Circular Economy and Data Partnerships in smart cities

I have been reading some of the classic literature on the circular economy, starting with Cradle to Cradle by Michael Braungart and William McDonough and Donut Economics by Kate Raworth. Also, I am taking “From Linear to Circular,” a course by the Ellen McArthur Foundation, which is excellent, and thus I encourage you to check.

I have learned that some cities, such as Amsterdam are already implementing a circular economy strategy with the ambitious goal of halving ‘the use of new raw materials by 2030 and to achieve a fully circular city by 2050’. As part of their strategy, Amsterdam has identified the need to create ‘circular data platforms‘, i.e. targeting the development of a (geographically explicit) digital raw material platform. Such a platform will provide an insight into how various design strategies can help improve the flows as a whole and which policy strategies can create more efficient production and consumption chains.

One of the startups I have recently invested in, Carmachain, is deploying a technology that contributes to fully enabling data partnering among the different stakeholders in a circular supply chain. One of the main concerns of putting your materials’ flow information in the public domain is that competitors may profit from the availability of such data to reverse engineer your products or gain knowledge about commercial secrets. Consequently, some material flow information remains as restricted data, diminishing access possibilities that could have otherwise met certain stakeholders’ needs, i.e. resulting in data gaps. Carmachain has developed a technological platform that allows the exchange, peer to peer (p2p), of data in a secure and encrypted manner. With Carmachain’s platform, the owner of the data can control the type and extent of the information that it is willing to share and with whom, which will encourage the sharing of material flow information.

Eurostat methodology for material flow analysis is a subset of urban metabolism and is still a young discipline that hasn’t been fully exploited for urban planning and design. Part of the reason for this is that urban metabolism analyses have failed to provide detailed spatial and temporally explicit data on the scale at which planners and designers work. Increasing reliance on smart grids will only exacerbate the need for highly detailed data. Particularly data will be needed about when and where energy will be generated and when and where it will be required. This data is currently not openly shared due to its commercial value in a competitive open energy market. As identified in the paper ‘Space-time information analysis for resource-conscious urban planning and design: A stakeholder-based identification of urban metabolism data gaps,’ technological advances in the fields of sensors technology (such as smart meters) and modeling may contribute to overcoming such data gaps; nevertheless, privacy-friendly data processing techniques will still be required.


Cradle to Cradle is like good gardening; it is not about “saving” the planet but about learning to thrive on it

 Michael Braungart, Willian McDonoughCradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things

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