Measuring Rail’S Circular Economy Performance

Measuring rail’s circular economy performance

The Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) is a not-for-profit company that supports the rail industry to make an evolving railway safer, more efficient, and more sustainable. Our circular economy experts have been assisting RSSB to ensure that the GB rail industry is on track to deliver the zero waste Flagship Goal set out within the Sustainable Rail Blueprint. This Blueprint has not yet been published, and is scheduled to be released in mid-November.



Led by RSSB, the Sustainable Rail Blueprint has been developed as an industry-wide strategy for realising sustainable rail. It aims to align efforts, inspire change, and make the GB railway industry more sustainable. The Blueprint outlines 11 Flagship Goals across various environmental and social topics. This project specifically focused on the zero waste Flagship Goal which aims “to achieve a railway that uses resources efficiently and supports a collaborative circular economy”. It was proposed to develop a series of metrics to form a baseline and monitor the industry’s progress towards meeting this zero waste Flagship Goal.


Our approach

The first phase of the project involved three main tasks:
  1. Produce a longlist of metrics - establishing a baseline of existing reporting, data flows, and metrics used across the industry and the wider economy.
  2. Produce a shortlist of metrics - undertaking a critical assessment using a multi-criteria analysis tool to prioritise the metrics according to their relevance, feasibility, and practicality.
  3. Outline the data collection plans - with the help of stakeholder interviews, focused on confirming our assessment and developing plans for how these metrics could be implemented. 
The recommended metrics were mapped out across the four strategic areas that underpin the zero waste Flagship Goal:
  • Zero waste journeys
  • Circular design
  • Circular operations
  • Sustainable procurement
Shortlisted metrics were split into two categories: core and progressive (see Figure 1). The core metrics were the highest priority for the industry to take forward to monitor its performance against the zero waste Flagship Goal. These were selected based on the readiness of the industry to monitor and report against them, alongside their overall ease of implementation.  For each core metrics, our team developed a data collection plan, which considered what information is already collected by industry, where new data will be required, what the potential method for data collection may be and who would be responsible for collecting this data.
The progressive metrics were more ambitious indicators for longer-term adoption which aim to futureproof the industry for upcoming market and legislation changes.


Figure 1: The ‘core’ and ‘progressive’ metrics



Our recommendations will stimulate greater engagement across the GB rail industry, and advance circular activity and understanding. The metrics we have identified will enable consistent monitoring and reporting of circular performance across its assets, infrastructure and operations. This represents a significant step forward for how the industry reports its environmental performance, building upon existing waste management practices whilst future proofing itself against upcoming market and legislation changes.


Along with the RSSB, we are now working with rail organisations to pilot the implementation of these data collection plans. This pilot scheme will allow us to refine the recommended metrics and develop guidance to enable industry to consistently and effectively collect, measure, and report on its circular economy performance.


RSSB’s Sustainable Rail Strategy Lead, Thom Rawson said:
“This project has established tangible and measurable metrics for the rail industry’s management of waste and recycling, and represents a significant step forward towards achieving the goal of Zero Waste. 
Ricardo’s systematic and collaborative approach has produced the right results, most importantly ensuring that the recommendations are supported by the rail industry, key to ensuring they are put in to practice. 
The information gathered using these metrics will be an important element of RSSB’s Sustainable Rail Data Framework, through which we are building a data-led understanding of rail’s sustainability credentials.”


Read RSSB’s blog to find out more about this project and get in touch for further support on circular economy metric development.


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The Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB)

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Circular economy

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