A Materials Bank for Circular Leuven: How to Monitor ‘Messy’ Circular City Transition Projects
J. Marin, Luc Allaerts, Karel Van Acker
A number of issues about mapping the transition to the circular economy in Flanders can also be found at the urban level. Due to the smaller scale and the shorter distance between the actors, the urban level offers opportunities to gain a sharper view of challenges, obstacles and opportunities in measuring progress in the transition. This conceptual study is based on a specific circular project that is under construction in Leuven: a materials bank. Its development process and the questions that have surfaced to date are brought together here in the light of the pursuit of ways to measure how the materials bank is evolving towards circularity.
The following points were highlighted in this study:
Ideally, a monitor develops simultaneously and in interaction with the circular project itself, so that it can serve as a sounding board for the project, while adapted data collection can be provided from the start-up phase of the project. The dynamics of motivated stakeholders who want to make the project successful offer additional opportunities to break through the usual reluctance to make detailed data available.
One of the challenges lies in the more qualitative dimensions of monitoring because broader sustainability ambitions as well as the links between these ambitions and concrete project results are very difficult to quantify. If there is a strong reliance on proxy indicators due to a lack of data, there is a risk that the monitor will only keep the project within the existing economic paradigm. This risk also exists if a project is monitored from the start via strict KPIs.
These findings are also valid in a broader sense for other circular projects in an urban context, such as repair cafés or packaging-free shops. The demand to make such initiatives measurable is growing steadily, but cannot be solved quickly without compromising quality. At the same time, it is important to accept that the apparently messy course of the search for indicators is inherent in transitions. Only with data of sufficient quality and the necessary system-thinking can the assumption that such projects are de facto good be actually substantiated. Of course, it takes efforts to get sound data and analyses, but such investments are literally the first step towards counteracting the destruction of the value of materials within the linear economy.