustriALL, OECD and Rreuse—on the challenges they face in using existing indicators to monitor the employment impacts of circular interventions. This helped to direct the scope and categories of indicators that were reviewed and collected to create a list of approximately 80 indicators covering the following topics: Circular activities, Training and Education, Socio-economic indicators (related to employment, income, productivity, job satisfaction, benefits), Health and Safety, as well as Inclusion and Equality.
To support policymakers at the national and regional level, the coalition reviewed a broad set of indicators ranging from Economy-Wide Material Flow Analysis indicators to socioeconomic indicators in the context of the circular transition. The CEIC focused on consolidating indicators from existing indicator sets and categorising them based on theme (such as emissions, mobility and natural capital), economic level (macro, meso, micro) and source in which the indicator is present. This resulted in a list of over 400 entries, which was refined into a smaller set of approximately 50 indicators covering various measurement categories aligned with the EU circular economy monitoring framework.
All 100+ indicators currently available in the library can be filtered using the filters in the side bar.
Clicking on an indicator card will show its definition, relevance and unit, as well as various characteristics as per the filters on the right-hand side.
Users can use filters to explore indicators: user type, unit, indicator cluster, used in, scale, and CSRD alignment. ‘Used in’ refers to reporting frameworks including GRI 306 or the Circularity Transition Indicators, for example.
The CEIC also surveyed users of the Circular Indicators Library to discover how to develop it further and improve its usability. Since its launch, the library has seen thousands of return visitors. Users are welcome to join the CEIC’s user research group to participate in developing the library further.
Those more experienced or well-versed in circular indicators, perhaps even having their own bespoke circular indicator sets or frameworks, can browse the library for ideas on how to further improve their own indicator base. These users may want to save their favourite indicators and share them with their teams or even external stakeholders to further develop, expand or revise their indicator sets.
Many stakeholders find it useful to understand how indicators relate to each other. For instance, when researching waste, all waste-related indicators should present themselves in the library, in addition to how they relate to each other in pre-existing frameworks—, such as the Circularity Transition Indicators (CTI) framework, ISO standards or other regulatory frameworks.
Other users may need a guided journey as to which indicators would be useful and how they work in relation to each other. Although the clustering of indicators is helpful for this purpose, some indicators are quite similar, which often leaves users wondering which should be considered and in what combination. A feature such as ‘Top 10’ commonly used indicators for sectors, products or processes could serve as a more accessible entry point into sets of pre-grouped indicators.
Those starting on their circular indicator journey may also lack the contextual knowledge about indicators in general, as well as some of the more technical background knowledge that underpins some of the indicators. It will be important to understand the required prerequisite knowledge and to build this into the library’s user journey.
There’s a real opportunity to link the exploratory indicator library to evidence on using indicators in practice. This can take on multiple forms, which may interest different user profiles.
A common obstacle users face is that many indicators cannot be used without being linked to robust data. Often indicators are developed and even selected without this parameter being top of mind. It will be crucial to link the indicator library to the whole data pipeline: from the decision-making process (‘What are my priorities? Which indicators can measure progress towards them?’) to how stakeholders can then use these indicators on an ongoing basis. How do we integrate indicators about the social dimensions of employment in the circular economy into current data-driven decision-making processes in both governments and businesses, for example? Answering this will help to attract the right experts to assess the value of indicators.
Showing the outcomes of the same indicator, calculated for a variety of contexts, will lead to a much more practical understanding of what is possible. Visitors to the indicator library will be able to much more easily tell how their area of work may fit in or compare to the indicator benchmarks provided. Users may be able to use this as guidance to assess their own project, policy or business for circularity and employment or other impacts. For example, a measure of circular employment can be calculated at the national or regional level, and policymakers could explore what this indicator means in different contexts if it were connected to a robust data pipeline.
Moving forward, more technical recommendations and guidelines on gathering and compiling the data required to compute indicators are a must. Indicators should be qualified as to the types of data they require (such as private, public, proprietary), the level at which these data have to be collected, whether multiple data sets are required, as well as guidance for how to go about collecting these data. In many cases, analysts currently have challenges in obtaining the data needed, limiting the usability of available indicators.
With this in mind, topic, sector or industry-specific toolkits or guidelines about the most effective ways to calculate certain indicators could prove useful to relevant stakeholders. After all, once available indicators can be reliably calculated, and with the results being sufficient to support informed decisions, they can be more systematically used within decision-making models.
The Circular Indicators Library was initially launched with a set of indicators for financiers and was later updated with a set of employment indicators for policymakers. The CEIC plans to add new collections of indicators for cities, the built environment, textiles and more! The coalition also plans to expand current indicator sets—for example, additional quality of work indicators. The library will continually be updated with new features based on continued research with CEIC partners and users of the library.