Sourcing for Circularity
How do you choose the most sustainable material? Well, the more you know, the more you realize how complex and variable the answer may be. We’ve compiled a few open-access databases and analytics tools that go some of the way to guiding those choices, and thought about how we’d like to see them evolve.
Scroll down for living list. Last updated 01.22
The linear economy is, simply put, a one-way ticket from ‘take’ to ‘waste’. We extract a material, we make something from it, we sell it, use it, discard it. The circular economy, by contrast, is a transformative round-trip. It captures value at every cascade of a product’s life, repairing, reusing and recycling materials to keep them in circulation — and off the trash heap. But the transition to a circular and regenerative economy is especially challenging for the textile industry due to inherent material properties that inhibit recyclability.
In our own quest to be more circular, we also strive to be more conscious in our textile material choices, actively designing our products for disassembly and biodegradability. So, as part of our summer research project, PCH product designer, Gianna, teamed up with textile engineer, Konstantin Utz, to explore existing textile material databases in order to simulate a perfect circular material sourcing journey. And, as with so many points within the circular supply chain, they encountered both an encouraging increase in good initiatives (and intentions) but also a sorely fragmented and siloed solution landscape.
More than ever, we believe that intelligent, transparent and collaborative databases can facilitate the shift towards a circular economy by advancing future material production and processing. So, what would it look like? We identified the following hybrid features as key to our ideal, circular material database:
- A more holistic overview of the product life cycle — from raw material to finished textile product. This would extend to providing material properties such as composition, wear and tear, decomposition, suitability of application and externalities in production, use and re-use.
- Beyond merely connecting buyers and suppliers, the database should indicate material availability and identify potential bottlenecks, based on historical data, to boost supply chain reliability.
- Use data analysis to offer intelligent alternatives and their substitution impact. By mining data from material properties and product requirements, one could provide material and process comparison functionality that tailors (and prioritizes) suggestions according to local sourcing, cascaded uses and closed loops, and drive regeneration throughout the value chain.
- More AI-driven evaluation of the environmental impact of large-scale sourcing and extraction on biomes — such as the tundra, rainforest, temperate forests —to inform decisions on processes and the products themselves.
- Seamless integration into the production and recycling process. One could streamline the process by providing renders, simulations and machining parameters for each life cycle step.
- Fostering early and more transparent collaboration between buyers, sellers and recyclers would also drive efficiency, allowing the ultimate re-use of a product to be understood and considered from the start.
Technical databases for engineering
EcoChain (free basic tools)
Best for LCA analysis + sustainable policy implementation for businesses
Based on the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTI), it incorporates both scientific data and SDG goals. Free tools include the Carbon Tax Calculator, CO2 emissions comparison and evaluation, and scope benchmark.
Pros: Portfolio + profit margin /Environmental impact analysis, 30.000+ datasets
Open LCA (free limited access)
Best (and only) open source LCA analysis software
An open source and free software for sustainability and LCA. Very detailed insights into calculation and analysis results with an ever expanding network of partners.
Pros: Open Source, includes datasets from various resources
Best for text mining tools and AI development of biomaterial repositories
An open resource for organizing information about biomaterials, their design, manufacture and biological testing. Datasets are widely used due to their accessibility and quality.
Pros: Open source, Github repository of DEBBIE retrieval and annotation pipeline, extensive data
Cons: UI not optimized, buggy navigation
Best for Life Cycle Impact Assessment
Non-profit Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) database with over 18.000 human activity modeling datasets that support environmental assessments of products and processes worldwide.
Pros: Geographical attribution, scores for several impact assessment methods
LCA Database focusing on the apparel industry
Founded by Quantis together with a pre-competitive consortium of leading organizations and companies from the apparel and footwear sector to holistically assess environmental impact along the entire value chain.
Pros: Specialized for the textile industry
Cons: Limited datasets
WIPO Green (free)
Best for innovation and green technologies
Interactive marketplace connects technology and service providers with those seeking innovative solutions for energy, water, farming, forestry, pollution, waste, transportation, material production and building construction optimization.
Pros: Sustainable solution focus, up-to-date, globally recognized
Cons: Poor navigation, buggy interactions
MatMatch (free for engineers)
Best for material selection and comparison
Widely used, with a focus on material selection to help engineers build better products.
Pros: In-depth material comparison features, extensive range of applicable filters and comprehensive material parameters.
Cons: No material visuals and few biological materials.
• Honorable Mentions
Ansys Granta Selector for material production simulation
Range of material information management software, designed for companies to create, control and store valuable material data, offering seamless integration with leading CAD, CAE and PLM systems.
CEPE for footprint evaluation
Covers both the raw materials and industry manufacturing processes, making environmental assessment data accessible for non-experts in, particularly to SMEs, via the easy-to-use Ecofootprint tool.
Material Wise for chemical analysis
A free screening tool that provides data-driven insight to quickly identify and eliminate known toxic chemicals at the beginning of the design process.
Visual databases for designers
Brain of Materials (selected free features)
Best for high-level 3D scans and visuals of innovative materials
Renders, visual and some technical information about innovative materials. Members can showcase products, buy physical and digital samples, order material testing and share technical data with customers.
Pros: Quality renders, intuitive UI, material outlook education, digitization services
Cons: Few sustainability properties, some materials only show limited and subjective technical information
Material Exchange (free basic plan)
Best for procurement + sustainable material integration
Widely used marketplace for sourcing materials and components for footwear and apparel. The digital ecosystem connects suppliers and buyers across the globe for more efficient, transparent and cost-effective material sourcing.
Pros: Integration in 2D/3D workflows, sustainability search tool, 24000+ listed materials
Cons: Ad placement could adulterate the ideal material choice
• Honorable Mentions
Material Atlas for understanding local materials
A living map of materials, language, landscapes and practices that places an emphasis on the material and immaterial wealth of different geographical regions around the world. More of an art project than a database but a unique and aesthetically pleasing approach.
Miniwiz for up-cycled and recycled materials
A collection of partially/fully circular materials, that aims to showcase their potential and feasible applications in the unrelenting environments.
Cirplus for recycled plastic
An intuitively designed marketplace for plastic recyclate procurement.
Roundrack for sustainable production
Uses AI to assess sustainability but currently only provides access upon request.
Corporate social responsibility databases for the conscious consumer
Cradle2Cradle Certified Products Registry for circularity certification
Collection of sustainable products that meet the globally recognized C2C standard for the circular economy.
The Fashion Transparency Index for fashion sustainability assessments
Analyses and ranks 250 of the world’s biggest fashion brands and retailers based on their public disclosure of human rights and environmental policies, practices and impacts, in their operations and in their supply chains.
Closing the loop
Circularity is not a flickering trend. It continues to become more established as the necessary standard governing human production and consumption. But we will only be able to meaningfully shift to a circular economy if we connect different industries, technologies and people within the value net. Are you ready to connect with us?
The listed databases were carefully researched and compiled by Konstantin Utz and Gianna Moscoso Thompson for PCH Innovations. PCH Innovations is a Berlin-based, multi-disciplinary studio that develops divergent strategy and technology for regenerative systems.
We’re currently focussing on our circular robotics offering for repair, refurbishment and recycling. Do you have a project in mind? Let’s make something beautiful.