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The One Planet Network and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) are working with Metabolic Institute and a new multi-stakeholder Expert Group to assess current and short-term opportunities brought about by digital technologies to accelerate the shift to the circular economy. Presented in this report are the results of this work, laying out a clear Critical Path for public and private institutions in the short-term to scale and increase uptake of digital technologies and related policies and accelerate the shift to a circular economy. While this is quite a broad topic, this report addresses existing circular economy approaches, focusing on how digital technologies can support data collection and integration, data analysis, and data communication and dissemination along the value chain

circular economy approaches


This approach focuses on redesign, reduce, rethink and refuse circular economy strategies. This is done by redesigning products, services and entire business models. AI, IoT, and BDA are critical for the analysis and collection of data


This approach mainly revolves around repair, remanufacturing and repurposing circular economy strategies. IoT, AI, and Blockchain are key technologies for the data analysis, data collection, and data communication functions


This circular economy approach focuses on the post- use phase of a product’s lifecycle. Maintaining the value of the materials is often achieved by recycling a product. BDA, AI, and Additive Manufacturing are critical for the data analysis and data collection functions

Part 1: Rethinking product design and manufacturing

Rethinking product design and manufacturing involves a transformative shift from traditional practices, emphasizing innovation, sustainability, and user-centric approaches. This process challenges the conventional linear models by incorporating circular economy principles, emphasizing waste reduction, and promoting lifecycle thinking. It embraces Design for Manufacturing (DFM) strategies that merge creativity with practicality, enabling more efficient production while enhancing product functionality and quality. Moreover, it incorporates remanufacturing principles into product design, aiming for integrated product-service offerings that promote resource conservation and longevity. This approach seeks to revolutionize product development, fostering sustainable, user-centered, and innovative solutions to address the evolving demands of modern consumers and the environment.





  • Business Model Lock-in
  • Adoption of data collection systems
  • High Initial costs and investment uncertainty
  • lack of awareness and skills
  • lack of standards and cohesive policy landscape






  • Global standards and coalitions
  • Data infrastructure enabling conditions
  • Financing the transition
  • Education and consumer behavior
  • Incentive mechanisms and regulatory pressures


Part 2: Extend the lifespan of products and its parts

Extending the lifespan of products and their components in the digital era involves leveraging innovative strategies to enhance durability, usability, and value. Digitalization facilitates product lifecycle extension through various means such as continuous updates, upgrades, and software enhancements that ensure ongoing relevance and functionality. It allows for adaptive pricing models, enabling adjustments based on market dynamics to attract and retain customers while maintaining competitiveness. Furthermore, it supports product differentiation through features that cater to evolving consumer needs, ensuring sustained demand and market presence. In essence, digitalization offers a framework for continuous innovation, customization, and adaptation, driving the extension of product lifespans and their parts, thereby optimizing their value and utility over time.





  • Revenue model disruption
  • Data collection bottlenecks & interoperability challenges
  • Reverse logistics upfront costs
  • Contradicting skills trends & consumer perceptions
  • Conflicting and fragmented policies





  • International initiatives to build both business and consumer trust
  • Support future technological integration
  • Reducing risk through financial support and incentivizing circular purchasing
  • Empowering an emerging workforce
  • Advancing policies to influence business behaviors

Part 3: Effective re-use of material

In the paradigm shift toward a circular economy, digitalization serves as a linchpin in facilitating effective re-use of materials. By harnessing digital technologies like big data, artificial intelligence (AI), and blockchain, industries can optimize resource utilization. Digital platforms enable the tracking and management of materials throughout their lifecycle, promoting re-use, recycling, and reducing resource consumption. These technologies streamline processes, enabling the identification of materials suitable for re-use, enhancing resource efficiency while minimizing waste.





  • Uncertain demand for recycled materials
  • Adoption of data collection systems
  • Low margins
  • Digital gap in the recycling industry
  • Volatile policy environment






  • Maturity of promising technologies
  • Financial incentives and deterrences
  • Digital upskilling
  • Policies for the effective use of material


Key digital functions that can support the scaling of these Circular Economy Approaches

Data collection and integration

Digital analysis

Communication and dissemination



Recommendation: Global Digital Standards


  • Recommendation 1 
  • Position data transparency as a global common good
  • Recommendation 2
  • Set standards for digital interoperability and physical interchangeability


  • Recommendation 1
  • Set data collection and data management standards to strengthen circular value chains
  • Recommendation 2
  • Further enhance technological interoperability and capabilities to support R's strategies.

Recommendation: Finance and Business Models


  • Recommendation 3
  • Develop a new financial toolkit to fundamentally accelerate circular economy transition
  • Reinforce the value proposition of circular models with policy levers


  • Recommendation 3
  • Invest in digital innovation for the circular economy
  • Business models for a digital circular economy