Circular economy

A circular economy (often referred to simply as "circularity"[1]) is an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources. Circular systems employ reuse, sharing, repair, refurbishment, remanufacturing and recycling to create a close-loop system, minimising the use of resource inputs and the creation of waste, pollution and carbon emissions.[2] The circular economy aims to keep products, equipment and infrastructure in use for longer, thus improving the productivity of these resources. All 'waste' should become 'food' for another process: either a by-product or recovered resource for another industrial process, or as regenerative resources for nature, e.g. compost. This regenerative approach is in contrast to the traditional linear economy, which has a 'take, make, dispose' model of production.[3]

Proponents of the circular economy suggest that a sustainable world does not mean a drop in the quality of life for consumers, and can be achieved without loss of revenue or extra costs for manufacturers. The argument is that circular business models can be as profitable as linear models, allowing us to keep enjoying similar products and services.


Intuitively, the circular economy would appear to be more sustainable than the current linear economic system. Reducing the resources used, and the waste and leakage created, conserves resources and helps to reduce environmental pollution. However, it is argued by some that these assumptions are simplistic; that they disregard the complexity of existing systems and their potential trade-offs. For example, the social dimension of sustainability seems to be only marginally addressed in many publications on the circular economy. There are cases that might require different or additional strategies, like purchasing new, more energy-efficient equipment. By reviewing the literature, a team of researchers from Cambridge and TU Delft could show that there are at least eight different relationship types between sustainability and the circular economy.[2]


The circular economy can cover a broad scope, findings from the literature show that researchers have focused on different areas such as industrial applications with both product-oriented and services,[4] practice and policies[5] to better understand the limitations that the CE currently faces, strategic management for details of the circular economy and different outcomes such as potential re-use applications[6] and waste management.[7]

The circular economy includes products, infrastructure, equipment and services, and applies to every industry sector. It includes 'technical' resources (metals, minerals, fossil resources) and 'biological' resources (food, fibres, timber, etc.).[3] Most schools of thought advocate a shift from fossil fuels to the use of renewable energy, and emphasize the role of diversity as a characteristic of resilient and sustainable systems. It includes discussion of the role of money and finance as part of the wider debate, and some of its pioneers have called for a revamp of economic performance measurement tools.

One example of a circular economy model is the implementation of renting models in traditional ownership areas (e.g. electronics, clothes, furniture, transportation). Through renting the same product to several clients, manufacturers can increase revenues per unit, thus decreasing the need to produce more to increase revenues. Recycling initiatives are often described as a circular economy and are likely to be the most widespread models.


As early as 1966 Kenneth Boulding raised awareness of an "open economy" with unlimited input resources and output sinks, in contrast with a "closed economy", in which resources and sinks are tied and remain as long as possible a part of the economy. Boulding's essay "The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth"[8] is often cited as the first expression of the "circular economy",[9] although Boulding does not use that phrase.

The circular economy is grounded in the study of feedback-rich (non-linear) systems, particularly living systems.[3] The contemporary understanding of the Circular Economy and its practical applications to economic systems evolved incorporating different features and contributions from a variety of concepts sharing the idea of closed loops. Some of the relevant theoretical influences are cradle to cradle, laws of ecology, looped and performance economy, regenerative design, industrial ecology, biomimicry and blue economy.[2]

The circular economy (CE) was further modelled by British environmental economists David W. Pearce and R. Kerry Turner in 1989. In Economics of Natural Resources and the Environment,[10] they pointed out that a traditional open-ended economy was developed with no built-in tendency to recycle, which was reflected by treating the environment as a waste reservoir.[11]

In the early 1990s, Tim Jackson began to pull together the scientific basis for this new approach to industrial production in his edited collection Clean Production Strategies,[12] including chapters from pre-eminent writers in the field, such as Walter R Stahel, Bill Rees, and Bob Costanza. At the time still called 'preventive environmental management', his follow-on book Material Concerns - Pollution, Profit and Quality of Life[13] synthesised these findings into a manifesto for change, moving industrial production away from an extractive linear system towards a more circular economy.

Emergence of the idea

In their 1976 research report to the European Commission, "The Potential for Substituting Manpower for Energy", Walter Stahel and Genevieve Reday sketched the vision of an economy in loops (or circular economy) and its impact on job creation, economic competitiveness, resource savings, and waste prevention. The report was published in 1982 as the book Jobs for Tomorrow: The Potential for Substituting Manpower for Energy.[14]

in 1982, Walter Stahel was awarded third prize in the Mitchell Prize competition on sustainable business models with a paper The Product-Life Factor. First prize went to the then US Secretary of Agriculture, second prize to Amory and Hunter Lovins, fourth prize to Peter Senge.

Considered as one of the first pragmatic and credible sustainability think tanks, the main goals of Stahel's institute are to extend the working life of products, to make goods last longer, to re-use existing goods and ultimately to prevent waste. This model emphasizes the importance of selling services rather than products, an idea referred to as the "functional service economy" and sometimes put under the wider notion of "performance economy". This model also advocates "more localization of economic activity".[15]

Promoting a circular economy was identified as national policy in China's 11th five-year plan starting in 2006.[16] The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has more recently outlined the economic opportunity of a circular economy, bringing together complementary schools of thought in an attempt to create a coherent framework, thus giving the concept a wide exposure and appeal.[17]

Most frequently described as a framework for thinking, its supporters claim it is a coherent model that has value as part of a response to the end of the era of cheap oil and materials, moreover contributing to the transition for a low carbon economy. In line with this, a circular economy can contribute to meeting the COP 21 Paris Agreement. The emissions reduction commitments made by 195 countries at the COP 21 Paris Agreement, are not sufficient to limit global warming to 1.5 °C. To reach the 1.5 °C ambition it is estimated that additional emissions reductions of 15 billion tonnes CO2 per year need to be achieved by 2030. Circle Economy and Ecofys estimated that circular economy strategies may deliver emissions reductions that could basically bridge the gap by half.[18]

Moving away from the linear model

Linear "take, make, dispose" industrial processes, and the lifestyles dependent on them, use up finite reserves to create products with a finite lifespan, which end up in landfills or in incinerators. The circular approach, by contrast, takes insights from living systems. It considers that our systems should work like organisms, processing nutrients that can be fed back into the cycle — whether biological or technical — hence the "closed loop" or "regenerative" terms usually associated with it. The generic circular economy label can be applied to or claimed by several different schools of thought, but all of them gravitate around the same basic principles.

One prominent thinker on the topic is Walter R. Stahel, an architect, economist, and a founding father of industrial sustainability. Credited with having coined the expression "Cradle to Cradle" (in contrast with "Cradle to Grave", illustrating our "Resource to Waste" way of functioning), in the late 1970s, Stahel worked on developing a "closed loop" approach to production processes, co-founding the Product-Life Institute in Geneva. In the UK, Steve D. Parker researched waste as a resource in the UK agricultural sector in 1982, developing novel closed-loop production systems. These systems mimicked and worked with the biological ecosystems they exploited.

Towards the circular economy

In January 2012, a report was released entitled Towards the Circular Economy: Economic and business rationale for an accelerated transition. The report, commissioned by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and developed by McKinsey & Company, was the first of its kind to consider the economic and business opportunity for the transition to a restorative, circular model. Using product case studies and economy-wide analysis, the report details the potential for significant benefits across the EU. It argues that a subset of the EU manufacturing sector could realize net materials cost savings worth up to $630 billion annually towards 2025—stimulating economic activity in the areas of product development, remanufacturing and refurbishment. Towards the Circular Economy also identified the key building blocks in making the transition to a circular economy, namely in skills in circular design and production, new business models, skills in building cascades and reverse cycles, and cross-cycle/cross-sector collaboration.[19]

On the other hand, implementing a circular economy in the United States has been presented by Ranta et al.[4] who analyzed the institutional drivers and barriers for the circular economy in different regions worldwide, by following the framework developed by Scott R.[20] In the article, different worldwide environment-friendly institutions were selected, and two types of manufacturing processes were chosen for the analysis (1) a product-oriented, and (2) a waste management.[4][20] Specifically, in the U.S., the product-oriented company case in the study was Dell, a US manufacturing company for computer technology, which was the first company to offer free recycling to customers and to launch to the market a computer made from recycling materials from a verified third-party source.[4] Moreover, the waste management case that includes many stages such as collection, disposal, recycling[21] in study was Republic Services, the second-largest waste management company in the US. The approach to measuring the drivers and barriers was to first identify indicators for their cases in study and then to categorize these indicators into drivers when the indicator was in favor of the circular economy model or a barrier when it was not.[4]

Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE)

In 2018, the World Economic Forum, World Resources Institute, Philips, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, United Nations Environment Programme, and over 40 other partners launched the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE).[22] PACE follows on the legacy of WEF's CEO-led initiative, Project MainStream, which sought to scale up circular economy innovations.[23] PACE's original intent has three focal areas: (1) developing models of blended finance for circular economy projects, especially in developing and emerging economies; (2) creating policy frameworks to address specific barriers to advancing the circular economy; and (3) promoting Public–private partnership for these purposes.[24][25]

PACE members include global corporations like IKEA, Coca-Cola, Alphabet Inc., and DSM (company), along with governmental partners and development institutions from Denmark, The Netherlands, Finland, Rwanda, UAE, China, and beyond.[26][27] Initiatives currently managed under PACE include the Capital Equipment Coalition with Philips and numerous other partners[28][29][30] and the Global Battery Alliance with over 30 partners.[31][32] In January 2019, PACE released a report entitled "A New Circular Vision for Electronics: Time for a Global Reboot" (in support of the United Nations E-waste Coalition.[33][34]

Circular economy standard BS 8001:2017

To provide authoritative guidance to organizations implementing circular economy (CE) strategies, in 2017, the British Standards Institution (BSI) developed and launched the first circular economy standard "BS 8001:2017 Framework for implementing the principles of the circular economy in organizations. Guide".[35] The circular economy standard BS 8001:2017 tries to align the far-reaching ambitions of the CE with established business routines at the organizational level. It contains a comprehensive list of CE terms and definitions, describes the core CE principles, and presents a flexible management framework for implementing CE strategies in organizations. Little concrete guidance on circular economy monitoring and assessment is given, however, as there is no consensus yet on a set of central circular economy performance indicators applicable to organizations and individual products.[36]

Circular business models

While the initial focus of academic, industry, and policy activities was mainly focused on the development of re-X (recycling, remanufacturing, reuse,...) technology, it soon became clear that the technological capabilities increasingly exceed their implementation. To leverage this technology for the transition towards a Circular Economy, various stakeholders have to work together. This shifted attention towards business-model innovation as a key leverage for 'circular' technology adaption.[38]

Circular business models can be defined as business models that are closing, narrowing, slowing, intensifying, and dematerializing loops, to minimize the resource inputs into and the waste and emission leakage out of the organizational system. This comprises recycling measures (closing), efficiency improvements (narrowing), use phase extensions (slowing), a more intense use phase (intensifying), and the substitution of products by service and software solutions (dematerializing).[37] As illustrated in the Figure, these five approaches to resource loops can also be seen as generic strategies or archetypes of circular business model innovation.

Circular business models, as the economic model more broadly, can have different emphases and various objectives, for example: extend the life of materials and products, where possible over multiple ‘use cycles’; use a ‘waste = food’ approach to help recover materials, and ensure those biological materials returned to earth are benign, not toxic; retain the embedded energy, water and other process inputs in the product and the material for as long as possible; Use systems-thinking approaches in designing solutions; regenerate or at least conserve nature and living systems; push for policies, taxes and market mechanisms that encourage product stewardship, for example ‘polluter pays’ regulations.[39]

Critiques of circular economy models

The logic of the 'circular economy' narrative and discourse: business can be as profitable as it has been in the linearity model of grow now, clean up later (focus on short-term gains at expense of long-term externalities). While it is possible to somewhat reduce, reuse, and recycle, in its circularity the circular economy is all about sustainable economy, and sustainable development without limits to growth, that can keep placing more demands for additional natural resources, evermore growth, and does not account for exceeding nine planetary limits on the carrying capacity for all life on planet Earth. There is some criticism of the idea of the circular economy. Among other things, the deceptive image of the circle needs deconstruction. It implies that nothing is wasted when we recycle, reuse, remake, etc. The circular economy will always need more energy, and there will always be more waste. The circular economy uses the same logic as 'triple bottom line' and therefore merits the same critique. Triple Bottom Line (3BL) of people, planet and profit (aka economic prosperity or by the economic, equity and environment (aka, Triple Bottom Line or 3BL), puts profit/economic ahead of people/equity and planet/environment. As with 3BL, circular economy has robust measures of profit/economic variables but not much on the people/equity or planet/environment. The premise of the Circular Economy is a set of boundary conditions that ensure all activity translates to contributing toward positive impact for the Triple Bottom Line (3BL) people, planet and profit (aka economic, equity, & environment).

"Given the all too obvious social and environmental crises associated with out-of-bounds growth capitalism, the circular economy has been one of the main references for rebuilding and reforming a political economy of sustainable growth" (Valenzuela & Böhm, 2017: 23).

As Corvellec (2015) puts it the circular economy privileges continued economic growth with soft anti-programs, and circular economy is far from the most radical anti-(waste)program. Corvellec (2019: 217) raises the issue of multi-species and stresses “impossibility for waste producers to dissociate themselves from their waste and emphasizes the contingent, multiple, and transient value of waste”. “Scatolic engagement draws on Reno’s analogy of waste as scats and of scats as signs for enabling interspecies communication. This analogy stresses the impossibility for waste producers to dissociate themselves from their waste and emphasizes the contingent, multiple, and transient value of waste” (Corvellec, 2019: p. 217).

“A key tenet of a scatolic approach to waste is to consider waste as unavoidable and worthy of interest. Whereas total quality sees in waste a sign of failure, a scatolic understanding sees a sign of life. Likewise, whereas the Circular Economy analogy of a circle evokes endless perfection, the analogy of scats evokes disorienting messiness. A scatolic approach features waste as a lively matter open for interpretation, within organizations as well as across organizational species” (Corvellec, 2019: p. 219)

Corvellec and Stål (2019) are mildly critical of apparel manufacturing critical economy take-back systems are ways to anticipate and head off policymakers more severe waste reduction programs.

“Apparel retailers exploit that the circular economy is evocative but still sufficiently vague to create any concrete policies (Lüdeke‐Freund, Gold, & Bocken, 2019) that might hinder their freedom of action (Corvellec & Stål, 2017). Their business-centered qualification of take-back systems amounts to an engagement in “market action (...) as leverage to push policymakers to create or repeal particular rules,” as Funk and Hirschman (2017:33) put it” (Corvellec & Stål, 2019: p. 26).

Research by Zink and Geyer (2017: 593) questions the CE engineering-centric assumptions.

"However, proponents of the circular economy have tended to look at the world purely as an engineering system and have overlooked the economic part of the circular economy. Recent research has started to question the core of the circular economy—namely, whether closing material and product loops do, in fact, prevent primary production." 

In sum, there is a growing set of critiques of CE. For example, Allwood (2014, 446) discussed the limits of CE 'material circularity', and questioned the desirability of the CE in a reality with growing demand. Do CE secondary production activities (reuse, repair, & remake) actually reduce, or ;displace,; primary production (natural resource extraction)?  The problem CE overlooks, its untold story, is how displacement is governed mainly by market forces (McMillan et al., 2012). It's the tired old narrative, that the invisible hand of market forces will conspire to create full displacement. of virgin material of the same kind (Zink & Geyer, 2017). In the Journal of Production, the critique of Korhonen, Nuur, Feldmann, and Birkie (2018) is that "the basic assumptions concerning the values, societal structures, cultures, underlying world-views and the paradigmatic potential of CE remain largely unexplored." 

For more see

Allwood, J. M. 2014. Squaring the circular economy: The role of recycling within a hierarchy of material management strategies. In Handbook of recycling: State-of-the-art for practitioners, analysts, and scientists, edited by E.Worrell andM. Reuter. Waltham, MA, USA: Elsevier.

Corvellec, Hervé. (2015). New directions for management and organization studies on waste.

Corvellec, Hervé. (2019). Waste as scats: For an organizational engagement with waste. Organization, 26(2), 217-235.

Corvellec, H., & Stål, H. I. (2019). Qualification as corporate activism: How Swedish apparel retailers attach circular fashion qualities to take-back systems. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 101046.

Korhonen, J., Nuur, C., Feldmann, A., & Birkie, S. E. (2018). Circular economy as an essentially contested concept. Journal of Cleaner Production, 175, 544-552.

Lazarevic, D., & Valve, H. (2017). Narrating expectations for the circular economy: Towards a common and contested European transition. Energy research & social science, 31, 60-69.

McMillan, C. A., S. J. Skerlos, and G. A. Keoleian. (2012). Evaluation of the metals industry's position on recycling and its implications for environmental emissions. Journal of Industrial Ecology 16(3): 324–333.

Milne, Markus J.(2005). "From soothing palliatives and towards ecological literacy: A critique of the Triple Bottom Line." Accessed Aug 1 2019 at

Norman, W., & MacDonald, C. (2004). Getting to the bottom of “triple bottom line”. Business ethics quarterly, 14(2), 243-262.

Valenzuela, F., & Böhm, S. (2017). Against wasted politics: A critique of the circular economy. ephemera: theory & politics in organization, 17(1), 23-60.Accessed Aug 1 2019 at

Zink, T., & Geyer, R. (2017). Circular economy rebound. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 21(3), 593-602.

It is also often pointed out that there are fundamental limits to the concept, which are based, among other things, on the laws of thermodynamics. According to the second law of thermodynamics, all spontaneous processes are irreversible and associated with an increase in entropy. It follows that in a real implementation of the concept, one would either have to deviate from the perfect reversibility in order to generate an entropy increase by generating waste, which would ultimately amount to still having parts of the economy which follow a linear scheme, or enormous amounts of energy would be required (from which a significant part would be dissipated in order to for the total entropy to increase).[40] In its comment to concept of the circular economy the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC) came to a similar conclusion: "Recovery and recycling of materials that have been dispersed through pollution, waste and end-of-life product disposal require energy and resources, which increase in a nonlinear manner as the percentage of recycled material rises (owing to the second law of thermodynamics: entropy causing dispersion). Recovery can never be 100% (Faber et al., 1987). The level of recycling that is appropriate may differ between materials."[41]

Industries adopting a circular economy

Textile industry

A circular economy within the textiles industry refers to the practice of clothes and fibers continually being recycled, to re-enter the economy as much as possible rather than ending up as waste.

A circular textiles economy is in response to the current linear model of the fashion industry, “in which raw materials are extracted, manufactured into commercial goods and then bought, used and eventually discarded by consumers” (Business of Fashion, 2017).[42] 'Fast fashion 'companies have fueled the high rates of consumption which further magnify the issues of a linear system. “The take-make-dispose model not only leads to an economic value loss of over $500 billion per year but also has numerous negative environmental and societal impacts” (Business of Fashion, 2018).[43] Such environmental effects include tons of clothing ending up in landfills and incineration, while the societal effects put human rights at risk. A revolutionary documentary about the world of fashion, “The True Cost” (2015),[44] explained that in fast fashion, “wages, unsafe conditions, and factory disasters are all excused because of the needed jobs they create for people with no alternatives.” This shows that fast fashion is harming the planet in more ways than one by running on a linear system.

It is argued that by following a circular economy, the textile industry can be transformed into a sustainable business. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is at the top of the list as it focuses on the benefits of a circular economy. Their 2017 report, “A New Textiles Economy”,[45] states the four key ambitions needed to establish a circular economy: “phasing out substances of concern and microfiber release; transforming the way clothes are designed, sold and used to break free from their increasingly disposable nature; radically improving recycling by transforming clothing design, collection, and reprocessing; and making effective use of resources and moving to renewable input.” While it sounds like a simple task, only a handful of designers in the fashion industry have taken charge, including Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, and Stella McCartney. An example of a circular economy within a fashion brand is Eileen Fisher's Tiny Factory, in which customers are encouraged to bring their worn clothing to be manufactured and resold. In an interview on The Glossy Podcast (2018),[46] Fisher explains, “A big part of the problem with fashion is overconsumption. We need to make less and sell less…you get to use your creativity but you also get to sell more but not create more stuff.” The Tiny Factory proves that it is possible to practice a circular economy in the textile industry. Both China and Europe have taken the lead in pushing a circular economy. The Journal of Industrial Ecology (2017)[47] states, the “Chinese perspective on the circular economy is broad, incorporating pollution and other issues alongside waste and resource concerns, [while] Europe’s conception of the circular economy has a narrower environmental scope, focusing on waste and resources and opportunities for business.” These practices are important for citizens to understand and realize the opportunity and benefits of a circular economy in the textile industry.

The textile industry has a long way to go to reach a sustainable future. A circular economy could be the answer to the social and environmental issues that the current linear, fast fashion model has created.

Construction industry

A construction sector is one of the world's largest waste generators. The Circular Economy appears as a helpful solution to diminish the environmental impact of the industry.

Construction is very important to the economy of the European Union and its state members. It provides 18 million direct jobs and contributes to about 9% of the EU's GDP.[48] The main causes of the construction's environmental impact are found in the consumption of non-renewable resources and the generation of contaminant residues, both of which are increasing at an accelerating pace.[49]

Decision making about the Circular Economy can be performed on the operational (connected with particular parts of the production process), tactical (connected with whole processes) and strategic (connected with the whole organization) levels. It may concern both construction companies as well as construction projects (where a construction company is one of the stakeholders). As a good case that fits the idea of Circular Economy in the construction sector on the operational level, there can be pointed walnut husks, that belong to hard, light and natural abrasives used for example in cleaning brick surfaces. Abrasive grains are produced from crushed, cleaned and selected walnut shells. They are classified as reusable abrasives. A first attempt to measure the success of Circular Economy implementation was done in a construction company.[50]

Automotive industry

The circular economy is beginning to catch on inside the automotive industry.[51] There are also incentives for carmakers to do so as a 2016 report by Accenture stated that the circular economy could redefine competitiveness in the automotive sector in terms of price, quality, and convenience and could double revenue by 2030 and lower the cost base by up to fourteen percent. So far, it has typically translated itself into using parts made from recycled materials[52], remanufacturing of car parts and looking at the design of new cars.[53][54] With the vehicle recycling industry (in the EU) only being able to recycle just 75% of the vehicle, meaning 25% isn't recycled and may even end up in landfills[55], there is much to improve here. In the electric vehicle industry, disassembly robots are used to help disassemble the vehicle.[56] In the EU's ETN-Demeter project (European Training Network for the Design and Recycling of Rare-Earth Permanent Magnet Motors and Generators in Hybrid and Full Electric Vehicles)[57] they are looking at the sustainable design issue. They are for example making designs of electric motors of which the magnets can be easily removed for recycling the rare earth metals.

Some car manufacturers such as Volvo are also looking at alternative ownership models (leasing from the automotive company; "Care by Volvo").[58]

Logistics industry

The logistics industry plays an important role in the Dutch economy because the Netherlands is located in a specific area where the transit of commodities takes place on a daily basis. The Netherlands is an example of a country from the EU that has increasingly moved towards incorporating a circular economy given the vulnerability of the Dutch economy (as well as other EU countries) to be highly dependable on raw materials imports from countries such as China, which makes the country susceptible to the unpredictable importation costs for such primary goods.[59]

Research related to the Dutch industry shows that 25% of the Dutch companies are knowledgeable and interested in a circular economy; furthermore, this number increases to 57% for companies with more than 500 employees. Some of the areas are chemical industries, wholesale trade, industry and agriculture, forestry and fisheries because they see a potential reduction of costs when reusing, recycling and reducing raw materials imports. In addition, logistic companies can enable a connection to a circular economy by providing customers incentives to reduce costs through shipment and route optimization, as well as, offering services such as prepaid shipping labels, smart packaging, and take-back options.[59]

Several statistics have indicated that there will be an increase in freight transport worldwide, which will affect the environmental impacts of the global warming potential causing a challenge to the logistics industry, however, the Dutch council for the Environment and Infrastructure (Dutch acronym: Rli) provided a new framework in which it suggests that the logistics industry can provide other ways to add value to the different activities in the Dutch economy, such as, an exchange of resources (either waste or water flows) for production from the different industries, in addition, to change the transit port concept to a transit hub. Moreover, the Rli studied the role of the logistics industry for three sectors, agriculture and food, chemical industries and high tech industries which can be found detailed in "Towards a Circular Economy: The Role of Dutch Logistics Industries and Governments" .[59]


The Netherlands, aiming to have a completely circular economy by 2050[60], has also foreseen a shift to circular agriculture ("kringlooplandbouw"[61]) as part of this plan. This shift foresees having a "sustainable and strong agriculture" by as early as 2030.[62][63] Changes in the Dutch laws and regulations will be introduced. Some key points in this plant include:

  • closing the fodder-manure cycle
  • reusing as much waste streams as possible (a team "Reststromen" will be appointed)
  • reducing the use of artificial fertilizers in favor of natural manure
  • providing the chance for farms within experimentation areas to deviate from law and regulations
  • implementing uniform methods to measure the soil quality
  • providing the opportunity to agricultural entrepreneurs to sign an agreement with Staatsbosbeheer ("State forest management") to have it use the lands they lease for Natuurinclusieve Landbouw ("nature-inclusive management")
  • providing initiatives to increase the earnings of farmers

Furniture industry

When it comes to the furniture industry, most of the products are passive durable products, and accordingly implementing strategies and business models that extend the lifetime of the products (like repairing and remanufacturing) would usually have lower environmental impacts and lower costs.[64]

The EU has seen a huge potential for implementing a circular economy in the furniture sector. Currently, out of 10,000,000 tonnes annually discarded furniture in the EU, most of it ends in landfills or incineration. There is a potential of €4.9 billion increase in GVA from improved circularity in the furniture sector in the EU by 2030. Besides 163,300 jobs could be created by shifting to the circular model in the EU furniture sector.[65]

A study about the status of the Danish furniture companies' effort on circular economy states that 44% of the companies included maintenance in their business models, and 22% of them had take-back schemes. Besides, 56% of the companies designed for recycling. They concluded that although the circular economy is gaining momentum, it is still lacking some knowledge for it. Besides, the need to change the business model could be another barrier.[66]

Another report in the UK saw a huge potential for reuse and recycling in the furniture sector. The study concludes that around 42% of the bulk waste sent to landfills annually (1.6 million tonnes) is furniture. They also found that 80% of the raw material in the production phase is waste. Rype Office is one example of a furniture company that offers remade and refurbished options to customers.[67]

Oil & Gas industry

The uptake to reuse within the Oil and Gas Industry is very poor, the opportunity to reuse is never more evident, or possible, as when the equipment is being decommissioned. Hundreds of thousands of tons of waste are being brought back onshore to be recycled. Unfortunately, what this equates to; is equipment, which is perfectly suitable for continued use, being disposed of.<[68]

In the next 30-40 years, the oil and gas sector will have to decommission 600 installations in the UK alone. Over the next decade ca. 840,000 tonnes of materials will have to be recovered at an estimated cost of £25Bn. In 2017 North Sea oil and gas decommissioning became a net drain on the public purse. With UK taxpayers covering 50%-70% of the bill, there is an urgent need to discuss the most economic, social and environmentally beneficial decommissioning solutions for the general public.[69]

Organizations such as Zero Waste Scotland have conducted studies to identify areas with reuse potential, allowing equipment to continue life in other industries, or be redeployed for oil and gas .[70]

Strategic management and the circular economy

The CE does not aim at changing the profit-maximization paradigm of businesses. Rather, it suggests an alternative way of thinking how to attain a Sustained Competitive Advantage (SCA), while concurrently addressing the environmental and socio-economic concerns of the 21st century. Indeed, stepping away from linear forms of production most often leads to the development of new core competencies along the value chain and ultimately superior performance that cuts costs, improves efficiency, meets advanced government regulations and the expectations of green consumers. But despite the multiple examples of companies successfully embracing circular solutions across industries, and notwithstanding the wealth of opportunities that exist when a firm has clarity over what circular actions fit its unique profile and goals, CE decision-making remains a highly complex exercise with no one-size-fits-all solution. The intricacy and fuzziness of the topic is still felt by most companies (especially SMEs), which perceive circular strategies as something not applicable to them or too costly and risky to implement.[71] This concern is today confirmed by the results of ongoing monitoring studies like the Circular Readiness Assessment.[72]

Strategic management is the field of management that comes to the rescue allowing companies to carefully evaluate CE-inspired ideas, but also to take a firm apart and investigate if/how/where seeds of circularity can be found or implanted. The book Strategic Management and the Circular Economy defined for the first time a CE strategic decision-making process, covering the phases of analysis, formulation, and planning. Each phase is supported by frameworks and concepts popular in management consulting – like idea tree, value chain, VRIE, Porter's five forces, PEST, SWOT, strategic clock, or the internationalization matrix – all adapted through a CE lens, hence revealing new sets of questions and considerations. Although yet to be verified, it is argued that all standard tools for strategic management can and should be calibrated and applied to a CE. A specific argument has already been made for the strategy direction matrix of product vs market and the 3 × 3 GE-McKinsey matrix to assess business strength vs industry attractiveness, the BCG matrix of market share vs industry growth rate, and Kraljic's portfolio matrix.[73]

Impact in Europe

On 17 December 2012, the European Commission published a document entitled "Manifesto for a Resource Efficient Europe". This manifesto clearly stated that "In a world with growing pressures on resources and the environment, the EU has no choice but to go for the transition to a resource-efficient and ultimately regenerative circular economy."[74] Furthermore, the document highlighted the importance of "a systemic change in the use and recovery of resources in the economy" in ensuring future jobs and competitiveness, and outlined potential pathways to a circular economy, in innovation and investment, regulation, tackling harmful subsidies, increasing opportunities for new business models, and setting clear targets.

The European environmental research and innovation policy aims at supporting the transition to a circular economy in Europe, defining and driving the implementation of a transformative agenda to green the economy and the society as a whole, to achieve a truly sustainable development. Research and innovation in Europe are financially supported by the program Horizon 2020, which is also open to participation worldwide.[75]

The European Union plans for a circular economy are spearheaded by its 2018 Circular Economy Package. Historically, the policy debate in Brussels mainly focused on waste management which is the second half of the cycle, and very little is said about the first half: eco-design. To draw the attention of policymakers and other stakeholders to this loophole, the Ecothis, an EU campaign was launched raising awareness about the economic and environmental consequences of not including eco-design as part of the circular economy package.

The various approaches to ‘circular’ business and economic models share several common principles with other conceptual frameworks:


Janine Benyus, author of "Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature", defines Biomimicry as:

"a new discipline that studies nature's best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems. Studying a leaf to invent a better solar cell is an example. I think of it as 'innovation' inspired by nature".[76]

Blue economy

Initiated by former Ecover CEO and Belgian entrepreneur Gunter Pauli, derived from the study of natural biological production processes the official manifesto states, "using the resources available...the waste of one product becomes the input to create a new cash flow".[77]

Cradle to cradle

Created by Walter R. Stahel and similar theorists, in which industry adopts the reuse and service-life extension of goods as a strategy of waste prevention, regional job creation, and resource efficiency in order to decouple wealth from resource consumption.[78][79]

Industrial ecology

Industrial Ecology is the study of material and energy flows through industrial systems. Focusing on connections between operators within the "industrial ecosystem", this approach aims at creating closed-loop processes in which waste is seen as input, thus eliminating the notion of undesirable by-product.[80]

Resource recovery

Resource recovery is using wastes as an input material to create valuable products as new outputs. The aim is to reduce the amount of waste generated, therefore reducing the need for landfill space and also extracting maximum value from waste.

Systems thinking

The ability to understand how things influence one another within a whole. Elements are considered as 'fitting in' their infrastructure, environment and social context.

"The Biosphere Rules"

The Biosphere Rules is a framework for implementing closed-loop production processes. They derived from nature systems and translated for industrial production systems. The five principles are Materials Parsimony, Value Cycling, Power Autonomy, Sustainable Product Platforms and Function Over Form.

See also


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