APRIL 2022

2021 Impact Report

Metabolic’s mission is to transition the global economy to a fundamentally sustainable state. We envision a world where human societies and ecosystems flourish, and where our economic activities do not transgress any of the planetary boundaries.

We work with a growing network of partners, to equip organizations all over the world with tools and insights to catalyze this change. We conduct leading research, develop future-facing strategies, and build scalable solutions to critical problems.

Thank you for your interest in our 2021 report!

Eva Gladek

Message from our CEO

"Another year, another global crisis. Pandemics, wildfires, social unrest, wars — disasters seem to be pummeling us with greater speed, breadth, and intensity than ever before. In the face of all of this, it is easy to fall into despair. At the very least, it’s easy to lose faith that the actions of individuals or small organizations can actually make a difference in the face of such enormous pendulum swings.

But, the complex challenges we are facing globally can also trigger a more optimistic perspective. Both the COVID pandemic and the war in Ukraine have shown us how rapidly large-scale societal shifts can take place, even in contexts where power and existing behavioral patterns seemed calcified. The importance of elections and policy are on display; the impact of people’s movements has been strongly reconfirmed. We are repeatedly inspired to see and understand that even small actions can have outsized and long-lasting effects.

We also see this in our work. The projects and programs we run, increasingly as part of a broader ecosystem of like-minded organizations, start out as seeds. With enough nurturing and care, they grow into forests that transform the socio-economic landscape. Systems change is possible. We are continuously learning about what conditions need to be in place for it to take root.

As Metabolic gets ready to celebrate its 10th anniversary, we once again look back on the achievements of the past year. We are excited and energized to continue this work with our clients and partners, our strongest allies in charting the path toward an economy within planetary boundaries. We hope you can also take some inspiration from this work."

— Eva Gladek, Founder and CEO

In 2021, we worked with partners all over the world

Map showing overview of what continents Metabolic worked in. Sorted by most projects to least: Europe, Asia, North America, South America and Africa.

About our projects and reports:

Our ecosystem grew:

We completed 67 projects, with another 77 ongoing

FRESH 
Venture generator and startup studio transforming the food system.

FRESH launched. Co-founded with Impact Express, the venture building program and startup studio focuses on accelerating a circular and regenerative food system.

Our findings, in the form of project reports, were read 60,544 times

Dayrize
Sustainable scoring system transforming consumption via an e-commerce marketplace.

Dayrize went live. The product impact assessment tool scores consumer products across six dimensions of sustainability, including social impact.

our six transitions

At Metabolic, we recognize the need for a new economic model: one that ensures the wellbeing of all people and allows organizations to thrive without transgressing the safe boundaries of the Earth’s natural systems.

Based on our years of research and project work, we have defined six transitions that need to take place in human systems and institutions.

Food and Land Use

The food system needs to dramatically reduce its physical footprint, decarbonize, and adopt circular management of key inputs. Developed by people for their own local context, it must also fairly compensate those working within it.

Cities and Regions

Urban areas and the hinterlands that they draw from should foster strong communities and the development of local, resilient, and circular value chains.

Products and Services

Material efficiency, decarbonization, and circular principles need to be embedded in the full value chain of all goods and services.

Governance

Decision-making must draw on the best available knowledge, and governance structures become more distributed (and not disproportionately benefit those with wealth or power).

Finance

Our global system should favor more longer-term perspectives where human, natural, and social capital is explicitly accounted for. In other words, investments that sacrifice the well-being of humans or ecosystems for the sake of financial gain would become impossible to reward.

Mindset

People’s values should integrate the interconnectedness with, and dependency on, natural systems (rather than the consumerism that currently dominates modern human lives).

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Food and Land Use

The food system needs to dramatically reduce its physical footprint, decarbonize, and adopt circular management of key inputs. Developed by people for their own local context, it must also fairly compensate those working within it.

Cities and Regions

Urban areas and the hinterlands that they draw from should foster strong communities and the development of local, resilient, and circular value chains.

Products and Services

Material efficiency, decarbonization, and circular principles need to be embedded in the full value chain of all goods and services.

Governance

Decision-making must draw on the best available knowledge, and governance structures become more distributed (and not disproportionately benefit those with wealth or power).

Finance

Our global system should favor more longer-term perspectives where human, natural, and social capital is explicitly accounted for. In other words, transactions that sacrifice the well-being of humans or ecosystems for the sake of financial gain are no longer possible.

Mindset

People’s values should integrate the interconnectedness with, and dependency on, natural systems (rather than the consumerism that currently dominates modern human lives).

We believe that successfully transitioning these six systems is likely to address over 90% of the negative environmental and humanitarian impacts that we are working to eliminate. Transitions in specific resource flows — like energy, water, and materials — are naturally dealt with within the six areas we have selected.

In this report, we share highlights of our work in four transitions where we made the most tangible impact over the past year.

What we worked on in 2021

in this report

Cities and Regions

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In 2021, we finished 29 projects, with 36 more ongoing. We focused on:

Urban metabolism analysis: mapping resource flows

Circular urban development and planning

Urban mining: reuse and recycling of construction and demolition materials

Policy, strategies, and roadmaps for circular cities and regions

Living lab development

Measuring and monitoring to improve and embed circularity

Here are a few highlighted projects from 2021:

metabolic institute

Over 1.5 years, Metabolic Institute worked with our Polish partner Innowo in the cities of Gdansk, Krakow, and Lublin to kickstart their transition to a circular economy. We collaboratively expanded on their existing strategies while exchanging lessons learned throughout the program.

What we did

Extensive context analysis and sector-based analysis (waste, energy, water, agrifood, construction).

Converted citywide analysis into a neighborhood scale, in order to define how different neighborhoods can take action.

Created toolkits to help build the innovation ecosystem and catalyze cross-sector collaboration.

outcomes and impacts

The city of Krakow has already implemented five bulk waste collection stations and adopted a new policy. They will also train their municipal staff about the circular economy.

Krakow was recognized for its high recycling rates and for developing a circular strategy.

metabolic consulting

The opening of Charlotte’s center for circular innovation

After helping the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, develop a strategy to become a zero-waste and inclusive city, we supported the founding of The Innovation Barn, a center for circular economy innovation and education.

What we did

Identified that Charlotte’s 900,000 tons of annual waste represent a residual value of roughly $111 million per year, and by harnessing that material, the city could create more than 2,000 jobs.

The Innovation Barn was one of our five proposed circular business cases that could help to divert waste, create jobs, and generate revenue.

outcomes and impacts

Showcase the circular economy in action by creating jobs, growing businesses, and reusing waste materials.

Thanks to our partners at Envision Charlotte:

More than 300,000 cans and bottles have been diverted from the landfill with the Send Me on My Way campaign.

More than 3 tons of plastics from takeout containers have been recycled.

Additional business models around recycling concrete, textile, and electronics may be implemented in the future.

Spectral

Spectral’s growth in smart energy

The first Metabolic spin-off, Spectral was set up in 2015 to transition the global energy sector towards a 100% sustainable energy supply. The focus of Spectral is on three impact areas: real estate, grid infrastructure, and renewable production and storage systems.

In 2021, Spectral was named among the top 250 fastest-growing companies in the Netherlands and its team grew to 53 people.

What we did

The Smart Grid Platform controls and optimizes large-scale batteries, solar plants, and wind parks to replace fossil-fuel power plants and eliminate emissions. It also manages the real-time balance of supply and demand within electricity networks to tackle to tackle grid congestion.

The Smart Building Platform controls the building management systems by using data like weather forecasts and live sensor data. This improves the efficiency of the HVAC systems, saving electricity and gas.

Outcomes and impacts

End 2021, Spectral controls an additional:

+30 MWs of wind energy.

+70 MWs of solar energy.

+20 MWs of integrated battery capacity.

Spectral’s real estate venture grew by:

11 new clients.

1,247 new buildings.

25 new buildings on automated control.

Gerard Roemers

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“The city of the future provides a place for everyone to live, work and thrive, while strengthening the natural systems that humanity and other species depend on.”

— Gerard Roemers, Cities Team lead

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Food and Land Use

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We worked with NGOs, companies, and governmental organizations, on 8 projects, with 12 more ongoing, focusing on:

Landscape impact approaches

Science-based target methodology development

Materiality assessments

Policy tracking and monitoring

Roadmap development

Regenerative agriculture strategies

Here are a few highlighted projects from 2021:

metabolic consulting

A sustainability strategy for PepsiCo

This year, we worked with some of the largest food and beverage companies and food retailers to bring their value chains in line with planetary boundaries.

We partnered with PepsiCo to address its impact on nature and propose ways to operate within planetary boundaries. Our project introduced a new way to measure and reduce the impact of PepsiCo’s food and drink production on water, biodiversity, and land degradation in Europe.

What we did

We teamed up with SYSTEMIQ and Leaders Quest.

We collected data to evaluate commodity landscapes, looking at impacts on water, biodiversity, and land degradation.

Identified key interventions that would help meet PepsiCo’s sustainability goals.

outcomes and impacts

A new framework to collect data, locate priority areas in the supply chain, and engage with suppliers.

Other companies in the food industry will be able to use this framework in the future.

Our work helped inform the pep+ (PepsiCo Positive) program, which guides the business to operate within planetary boundaries: PepsiCo committed to transitioning to regenerative farming practices across 7 million acres, improving the livelihoods of 250,000 people, and sustainably sourcing 100% of its key ingredients.

metabolic institute

Growing produce and fish at the aquaponics greenhouse

Metabolic Institute created an open-source aquaponics farm as a showcase and educational center for urban food production.

Aquaponics pairs aquaculture (the farming of edible fish) with hydroponics (the growth of plants without soil). It is one of the most efficient and least impactful farming methods.

This is one of 15 European pilots, developed through FoodE, a four-year EU-funded project, to enhance local food security and local supply chains in cities.

what we did

A fully-fledged aquaponics greenhouse at De Ceuvel, the living lab for circular urban development, which we helped create in Amsterdam in 2012.

The aquaponics system feeds a large vertical planting wall. It is irrigated from the top, allowing water to flow through each layer of plants. The water used for irrigation is pumped up from a tank that contains catfish. After flowing through each layer of plants, the water is cycled back to the fish tank, where nutrients are continuously added by the catfish.

This is a space for training and learning. It aims to inspire others to design, build, and manage their own small-scale aquaponics units.

outcomes and impacts

New aquaponics management software system.

User guide on how to replicate the design.

Site visits and workshops.

Edible flowers, salad greens, hot peppers, herbs, and catfish are currently being grown at the greenhouse.

Faithful to circular economy principles, some of these are served at the cafe next door.

metabolic consulting

Tracking global policies for nature-based solutions

At COP26, we launched the Nature-based Solutions (NbS) policy tracker, which identifies key policies that support the implementation of nature-based solutions.

Nature-based solutions can help reduce emissions by one-third by 2030 if investment also triples during this decade. First, we need to identify where finance for NbS is currently flowing. Partnering with Nature4Climate and Arboretica, we used artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify legislation and investment plans.

what we did

Used AI and machine learning, followed by manual validation, to identify all relevant policies.

We then graded the policies by basic, binary criteria that have proven to provide the best outcomes for NbS.

We used a case studies approach to map where NbS funding is flowing.

outcomes and impacts

This first iteration of the tracker mapped more than 220 policies across 80 countries.

A thorough policy analysis helped us to identify best practices, exemplifying case studies and solutions.

Future versions of the tracker will include more policies from more countries as we refine our search algorithm to include non-English languages.

Brian

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“We can feed a growing world if we transition to an equitable and regenerative food system.”

— Brian Shaw, Agrifood and Biodiversity Lead

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Products and Services

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From organizational strategy to closing the loop of material flows, we focused on:

Circular product systems design

Organizational impact assessments

Sustainability strategies

Here are a few highlighted projects from 2021:

metabolic consulting

Saving lives and the planet at a Dutch hospital

An average of 108 sterile gloves are used per patient per day in the 48-bed intensive care unit of Erasmus Medical Center, the largest hospital in the Netherlands. Then there are the compresses, syringes, surgical masks and gowns, and more…

All in all, the Dutch healthcare sector is responsible for 6 to 7 percent of the national emissions of greenhouse gasses, and a team at the hospital wanted to see how it could be made more sustainable.

The ultimate, ambitious goal is for the ICU to reuse all materials, be waste-free, and be 100% circular by 2030.

what we did

We measured all materials entering and leaving the ICU in 2019, from disposables and medicines to cleaning supplies and textiles, including packaging materials.

We identified seven hotspots where changes could be made at either the hospital or supplier level, ultimately helping the ICU to move from a linear to a circular system.

outcomes and impacts

Hospital staff have set up design research assignments with a university, engagements with suppliers, and a media campaign to raise awareness.

metabolic consulting

Measuring a global manufacturer’s GHG impact

Building on a years-long relationship, we helped a global battery manufacturer move towards implementing its global sustainability strategy. By providing insight into the company’s GHG inventory, we could set a baseline while shedding light on hotspot carbon-emitting areas and mitigation opportunities.

what we did

We calculated the company’s first global greenhouse gas emissions baseline across Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3 impact categories.

A supplier engagement roadmap allowed us to prioritize key material streams for impact reduction and opportunities for closed-loop battery recycling.

We assessed emission reduction pathways that would be required to meet Net-Zero Standard goals in line with science-based targets.

outcomes and impacts

The baseline assessment examined strategies for impact reduction, including:

supplier engagement,

transportation logistics, and

opportunities to recapture and reprocess materials.

metabolic consulting

An assessment for a circular electronics landscape

Global demand for electrical and electronic equipment has increased, with consumption growing by 2.5 million metric tons annually. But in 2019, only 17% was recycled.

With increasing pressure to manage e-waste responsibly, a circular economy for electronics becomes imperative, requiring collaboration, tools, and technologies. The Responsible Business Alliance called upon Metabolic to identify the pathways toward a circular and ethical supply chain.

what we did

Engaged more than 40 companies and organizations in the electronics supply chain.

Landscape assessment report compiled insights from research, stakeholder surveys, and interviews.

outcomes and impacts

An industry-wide vision of a circular and ethical supply chain for electronics, where incentives are aligned to ensure products and materials circulate at their highest value for as long as possible.

A comprehensive report to stimulate dialogue and inform strategic circular interventions among electronics producers and their extended networks.

Pieter van Exter

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“There are no sustainable products — only sustainable production systems.”

— Pieter van Exter, Circular Industries Team Lead

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Finance

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In 2021, we partnered with pioneering organizations to accelerate the transition to a circular economy, focusing on:

Sustainable investment strategies

Portfolio impact assessment

Science-based target setting

Innovative sustainable finance products and services

Climate and nature risk assessments and modeling

Here are a few highlighted projects from 2021:

metabolic consulting + Institute

Assessing systemic barriers to circular economy financing

By 2050, the Netherlands should be a fully circular, waste-free economy, according to a government program launched in 2016. To achieve this, the financial sector has a pivotal role to play by providing incentives, regulatory frameworks, and business support schemes. Yet today, the circular economy is inadequately financed.

Research conducted by Metabolic Institute found that up to €1.7 billion in additional funding is needed to meet the ambitions. Early-stage ventures and ventures dealing in reduce, re-use, repair, and refurbishment practices in particular struggle to get adequate funding.

To address this challenge, partnered with the Goldschmeding Foundation to assess the systemic barriers and identify key drivers to accelerate impact-driven finance.

What we did

Mapped current CE funding landscape: key financiers and funds involved in order to consolidate best practices, key drivers, barriers, and priority gaps.

Reviewed and consolidated 19 flagship reports published by leading knowledge institutes and financial institutions.

Surveyed 87 initiatives.

Undertook 28 in-depth interviews with representatives from municipalities, fund managers, public and private funds, innovation, acceleration programs, and think tanks.

outcomes and impacts

Identified acute funding gap for initiatives with the greatest potential for retaining value: Refuse, Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Refurbish, Remanufacture, and Repurpose.

We proposed to pilot an ecosystem approach to financing circular innovation, by setting up a Circular Innovation Ecosystem (CIE), a mission-driven investment network to fund, support, and enable an environment where circular solutions can thrive.

Our consortium is now working on fundraising.

metabolic consulting

Value at risk in the global blue economy

Investors in 66% of listed companies are collectively at risk of losing US $8.4 trillion due to declining ocean health and climate change if business as usual continues.

That’s among the key takeaways from our study with WWF, Navigating Ocean Risk: Value at Risk in the Global Blue Economy. We found that the financial sector needs to better assess ocean risks in their portfolios, and it must pivot from investments that damage the ocean environment to sustainable business models.

What we did

We developed a first-of-its-kind systems methodology to measure the impacts, drivers, and pressures that influence six sectors in the blue economy (an area well known for its scarce data).

With this new financial model, we estimated how changes to the physical environment and policy discourse affect assets and revenues relating to the blue economy.

outcomes and impacts

A new, publicly available tool to identify potential stranded assets, allowing investors and financiers to steer away from high-risk investments with negative environmental impacts toward safer investments with nature-positive outcomes.

The model shows that damage from climate change to coastal real estate, ports, shipping, marine renewable energy, and seafood will increase in the next 15 years.

If no action is taken, nearly $4 trillion is at risk to coastal infrastructure and almost $3 trillion to global fisheries.

Up to 25% of the value to sensitive, ocean-dependent resources like fisheries may be at risk if no action is taken.

metabolic consulting

Thriving in the new economy: An opportunity landscape

Dramatic environmental, societal, and political changes over the past century, driven by a range of accelerating global megatrends, have made it clear that many of the industries operating today are incompatible with a sustainable world in which both people and nature can flourish.

We conducted extensive research and analysis for one of the largest Japanese asset managers to help assess the degree of risk exposure of its current portfolio across a variety of sectors. We outlined a vision of a sustainable global economy and detailed out the pathways towards an opportunity landscape for investments and new sources of value creation.

What we did

Extensive trend and risk portfolio analysis.

We applied key systems thinking techniques to help explain and understand the dynamics and structural root causes that are causing systemic malfunctioning and require transition.

We identified a long list of opportunity areas for investments in core transition pathways.

We developed a strategic roadmap for guiding the asset manager in pursuing these systemic investment opportunities.

outcomes and impacts

We conveyed a sense of urgency to invest in new diversified areas — or risk disruption and stranded assets.

The asset manager is currently working internally with management of its diverse portfolio of assets on fundamentally transitioning their investments strategies and underlying business models.

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“Small tweaks in the financial sector can have massive effects in virtually all areas of the 'real' economy. Touching those means turning finance from a bottleneck to a driving force for good.”

— Seadna Quigley, Circular Finance Team Lead

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