Circular Port Monitor

How we created insights at each step of the process

The conceptualisation of circular economy in ports (Step 1) provided a first framework on which the research could further expand. The development of the LONGLIST of indicators and a cross-case analysis of port objectives (Step 2) provided the necessary inputs for the gap analyses (Step 3)Expert feedback cycles (Step 4) provided the INTERIM SHORTLIST of indicators which would be used in the roll-out in a real port context (Step 5) where feasibility was tested. After the roll-out, a FINAL SHORT LIST of 12 indicators was delivered, which was extensively tested for its relevance to the circular economy and ports, their connection to port objectives and their feasibility.



What's next?

The outcome of this exploratory research effort should not be seen as an end (kort aanvullen en linken aan Actionable Insights)

Along the journey, as a result of the study and multiple interactions, a number of interesting new research questions were formulated. (aanvullen)

Two key avenues were selected in function of the further development of a Circular Port Monitor, mainly because they are currently seen by Circular Flanders and the Research Team as the most relevant and immediate opportunities to promote and accelerate the circular ambitions of ports.

SUBSCRIBE NOW  to receive updates on progress and new developments


05. Roll-out in a real port context

Step 5 (May - June 2022)

After developing the LONG LIST of indicators (Step 2), linking the indicators to the ambitions and strategic goals of the ports by means of a gap analysis (Step 3), and analyzing each indicator again by means of an expert focus groups (Step 5), as a last step in the exploratory research, the INTERIM SHORTLIST of 15 suggested indicators (2.0) was tested for their feasibility and measurability in a real frontrunning port context. 

During this roll-out, only those indicators relevant in the short term were tested and the focus was on understanding the challenges each indicator would pose when implemented. For 12 out of 15 indicators from the INTERIM SHORTLIST 2.0, it was expected that the necessary data could be sought from the PMB, while the data for the remaining 3 indicators required individual companies (with a circular activity or project) to be contacted. The roll-out revealed that 12 shortlisted CE indicators passed the feasibility test. This includes 7 highly feasible indicators and 5 indicators with a moderate feasibility.


The result of the roll-out provides a FINAL SHORTLIST of 12 indicators which was extensively tested for their CE and ports relevance, their link with port objectives and their feasibility.



04. Expert feedback cycles

Step (April - May 2022)

The expert feedback cycles were not really separate steps, but rather moments woven through the exploration. Still, there was an important moment for the Reflection Group to help focus the step from the indicator SHORTLIST 1.0 to 2.0 in preparation of the feasibility test (Step 5).

Throughout the exploration, the Circular Port Monitor theme was also continuously linked to regional and international conferences and workshops, reaching out to academic and industry professionals. The exploration was also regularly aligned with the development of KPIs for the implementation of the Flemish port strategy

This open approach contributed to visibility and awareness of the need and value of CE monitoring in ports, which is important to take the next steps.


Expert feedback cycles provided an INTERIM SHORTLIST (2.0) of 15 proposed short term and 5 long-term indicators. Only the 15 short term indicators were are used as an input for the roll-out in a real port context (Step 5).


03. Gap analysis: matching indicators and goals

Step 3 (Februari - April 2022)

CE objectives of Belgian PMBs were extensively analysed through their available policy and strategy documents, such as masterplans and strategic vision reports. Given that indicators should match with objectives, a gap analysis was performed at three levels.

  • Gap analysis 1: studied which CE indicators from the LONGLIST are already being reported by ports, and therefore already pass the feasibility test.
  • Gap analysis 2: identified which LONGLIST indicators have a matching CE objective, on which ports have agreed upon with stakeholders and external organisations.
  • Gap analysis 3: studied the matches between the LONGLIST indicators and the Belgian ports’ own objectives. These objectives are those which the port imposes on itself and communicates through its strategic documents.
  • Gap analyses 2 and 3 together allow for the categorization of the longlist of indicators, while the gap analysis 1 strengthens the value of those indicators in their practical use.


The gap analyse resulted in an INTERIM SHORTLIST (1.0) of 15 CE indicators that match currently expressed CE port objectives. Another 17 indicators were selected as port relevant, but didn't match any (known) CE objective for now.


02. Review of relevant sources

Step 2 (January - Februari 2022)

A systematic approach was taken to reach a long list of CE indicators for ports. The starting point was the collection of available and accessible CE indicators from state-of-the-art CE sources. These indicators were not deliberately developed for ports or port activities in particular (a top-down approach). Next, existing CE indicators, which are already being monitored by ports, were considered in a bottom-up way, along with reports issued by port policy-oriented organisations. A longlist of 308 CE indicators was structured into CE and value chain themes. Based on reflections of the Research Team, as well as port and CE experts of a Reflection Group, similar indicators were then bundled where possible and remaining indicators was checked upon or translated towards port relevance. This resulted in a longlist of 32 CE  indicators.



01. Setting the scene

Step 1 (November - December 2021)

Given the complex challenge, exploratory research was chosen as the method. First and foremost, it was necessary to know the context well and provide a robust framework to help guide the exploratory steps and the choices to be made. 

From the beginning of the exploration, the Research Team tried to find the balance between building on and improving already existing knowledge, concepts and experience (lean) on the one hand, and working adaptively on actionable insights (agile) during the process (November 2021 - June 2022) on the other.

Limited research and experience on circular indicators for ports so far

Some research contributions already mention a number of indicators, varying over ports and based on, amongst others, data availability, willingness to communicate about it, specific projects they want to highlight, etc. However, from a port competitiveness perspective, ports should develop CE competitive advantages and compare themselves with their competitors. A common set of relevant CE indicators, having the potential to raise port CE ambitions, will enable a baseline, follow-up and benchmark analysis. These CE indicators would also support the possibility to aggregate information over several ports, and indicate their joint effort for society in this transition (Source: ECSA, PLA & VUB, 2022)

If not now, when?

Recently, Circular Flanders launched a Circular Economy Monitor. At the same time, a new Flemish Port Strategy 2030 is operationalized by drawing up KPIs, while the individual Flemish ports gradually adopt circular strategies and activities. Once ports have such strategies, target setting supported by appropriate indicators becomes a logical next step.

Whilst ports have recently focusing on circular economy, there were relevant initiatives in the international port sector for some time to which one can connect or learn from. EcoPorts the main environmental initiative of the European port sector, was initiated in 1997 and has been fully integrated into the European Sea Port Organization (ESPO) since 2011.

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) envisions a sustainable future enabled by transparency and open dialogue about impacts. GRI also started in 1997 and set the standards for sustainability reporting in 2016 with which the major seaports started working. More recently the International Association of Ports and Harbours (IAPH) set up the World Port Sustainability Program (WPSP) that builds on the World Ports Climate Action Program (WACAP) that started in 2008.

The current dynamic context of monitoring circular economy and the evolving role of Port Management Bodies (PMBs) in sustainability reporting is an excellent opportunity that presented itself to clarify the direction in which it could co-evolve and be integrated. Now is the time for an exploratory study on monitoring a circular economy in port areas. Not just to clarify the challenge or simply gain insights, but also to make the insights actionable.