The concept of Circular Economics has received tremendous interest from policymakers, researchers, and academia in recent years worldwide. It has been believed that this concept dates to the 1980s in European Union when Germany and the Netherlands introduced waste preventoria and reduction schemes to the Dutch Parliament. Later, several steps were taken, and initiatives were introduced to accelerate the transition towards C.E. in E.U. Meanwhile, China’s central government accepted the concept in 2002 by introducing circular economy to its development strategies. At the same time, the concept was in its operation since the 1990s.

In the literature, there is no single origin and originator of the C.E. concept, but scholars and professionals widely argue that various schools of thought have influenced and inspired the concept of circular economy which are:    

Spaceman Economy by Boulding (1966): 

Fifty-three years ago, Boulding wrote the essay “The economics of the coming spaceship Earth” where he talked about two types of constricting modes (i.e., linear and circular). What Bowling called cowboy economy is today called linear economy, and in contrast to that, he proposed spaceman economy, today is known the as circular economy

Performance Economy by Stahel (1982):

The work of Stahel had an important influence on the definition of what a Circular Economy entails. In 1982, Stahel proposed a performance economy based on a spiral-loop system that “minimizes matter, energy flow and environmental deterioration without restricting economic growth or social and technological progress.” He also proposed product life extension activities which are today part of C.E.’s main principles.

Industrial Ecology by Frosh and Gallopulos (1989):

The concept of Industrial Ecology developed by Frosh and Gallopulos also shaped the meaning of a Circular Economy. Their concept is a holistic approach that seeks a sustainable balance between economic benefits and environmental needs. “Industrial ecology adopts a systemic point of view, designing production processes under local ecological constraints while looking at their global impact from the outset, and attempting to shape them, so they perform as close to living systems as possible” (Ellen MacArthur Foundation).

They also introduced the waste equal foods idea where the leftovers of one industry become inputs of another industry parallel to the “zero-waste” objective of the C.E. concept. 

Regenerative design and biomimicry by Lyle and Benyus (1996 -1997):

In 1996, Lyle and his students coined the regenerative design idea, replacing the linear system of throughput flows with a cyclical one. In 1997, Benyus proposed biomimicry, which consisted of using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels and maximizing the use of materials by reusing them and keeping waste within the environmental capacity. Her approach Innovation Inspired by Nature ones beyond others by prospering three main principles: 

  • Nature as a model: study nature’s models and emulate these forms, processes, systems, and strategies to solve human problems; 
  • Nature as a measure: use an ecological standard to judge the sustainability of our innovations; 
  • Nature as a mentor: view and value nature not based on what we can extract from the natural world but on what we can learn.

Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken (1999):

Later, in 1999, Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins wrote Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. The authors criticized the effects of pure capitalism on nature and described that environmental and business interests overlap. The proposed paradigm shift through four principles: radically increase the productivity of natural resources; shift to biologically inspired production models and materials; move to a “service-and-flow” business model; reinvest in natural capital. 

Cradle-to-Cradle by Michael Braungart and Willian McDonough (2002):

The concept of “Cradle-to-Cradle” developed by G Michael Braungart and Bill McDonough

Has a massive impact on the C.E. model. The concept focuses on the design of the products in industrial, biological, and technical processes to keep the materials’ value as high as possible. Thus, this model proposes a shift from efficiency to effectiveness. Therefore, the aim is to reduce the negative impact and leave a positive ecological footprint. As a result, Cradle-to-Cradle design stands by three main principles: 

  • Eliminate the concept of waste. “Waste equals food.” Design products and materials with life cycles that are safe for human health and the environment and can be reused perpetually through biological and technical metabolisms. Create and participate in systems to collect and recover the value of these materials following their use.
  • Power with renewable energy. “Use current solar income.” Maximize the use of renewable energy.
  • “Celebrate diversity.” respect human & natural systems. Manage water use to maximize quality, promote healthy ecosystems and respect local impacts. Guide operations and stakeholder relationships using social responsibility.

Blue Economy by Pauli (2010)

The latest concept C.E. model is called “Blue Economy,” proposed by Pauli (2010). Blue Economy is an open-source movement and innovative business model. According to this approach, the waste of one product becomes the input for others. It tries to fulfill the communities’ basic needs while building social capital and supporting living in harmony with nature.  This model favors local economies, culture, and traditions. 

References: 

  1. Winans, K., Kendall, A., Deng, H., 2017. The history and current applications of the circular economy concept. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 
  2. Boulding, K.E. (1966), The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, pp. 3-14. 
  3. Weigend Rodríguez, Ricardo & Pomponi, Francesco & Webster, Ken & D’Amico, Bernardino. (2020). The Future of the Circular Economy and the Circular Economy of the Future. Built Environment Project and Asset Management. 10. 529-546. 10.1108/BEPAM-07-2019-0063.
  4. Ellen MacArthur Foundation, “Circular Economy Schools of thought” available at:   https://guides.co/g/mv5ue63s0a/165170 (accessed 18 August 2021). 
  5. OPEA, “Cradle to Cradle” available at: https://epea.com/en/about-us/cradle-to-cradle (accessed 18 August 2021)
  6. McDowall, W., Geng, Y., Huang, B., Bartekova, E., Bleischwitz, R., Türkeli, S., Domenech, T., 2017. Circular economy policies in China and Europe. J. Ind. Ecol. 21 (3), 651e661.