Circular economy put into practice: opportunities and challenges for innovative industrial paradigms

Circular Economy has become one of the hot topics in public debates about new and more sustainable industrial paradigms.

It is based on the establishment of closed production systems, where resources are reused and kept in a loop of production and usage, allowing generating for the whole economic system more value and for a longer period.

Circular claims for firms willing to embrace this new approach to innovate at different levels:

  • product/process innovation, e.g. through adopting new design practices for improving circularity of products and/or reduce the consumption of resources
  • organizational innovation, e.g. through changing the way firms manage external networks for ensuring the closure of the loop;
  • business model innovation, e.g. through the adoption of pay-per-use or other forms of users’ engagement to keep the ownership of the products along the entire loop.

Despite interest in the Circular Economy from politicians and practitioners, there is still a lack of valuable contributions on this topic from scholars in the strategic and innovation management field. This track at the R&D Management Conference will discuss the  innovations undertaken by companies to put in practice the Circular Economy.

Davide ChiaroniWe asked track co-chair Davide Chiaroni, Associate Professor at Politecnico di Milano,  his views

1. What do you think are the most disruptive influences impacting developments in your track?

Circular Economy claims to be a new industrial paradigm, moving from a traditional linear system (make, take, dispose) to a new circular one where the flows of materials and values is preserved and prolonged over time. As such it requires a profound disruption in the whole ecosystem around a given product, from customers to become just users, from distributors to become also collectors, to producers and suppliers changing the way they treat the flows of materials, …

2. Can you describe some recent findings in this area that are of interest to you personally? 

Only very recently, with the first empirical evidence of incumbents and newcomers in a number of industries attempting to embrace Circular Economy, the topic finally has moved from political buzzword and practitioners’ investigation to academic debate. Innovation management literature, in particular, has started discussing the different modes of Circular Economy and its impact on firms’ processes and organization. An avenue for research that further requires valuable contributions.

3. If someone was new to this topic what would you suggest they read to get a quick overview of the issues?

I would suggest two reviews that well represent the roots of Circular Economy in extant academic fields.

Haas, W., Krausmann, F., Wiedenhofer, D., Heinz, M., 2015, “How circular is the global economy?: An assessment of material flows, waste production, and recycling in the European union and the world in 2005”, Journal of Industrial Ecology, Volume 19, Issue 5, 2015, Pages 765-777

Tukker, A, 2015, Product services for a resource-efficient and circular economy – A review, Journal of Cleaner Production, Volume 97, 15 June 2015, Pages 76-91

Proponents: Davide Chiaroni; Peter Hopkinson; David Peck.

For more information about the R&D Management Conference.