Dutch Railways is using circular performance metrics to transition to a clean, low-waste and resource-efficient operation.

Dutch Railways (Nederlandse Spoorwegen, NS), the national rail operator for the Netherlands, has an ambitious timetable to become circular.

By adopting the Circular Transition Indicators (CTI), developed by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) in collaboration with KPMG, the company is gaining significant insights into its circular performance.

Dutch Railways is using these learnings to inform key decisions on every aspect of its operations. The CTI give companies of all sizes, across all sectors, a transparent, universal and consistent way of measuring circularity. As more and more organizations embrace these indicators (to date, over 1400 companies from 90 countries), we’re seeing the emergence of a common circularity language. 

A platform for accelerating circularity

In a circular economy, products and services are designed for long life, energy efficiency, recyclability, low waste and biodegradation – preserving the world’s resources, limiting climate change and contributing to biodiversity.

Dutch Railways was one of the first companies to measure its circular performance using the CTI. It chose to first look at packaging materials used for its extensive food retail business, consisting of four types of outlets located at train stations: Kiosk, Railcatering, StationsHuiskamer and Julia’s. Working closely with Dutch Railways, KPMG helped with establishing metrics and using these insights to support future decision-making.

Having gained a much clearer picture of how circular the packaging is – and the potential for making it more circular – the company plans to extend the CTI framework to its core business of transporting people. 

We spoke to Ilse de Vos van Eekeren, Manager, Circular Business at Dutch Railways, about some of the lessons learned from the company’s experience with circularity metrics.

Lesson 1: A better understanding of the circular impact of our decisions

By measuring circularity, Dutch Railways can perform sensitivity analyses on future strategic and operational decisions, to assess the levels of re-use, waste, water usage and other outcomes.

As Ilse de Vos van Eekeren explains: “It’s our ambition to prevent waste in the most efficient way. By understanding how far we’ve come in reaching our goals, we can have more informed discussions with our suppliers on how to design retail products and packaging in a circular, mono-material way. Often, when looking at circularity, most attention goes to the reusability of products at their end-of-life. By using the CTI tool, we have gained more insights about the level of circularity and the impact of the material inflow of our retail products. We’re now able to perform a sensitivity analysis on our intended future decisions and boost the demand for non-virgin and renewable materials in our retail business.”

Lesson 2: CTI applies across multiple levels in an organization

Unlike other frameworks, the CTI metrics can be used at company, business unit, function and product level, for any type of business.

“CTI is developed in such a way that it can guide decision-making at different levels in our organization” Says Ilse de Vos van Eekeren. “Besides measuring circularity at an organization- or business unit level, CTI can, for example, be used to steer decision-making during procurement tenders. CTI allows us to develop and improve over time, starting at business unit level, and over time refining our approach at operational level.”

Lesson 3: Get the right data and the data right

Most companies are relatively inexperienced at gathering circular data and need to establish their specific data needs and sources of information. Some data may be readily available but in other cases they will have to work with suppliers and other partners to access key data – and gain assurance that it’s reliable. In certain instances, generic sector data may have to be used.

Suzanne Kuiper, Manager, KPMG and co-author of the CTI says: “CTI is an objective, data-driven and transparent framework, which means the quality of data used as input determines the quality of the outcomes. It’s therefore essential to get the right data and the data right, to be able to steer effective business decision-making.”

Ilse de Vos van Eekeren concurs, adding “Having the conversation with your suppliers beforehand and asking these questions, that's where it all starts.”

It’s a long-distance journey

Like many organizations, Dutch Railways is making good progress but acknowledges there is much to do to become fully circular. When replacing old rolling stock, it aims to re-use 100 percent of the materials, selling the trains as well as turning fittings into table-tennis tables, speakers, desks, laptop covers, plant pots and bags. By keeping materials in circulation, the company is saving 11.7 million kilos of waste.

“We have learned a lot in the process of using CTI” according to Ilse de Vos van Eekeren. “Our next step is to apply this framework to our main assets: trains. I’m very curious about finding out how circular our trains are today, and, even more curious – and excited – about how this outcome can help us achieve our goal of 100 percent circular trains.”

Want to know more?

Are you curious how we can help you gain significant insights into your company's circular performance? Reach out to Arnoud Walrecht or Mart Beune.