4 examples of circular economy in transportation

The traditional economy has long been a linear system of take, make, dispose. The circular economy supports production cycles that minimize waste using metrics to reduce materials and increase recycling, reuse and repair once objects are produced. The concept is inspired by the biosphere itself – a regenerative system that minimizes resource input and energy leakage by slowing, closing and shrinking material and energy loops. 

Circular economy initiatives may be applied to transportation practices by moving from a product to a service model to maximize efficiency and minimize waste. Here are 4 examples of applications of circular economy principles in transportation, as well as some advice on how to apply those principles:

The Rolls-Royce of predictive maintenance programs

The Rolls-Royce TotalCare program removes the burden of jet engine maintenance from the customer, taking on the management of the engine throughout its life cycle, informed by big data collected on a large number of engines in the industry. TotalCare’s rate is based on the number of flight hours, so Rolls-Royce is only paid for reliable engines. Since the implementation of the program:

  • the frequency of motor repairs has decreased by 25%. 
  • up to 95% of the parts of a used engine are recovered or recycled
  • Rolls-Royce engines have a longer service life than before.

10 years to change the air at the airport

In 2010, London Gatwick Airport set 10 sustainability goals for the next 10 years in the areas of community, economy, carbon, air quality, noise, transport, energy, waste, water and biodiversity. Every year of this “Decade of change”, the airport publishes its results in complete transparency. In 2017, they achieved a 10.5% reduction in their carbon emissions and a 5% reduction in energy consumption per passenger, and reached the zero threshold for  untreated waste sent to landfill, among other results. London Gatwick Airport  is aiming for a recycling rate of 85% of all waste generated within the airport by 2020.

A lesson in chemistry

Every year, 38% of the 25 million tonnes of plastic waste produced in Europe is sent to landfill. In order to participate in the European objective of increasing the rate of recycled plastic by 20% by 2020, Solvay has developed the Move4earth technology, a process that recycles silicon coated airbags. The result: high quality polyamides 6.6 (PA6.6).

Mission: zero emission

DHL has set an ambitious target of 0% carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. As a milestone, it also pledged to increase their carbon efficiency by 50% by 2025. In addition to training its employees to become ambassadors for their green shift, notably by planting 1 million trees each year, the company will carry out 70% of its pickup and delivery operations in clean vehicles.

“In the linear economy, when you have a failure you try to forget it, whereas with a circular mindset, you use the failure to improve the next round.” – Franco Caruso, Corporate communications and Sustainability manager, Brisa

How to apply the principles of the circular economy in transportation

While applying the principles of the circular economy may seem like a cost-inducing practice at first, experts believe it turns into value once a business completes a successful transition. Before jumping in, the first step is to learn the 3 fundamental principles of the circular economy:

  1. Preserve and enhance natural capital by controlling finite stocks and balancing renewable resource stocks.
  2. Optimize resource yields by utilizing products, components and materials to their highest capacity at all times in both technical and biological cycles.
  3. Foster system effectiveness by uncovering and designing out negative externalities.

Once you know your business is ready for a complete change or a pilot project, here are the steps you need to follow to dive in:

  • Embed circular economy thinking and methodologies in your business model and strategy.
  • Carry out a cost/benefit analysis to ensure that your process is profitable.
  • Be open to sharing data and ideas with other players in the circular economy.
  • Build more time into your development cycle – circular economies require it.
  • Develop metrics, methodologies and benchmarks to make circular practices concrete and applicable.

This article is based on working sessions given at the Movin’On Summit 2017 on circular economy by Tim McAloone (Technical University of Denmark), Manoëlla Wilbaut (DHL), Pascal Chalvon Demersay (Solvay), Franco Caruso (Brisa), Dominique Debecker

(Solvay), Christophe Abrassart (University of Montréal), Romain Muggeo (Michelin), and Manuele Margni (Polytechnique Montréal). Examples have been expanded and formatted for this blog.