How to measure circularity?

The development of a circularity indicator that can be used by companies is very recent: in May 2015, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation introduced a material circularity index (MCI) [1], which measures the rate of regeneration of material flows. This indicator measures the performance of a product or a company in a circular context and thereby assesses what still needs to be done to get away from the linear model.

However, the circularization of resources is not a sufficient criterion. It is analysed not as a goal in itself, but in terms of impacts induced and structural changes. The approach naturally leads to multidimensional indicators.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation therefore proposes to add “complementary indicators” to the MCI concerning water, energy, greenhouse gas emissions, etc. and “risk indicators” such as scarcity, toxicity, etc.

This inevitably raises the question of arbitration between the different indicators: is a company that consumes fewer resources but more energy more “circular” than one that consumes less energy and more resources?

To get over this debate, S. Kampelmann [2] provides an analysis of circularity which is based on the socio-economic systems theory: economic activity evolves in social-ecological systems and light is shed on its assessment by biophysical (ecosystems, flows, natural cycles, etc.) and anthropogenic elements (institutions, rules, stakeholders, etc.). This approach suggests a circularization initiative as a social-ecological trajectory. [3]

For example, in an article on the management of organic matter in Brussels, it can compare two radically different paths towards greater circularity of organic flows, and assess them with respect to their social and environmental implications together with a series of economic indicators.


1. Material Circularity Indicator (MCI)

2. Stephan Kampelmann, Mesurer l’économie circulaire à l’échelle territoriale, une analyse systémique de la gestion des matières organiques à Bruxelles (Measuring the circular economy at local level: a systemic analysis of the management of organic matter in Brussels) -

3. Sabine Barles “The main characteristics of urban socio-ecological trajectories: Paris (France) from the 18th to the 20th century” -


Source: ECLAIRA - Newsletter Number 6 / March 2017

Newsletter edited by CIRIDD with support from Région Auvergne - Rhône-Alpes

See all the ECLAIRA newsletters


Illustration credits: FOTOLIA

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