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Implementation of Circular Economy Business Models by Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs): Barriers and Enablers

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Abstract

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are increasingly aware of the benefits of closing loops and improving resource efficiency, such as saving material costs, creating competitive advantages, and accessing new markets. At the same time, however, various barriers pose challenges to small businesses in their transition to a circular economy, namely a lack of financial resources and lack of technical skills. The aim of this paper is to increase knowledge and understanding about the barriers and enablers experienced by SMEs when implementing circular economy business models. Looking first at the barriers that prevent SMEs from realising the benefits of the circular economy, an investigation is carried out in the form of a literature review and an analysis of a sample of SME case studies that are featured on the GreenEcoNet EU-funded web platform. Several enabling factors that help SMEs adopt circular economy practices are then identified. The paper concludes that although various policy instruments are available to help SMEs incorporate circular economy principles into their business models, several barriers remain. The authors recommend that European and national policies strengthen their focus on greening consumer preferences, market value chains and company cultures, and support the recognition of SMEs' green business models. This can be achieved through the creation of dedicated marketplaces and communities of practice, for example.
sustainability
Article
Implementation of Circular Economy Business
Models by Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises
(SMEs): Barriers and Enablers
Vasileios Rizos 1, *, Arno Behrens 1, Wytze van der Gaast 2, Erwin Hofman 2, Anastasia Ioannou 3,
Terri Kafyeke 4, Alexandros Flamos 3, Roberto Rinaldi 5, Sotiris Papadelis 3,
Martin Hirschnitz-Garbers 4and Corrado Topi 5
1CEPS (Centre for European Policy Studies), Place du Congrès 1, 1000 Brussels, Belgium;
arno.behrens@ceps.eu
2JIN Climate and Sustainability, Laan Corpus den Hoorn 300, 9728 JT Groningen, The Netherlands;
wytze@jin.ngo (W.v.d.G.); erwin@jin.ngo (E.H.)
3Department of Industrial Management & Technology, University of Piraeus (UNIPI), 80,
Karaoli & Dimitriou Street, 185 34 Piraeus, Greece; anast@unipi.gr (A.I.); aflamos@unipi.gr (A.F.);
sotpapa@unipi.gr (S.P.)
4Ecologic Institute, Pfalzburger Strasse 43/44, 10717 Berlin, Germany; terri.kafyeke@ecologic.eu (T.K.);
martin.hirschnitz-garbers@ecologic.eu (M.H.-G.)
5Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5NG, UK;
roberto.rinaldi@sei-international.org (R.R.); corrado.topi@york.ac.uk (C.T.)
*Correspondence: vasileios.rizos@ceps.eu; Tel.: +32-22-293-974
Academic Editor: Marc A. Rosen
Received: 25 July 2016; Accepted: 9 November 2016; Published: 23 November 2016
Abstract:
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are increasingly aware of the benefits of
closing loops and improving resource efficiency, such as saving material costs, creating competitive
advantages, and accessing new markets. At the same time, however, various barriers pose challenges
to small businesses in their transition to a circular economy, namely a lack of financial resources and
lack of technical skills. The aim of this paper is to increase knowledge and understanding about the
barriers and enablers experienced by SMEs when implementing circular economy business models.
Looking first at the barriers that prevent SMEs from realising the benefits of the circular economy, an
investigation is carried out in the form of a literature review and an analysis of a sample of SME case
studies that are featured on the GreenEcoNet EU-funded web platform. Several enabling factors that
help SMEs adopt circular economy practices are then identified. The paper concludes that although
various policy instruments are available to help SMEs incorporate circular economy principles into
their business models, several barriers remain. The authors recommend that European and national
policies strengthen their focus on greening consumer preferences, market value chains and company
cultures, and support the recognition of SMEs’ green business models. This can be achieved through
the creation of dedicated marketplaces and communities of practice, for example.
Keywords:
SMEs; circular economy; green economy; business model; resource efficiency;
green innovation
1. Introduction
The circular economy is a concept rooted in several different schools of thought and theories
that question the prevailing linear economic systems, which assume that resources are infinite [
1
3
].
Among the first authors considered to have influenced the development of the circular economy
concept is Kenneth Boulding [
4
], who in 1966 envisaged a “spaceman economy” that would operate
by reproducing the initially limited stock of inputs and recycling waste outputs. This concept has since
Sustainability 2016,8, 1212; doi:10.3390/su8111212 www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability
Sustainability 2016,8, 1212 2 of 18
evolved such that today policy-makers, academics, and the business community increasingly recognise
the need to move towards a new economic model whereby materials and energy from discarded
products or byproducts are reintroduced into the economic system [
5
,
6
]. In terms of environmental
benefits, becoming more circular would help avoid emissions, reduce the loss of resources, and ease
the burden on global ecosystems [
7
]. For example, it has been estimated that the transition to a circular
economy in the mobility, food, and built environment sectors could lead to emissions reductions of
48% by 2030 and 83% by 2050, compared with 2012 levels [8].
Looking beyond environmental sustainability, the economic benefits and business relevance
of the circular economy are also increasingly recognised among academics and policy-makers.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation [
6
] estimates that the potential net material cost savings in a
more circular economy in medium-lived complex products industries (in particular for motor
vehicles, machinery, and equipment, as well as electrical machinery) at EU-level could be as high
as $630 billion annually, while in the fast-moving consumer goods sector (mainly packaged food,
apparel, and beverages) net materials savings at global level could exceed $700 billion annually.
Furthermore, technological and organisational innovations underpinning a circular economy would
allow Europe’s resource productivity to grow by 3% by 2030, equating to
1.8 trillion total benefits in
three areas: mobility, food, and the built environment, including savings in primary resource costs and
in costs linked to externalities, such as health impacts from air pollution [8].
Beyond cost savings, closing production-to-waste loops and increasing the re-use and recycling
of materials would reduce demand for virgin materials and help to mitigate both demand-driven price
volatility on raw material markets (e.g., for iron ore) and supply risks [
9
]. In addition, the uptake of
circular business models was found to be associated with great employment potential: estimates for
the United Kingdom show that a circular economy at current development rates could lead to net
job creation of approximately 54,000 jobs by 2030, particularly in recycling and remanufacturing [
10
].
For the Netherlands, Bastein et al. [
11
] estimate that improving circular business models in the base
metals and metal product industries, in the electronics and electrical appliances industry, and in the
management of biotic waste, could create more than 50,000 jobs.
While these findings imply clear benefits for businesses that adopt circular business models,
in actual practice there can be several barriers in the form of, for example, difficulties in valuing
future benefits against current costs, knowledge needs, and market pull-and-push factors, such as
availability of technologies and consumer demand for green products [
12
]. Both larger and smaller
enterprises face such barriers, albeit to differing extents. For example, while a multinational company
can support circular technology development through its research and development activities, small
and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) often depend on the availability of technology in the market.
Moreover, while multinationals may be able to determine how circular economy concepts are adopted,
an SME is, due to its size, often restricted to observing the trends in the market value chain in
which it operates. Although both larger enterprises and SMEs are crucial for the circular economy,
this article focuses on the role of the latter. SMEs are a substantial part of the business environment,
with over 99% of European enterprises belonging to the SME category and around two-thirds of
European employment being generated by SMEs [13].
Research on SMEs has shown that they are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of
improving resource efficiency even though, as illustrated in the literature review of this paper, they
do not often link them well to the concept of a circular economy. Saving material costs, creating
competitive advantages, and new markets are among the main reasons for European SMEs to take
action [
14
]. For instance, by implementing a certified Environmental Management System (EMS),
two-thirds of SMEs surveyed in a U.K. Defra study found their sales increased by £14,961 on average
per
million turnover per year [
15
]. However, as explained, it is not always easy for SMEs to reap
the benefits of more circular approaches. Based on an EU-funded online dataset of European SMEs,
this paper identifies a number of barriers to adopting a more sustainable, circular-type of business
model and also identifies possible enabling factors to overcome these barriers.
Sustainability 2016,8, 1212 3 of 18
In the literature review presented in Section 2below, the identification of barriers to implementing
circular economy business models in SMEs has been based on a wide range of surveys and sources.
These sources have based their analyses on firms in general, or specifically on SMEs, or on a
subset thereof, e.g., SMEs in a geographic area (see, for example, [
16
,
17
]) and/or sector (see [
18
,
19
]).
These enterprises may not yet have taken steps towards circular business models, however;
consequently, their answers may be based more on perceptions than on actual experience.
This paper adds to the analysis by focusing on EU SMEs that have already implemented circular
economy business models and thus managed to overcome possible barriers. Another novel element
can be found in the consideration of representative SME sectors across different European countries
that have successfully introduced circularity into their business models, facilitating the cross-sectoral
knowledge development. This can prove to be especially important, since the switch to a circular
economy is applicable for several sectors and can follow similar paths and patterns.
The remainder of this paper is organised as follows. Section 2reviews the literature and categorizes
the main barriers to the implementation of circular economy solutions by SMEs. Section 3presents
the methodology for the analysis of case studies featured in the online SME platform, as well as the
main barriers and enablers encountered by the sampled SMEs. Section 4discusses the research results
and their management and scientific implications. Finally, Section 5presents the conclusions and
policy recommendations.
2. Literature Review
In order to identify potential barriers preventing SMEs from adopting circular economy business
models, a literature review has been conducted. Based on the review, barriers have been categorised
as follows: company environmental culture, lack of capital, lack of government support/effective
legislation, lack of information, administrative burden, lack of technical and technological know-how,
and lack of support from the supply and demand network. The categories are explained further below.
Barriers under company environmental culture refer to the philosophy, habits, and attitudes of the
company (manager and employees) towards implementing circular economy business practices [
16
].
For instance, in many SMEs, the manager is also the company owner with a significant say over
the strategic decisions of the company. In this respect, some SME managers may have a positive
attitude towards the circular economy, while others may not [
17
,
20
]. Furthermore, SME owners or
managers may have different risk perceptions. A strong risk aversion on the part of managers can
hinder the enactment of the circular economy, even following the evaluation of the benefits associated
with its implementation [
16
,
21
]. An additional complexity is that decision-makers need to estimate
the concrete value propositions before proceeding to circular economy practices; to assess the costs
of circular measures, taking into account the risks of change in the current business environment;
and acknowledge that a more long-term perspective needs to be adopted. Resistance to change keeps
business models locked in their conventional configuration and may constitute a major bottleneck in
micro-small companies [
22
,
23
]. The attitudes and behaviour of employees also fall under the same
category; while working for an environmentally conscious company may motivate some employees,
others are more reluctant or are unaware of how to change business-as-usual operations, or may even
perceive green practices as additional workload [19,24].
Lack of capital has been cited extensively in the literature as one of the most salient barriers to the
adoption of circular economy by SMEs [
25
]. Shifting from a linear to a circular production/business
model requires activities such as distribution planning, inventory management, production planning,
and management of a reverse logistics network [
22
], requiring a substantial amount of time and
investment on the part of the company [
26
]. The level of upfront costs, the indirect (time and human
resources) costs and the anticipated payback period are particularly important for SMEs, as they
are generally more sensitive than large enterprises to any additional costs resulting from green
business [
27
,
28
]. For example, in some cases product service business models (e.g., leasing services)
demand higher upfront costs than sale transaction business models [
22
], while some producers regard
Sustainability 2016,8, 1212 4 of 18
product services as a threat to their production business models [
23
,
29
,
30
]. Implementing a circular
economy business model also demands continuous monitoring and improvement of the product’s
lifecycle; hence, a significant amount of resources would need to be allocated by the company to keep
all parties (i.e., employees and customers) committed [
26
]. Additionally, external financing through,
for example, EU and government grants, is often difficult to access, since SME staff and management
restrictions do not usually allow for careful assessment of such opportunities [
31
,
32
]. Regarding
commercial bank financing, SMEs often face difficulties in obtaining the collateral or guarantees
required by banks [
26
,
33
], while economic recession rendered access to financing capital even more
difficult for circular economy propositions. Finally, there are no new methods of financing available to
promote innovative business models [22].
The lack of government support/effective legislation (through the provision of funding opportunities,
training, effective taxation policy, laws and regulations, etc.) is widely recognised as a significant
barrier to the uptake of environmental investments [
34
,
35
]. The lack of a concrete, coherent, and
strict legislative framework often impedes SMEs’ consideration of integrating green solutions in their
operations. For example, in EU waste legislation there is no coherent definition or classification of
waste materials (e.g., to distinguish waste from byproduct materials used for recycling), thus inducing
limitations on cross-border transportation of waste [
36
], while there are significant differences in the
ambition of targets along the waste hierarchy [
37
]. This is reinforced by the lack of appropriate market
signals (low prices of raw materials), which does not encourage the efficient use of resources or the
transition to a circular economy [
38
]. As such, externalities (environmental costs), namely negative
impacts on public health and environment, are not factored into the price of the products [
22
,
39
].
Additionally, circular business models can be excessively influenced by the fact that resource taxes are
quite low, hence companies prefer to purchase cheaper raw materials rather than use recycled ones,
which often entails supplementary processing costs [40,41].
Innovation policies rarely integrate new circular business model opportunities, as their main
focus is on incremental innovation and efficiency [
22
]. Moreover, competition legislation hinders
collaboration between companies and discourages understanding of the circular design and
development of products and reverse infrastructure. On the one hand, sharing knowledge about
business processes may harm a firm’s competitiveness, while, on the other hand, close collaboration
among firms within product value chains can be viewed as cartel formation [
22
]. Finally, it has
been reported that in some countries the enforcement of environmental regulations is not yet wholly
effective, which does not encourage companies to seek prospective buyers for their byproducts. Similar
discrepancies are also encountered in other fiscal policy instruments, such as “consumption taxes”
of polluting products to control consumption habits, inhibiting the adoption of green consumption
attitudes by consumers [39].
Studies have also highlighted the lack of information about the benefits of the circular economy [
42
]
and environmental legislation [
43
]. In this context, a survey of 300 European firms conducted by the
FUSION EU co-funded project [
44
] showed that most firms had either never heard of the term ‘circular
economy’, or could not understand its meaning. On the positive side, when participants were given
a simpler definition of circular economy, involving aspects such as the re-use and recovery of waste
materials, the majority responded that they were actually already making efforts to recycle and repair.
Companies also identified waste management as a sector that could unlock new business opportunities.
A similar study conducted with the participation of 157 firms in China concluded that there is a
relatively good understanding of the circular economy, but there is still a remarkable ‘gap’ between
a firm’s awareness and actual behaviour due to a number of contextual and cultural factors [
16
].
The successful transition to a circular economy can only be achieved through collective effort, requiring
exchange and dissemination of knowledge and innovation among different stakeholders in the value
chain. Yet it is often the case that information is guarded confidentially by companies [
36
,
45
] or that
people find it difficult to communicate their expertise, thereby preventing the broader dissemination
and development of circular economy business models [
21
]. Due to the limited application of new
Sustainability 2016,8, 1212 5 of 18
circular business models, the track record of successful paradigms that would enhance practical
knowledge is not yet extensive enough, which induces uncertainty in introducing circular practices [
22
].
The lack of an information exchange system constitutes an additional barrier to the effective adoption of
circular business models. Confidentiality, lack of trust, and competition issues (along with competition
legislation, as discussed earlier) inhibits the sharing of knowledge and product information among
companies and forms a barrier to co-production, innovation, and the effective end-of-life management
of products [46,47].
The administrative burden related to green business practices, such as monitoring and reporting
environmental performance data, can be considered complex and barely affordable for SMEs.
For instance, in many cases SMEs are required to submit the same data to various authorities and in
different formats, but the expertise for that often needs to be sought among external consultants [
35
,
48
].
Moreover, adopting a circular business model can entail more complex and costly management and
planning processes [22].
Lack of technical and technological know-how can hinder SMEs from transforming their linear
business model into a circular one [
16
,
28
,
45
]. Linear technologies are widely established in the
current business practices, keeping the economy locked into its current form [
22
]. Transforming
business-as-usual operations would require new sustainable production and consumption technologies
(in the fields of eco-design, clean production, and life cycle assessment) to be integrated into current
linear business models, and competent professionals to be able to manage them. Nevertheless,
the demand for environmentally friendly technologies is often quite low, and the technical capacities
are inadequate [
39
]. Lack of technical know-how may result in SMEs adopting linear technologies
and business models they are familiar with, and depending on their suppliers’ suggestions for
innovative technical solutions [
35
]. Furthermore, the insufficient investment in technologies focusing
on circular product designs (eco-design) and operations [
45
], the lack of advanced resource efficiency
technologies [
49
], along with the low pricing signal of raw materials [
36
] are factors that are likely to
impede the adoption of circular economy approaches by SMEs. A different bottleneck that has been
reported is that of the increasing complexity in the mixes of materials in new products, rendering their
management by current recycling infrastructure quite challenging [50].
Finally, the barrier of lack of support from the supply and demand network refers mainly to
the dependency of SMEs on their suppliers’ and customers’ engagement in sustainable activities.
The successful implementation of a circular economy necessitates the collaboration of all parties across
the supply chain [
26
,
36
]. Nevertheless, suppliers and service partners may be reluctant to get involved
in innovative circular economy processes owing to perceived risks to their competitive advantage
or due to a mindset that does not prioritise circular economy practices [
18
]. Adopting a circular
business model is likely to increase complexity throughout the supply chain (with regard to logistical,
financial, and legal aspects), impacting the value chain of a product, process or service. In this context,
issues related to governance (ownership, share of costs, and benefits along the value chain) need to
be settled so that effective circular business models can be employed. Managing the transition in
circular supply chains can be time-consuming, expensive, and may require collaboration with new
market players [
22
,
51
]. Especially for micro-small companies, one of the major barriers is the lock-in of
distribution channels [
52
], as well as the unpredictable return flow of materials (hampering the efficient
retrieval of products) in circular practices involving the remanufacturing and reuse of products [
30
].
For example, in the case of remanufacturing photocopiers, the main challenge is to have the required
labour to deal with the rate of photocopier returns [41].
On the other hand, insufficient customer awareness of the benefits of green products does not
encourage a change in consumption patterns, and often there is no substantial pressure from the
demand side on smaller organisations to meet sustainability criteria or develop a circular economy
business model [
53
56
]. The transition to a circular economy necessitates a shift in consumers’
lifestyle and behaviour. Yet some may perceive circular economy practices as more costly and
hard-to-implement alternatives with no tangible benefits, or may be unwilling to change their concepts
Sustainability 2016,8, 1212 6 of 18
of consumption and ownership (goods being perceived as symbols of social status) [
57
]. The public’s
response is generally hard to predict since it is largely dependent on social norms and external
conditions [
36
,
58
]. Furthermore, powerful stakeholders across the value chains may resist change
due to their status quo interests, impacting the progress of small players towards innovative business
models. Because of their low bargaining power, frontrunner SMEs seeking to establish a closed-loop
business model are more likely to face additional costs due to the uneven allocation of power among
stakeholders in the supply chain [
45
,
56
]. Policy initiatives to charge externalities or increase taxes on
raw materials may also be resisted by powerful stakeholders with conflicting interests [2].
3. Analysis of SME Circular Economy Business Models
In this section we analyse whether and how SMEs that have successfully introduced circularity
into their business models have faced the barriers identified in the literature review, and how they
have been able to overcome them. For this purpose, we use a sample of SME case studies from the
GreenEcoNet web platform.
3.1. Methodology
3.1.1. Case Study Structure, Sustainability, and Application Scope
GreenEcoNet [
59
] is a web platform financed by the European Commission and developed by
six European research organisations with the objective of showcasing examples of SMEs that have
successfully made a change towards a green business model. The collection of innovative best practice
examples (i.e., case studies) is one of the principal goals of the online platform, in order to inspire other
enterprises to make similar business transitions. Case studies featured in the GreenEcoNet platform
refer to the real-life SME experiences of introducing a ‘green solution’ that contributes to the transition
to a green business model.
There are multiple definitions of a “case study” in the literature and different methodologies for
case study analysis. For example, according to Yin [
60
] (p. 18) “a case study is an empirical enquiry that
investigates a contemporary phenomenon in depth and within its real-life context, especially when the
boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident”. Case study analysis constitutes
one of many methods of performing qualitative analysis; others include surveys, experiments, etc.
Yin [
60
] outlines five components as being particularly important to case studies, namely: a study’s
questions; its propositions; its unit(s) of analysis; the logic linking the data to the propositions; and the
criteria for interpreting the findings. Case study analysis usually follows protocol approaches to assist
the researcher in carrying out the analysis and increasing the reliability of the research. Such protocols
were developed by Yin [61] and Stake [62], for example.
In the context of GreenEcoNet platform, however, the term “case study” has been used to denote
an example of where a green solution (either technological or business innovation) was successfully
implemented. In this sense, a case study was designed to include the minimum data deemed necessary
to ensure the evaluation and the replicability of the example by other businesses and institutions.
In other words, a “GreenEcoNet case study” was first and foremost a way to structure data,
and gathering insight on enablers or obstacles was a secondary goal.
The major entity analysed in a GreenEcoNet case study, namely the “unit of analysis”,
is the green solution featured on the online platform. In the context of the platform, a “green solution”
is used in the broadest sense and can refer to products, technological processes, services, organisational
methods, or business processes that improve operational performance, productivity, or efficiency,
reduce environmental risk and resource use, and facilitate compliance with environmental regulations,
etc. The best-practice examples have been selected on the basis of their relevance to sustainability
principles, and of the scope of their application. As far as this scope is concerned, to be included in the
GreenEcoNet platform a case study needs to have at its core a green solution, preferably related to the
key activities or resources of the company. To prevent the case study from being an advertisement,
Sustainability 2016,8, 1212 7 of 18
it should include an SME adopter (end-user) of the green business model [
63
]. A case study in the
GreenEcoNet platform therefore has the structure presented in Figure 1below:
Sustainability 2016, 8, 1212 7 of 17
Figure 1. Structure of case study in the GreenEcoNet platform [63].
According to this structure, businesses involved in the case study can be categorised as
producers of green solutions, distributors and implementers (i.e., service providers), and adopters or
end-users of green business models. Producers of green solutions are businesses that develop,
create, and sell green solutions (such as Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs)). Distributors
and implementers undertake the distribution, study/planning, and installation of the green solution,
while adopters/end-users seek to embody resource-efficient and environmentally beneficial
technologies or business practices in the way they carry out their operations [63].
The case studies have been collected by the GreenEcoNet team members through desk-based
research, as well as through their stakeholder networks. The information used to generate each case
study has been collected using a template based on a taxonomy that encompasses the categorisation
of the private sector part of the green economy. This in turn has been validated through feedback
from a focus group composed of eight experts from the business, academia, and research
environments (more details on the taxonomy of the private sector part of the green economy can be
found in [63]). The resulting template enables collection of both qualitative and quantitative
information about the development, adoption, and/or implementation of a product or service that
resulted in enhanced natural resources efficiency with respect to the available alternative. The
template also enables collection of information on barriers and enabling factors (for more details, see
Section 3.1.3, below).
Apart from the narrative part of the case study description, users need to provide explicit
information on the sustainability of their green business model. The compilation of specific
sustainability information of the green business model in the case study template follows the three
pillars of sustainability framework (see Figure 2). As such, users are requested to include
information on: (1) Financial costs/benefits of the green solution; (2) Environmental benefits the
solution has achieved; and (3) Social Benefits, namely, if the solution included a specific intervention
to improve social well-being.
Figure 2. Three pillars of sustainability framework (own design based on [64,65]).
Prior to publication on the platform, each case study is reviewed by at least two different
experts of the GreenEcoNet team to ensure its relevance and content quality. Final case study drafts
Figure 1. Structure of case study in the GreenEcoNet platform [63].
According to this structure, businesses involved in the case study can be categorised as
producers of green solutions, distributors and implementers (i.e., service providers), and adopters
or end-users of green business models. Producers of green solutions are businesses that develop,
create, and sell green solutions (such as Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs)). Distributors and
implementers undertake the distribution, study/planning, and installation of the green solution,
while adopters/end-users seek to embody resource-efficient and environmentally beneficial
technologies or business practices in the way they carry out their operations [63].
The case studies have been collected by the GreenEcoNet team members through desk-based
research, as well as through their stakeholder networks. The information used to generate each case
study has been collected using a template based on a taxonomy that encompasses the categorisation of
the private sector part of the green economy. This in turn has been validated through feedback from
a focus group composed of eight experts from the business, academia, and research environments
(more details on the taxonomy of the private sector part of the green economy can be found in [
63
]).
The resulting template enables collection of both qualitative and quantitative information about the
development, adoption, and/or implementation of a product or service that resulted in enhanced
natural resources efficiency with respect to the available alternative. The template also enables
collection of information on barriers and enabling factors (for more details, see Section 3.1.3, below).
Apart from the narrative part of the case study description, users need to provide explicit
information on the sustainability of their green business model. The compilation of specific
sustainability information of the green business model in the case study template follows the three
pillars of sustainability framework (see Figure 2). As such, users are requested to include information
on: (1) Financial costs/benefits of the green solution; (2) Environmental benefits the solution has
achieved; and (3) Social Benefits, namely, if the solution included a specific intervention to improve
social well-being.
Sustainability 2016, 8, 1212 7 of 17
Figure 1. Structure of case study in the GreenEcoNet platform [63].
According to this structure, businesses involved in the case study can be categorised as
producers of green solutions, distributors and implementers (i.e., service providers), and adopters or
end-users of green business models. Producers of green solutions are businesses that develop,
create, and sell green solutions (such as Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs)). Distributors
and implementers undertake the distribution, study/planning, and installation of the green solution,
while adopters/end-users seek to embody resource-efficient and environmentally beneficial
technologies or business practices in the way they carry out their operations [63].
The case studies have been collected by the GreenEcoNet team members through desk-based
research, as well as through their stakeholder networks. The information used to generate each case
study has been collected using a template based on a taxonomy that encompasses the categorisation
of the private sector part of the green economy. This in turn has been validated through feedback
from a focus group composed of eight experts from the business, academia, and research
environments (more details on the taxonomy of the private sector part of the green economy can be
found in [63]). The resulting template enables collection of both qualitative and quantitative
information about the development, adoption, and/or implementation of a product or service that
resulted in enhanced natural resources efficiency with respect to the available alternative. The
template also enables collection of information on barriers and enabling factors (for more details, see
Section 3.1.3, below).
Apart from the narrative part of the case study description, users need to provide explicit
information on the sustainability of their green business model. The compilation of specific
sustainability information of the green business model in the case study template follows the three
pillars of sustainability framework (see Figure 2). As such, users are requested to include
information on: (1) Financial costs/benefits of the green solution; (2) Environmental benefits the
solution has achieved; and (3) Social Benefits, namely, if the solution included a specific intervention
to improve social well-being.
Figure 2. Three pillars of sustainability framework (own design based on [64,65]).
Prior to publication on the platform, each case study is reviewed by at least two different
experts of the GreenEcoNet team to ensure its relevance and content quality. Final case study drafts
Figure 2. Three pillars of sustainability framework (own design based on [64,65]).
Sustainability 2016,8, 1212 8 of 18
Prior to publication on the platform, each case study is reviewed by at least two different experts
of the GreenEcoNet team to ensure its relevance and content quality. Final case study drafts are
also approved by the SME concerned, which is a direct reflection of the company’s willingness to
share its experience through an online network. The collected case studies thus represent a specific
subset of SMEs in Europe that have implemented a green solution, which should not be considered
representative of all SMEs in European countries and sectors.
3.1.2. Sample Selection
At the time of writing this paper, the platform featured 52 business case studies. From this pool
the team had to select the case studies that fitted into the circular economy concept and also contained
sufficient information on barriers and enablers.
In the available literature the circular economy has been described as an industrial economy
that relies on the “restorative capacity of natural resources” [
11
] and aims to minimise—if not
eliminate—waste, utilise renewable sources of energy, and phase out the use of harmful substances [
6
].
Such an economy goes beyond the “end of pipe” approaches of the linear economy [
66
] and
seeks transformational changes across the breadth of the value chain in order to retain materials
in the “circular economy loop” and preserve their value for as long as possible [
9
,
38
]. Through
fundamental changes to production and consumption systems the circular economy would entail
several environmental benefits, for example decreased emissions and pollutants [
67
]. These
descriptions from the literature are in line with the broad definition by the European Commission’s Joint
Research Centre [
68
] (p. 1): “In a circular economy, resources—including energy and materials—are
used in circles. They are transformed, used, segregated, retransformed and reused in the most efficient
and sustainable way possible“. In its Communication “Closing the loop—An EU Action Plan for the
circular economy” the European Commission [
69
] (p. 2) expands on the idea of an economy “where
the value of products, materials and resources is maintained in the economy for as long as possible,
and the generation of waste minimised“. Based on the above definitions, the team selected case
studies that described the development, adoption, and/or implementation by an SME of a product
or service, resulting in a more efficient use of material and energy resources, and in turn a decreased
environmental impact (for instance, in terms of emissions or waste production).
An additional quality check was performed to assess the quality and availability of information on
barriers/enablers in the available case studies. In some cases this information was not detailed enough.
In order to fill this data gap and validate the information provided, we contacted the entrepreneurs
and requested to interview them. During these telephone/Skype interviews, we asked SME owners to
explain in greater detail the barriers and enablers they encountered with their business. This allowed
us to complement the information that was already in the database. Interviews were used because we
found them to be the quickest and most efficient method to collect additional data. Case studies for
which additional information was not sufficient were not included in the sample. Eventually, from the
52 case studies available on the online platform, 30 were selected for further analysis on barriers and
enablers in this paper.
3.1.3. Analysis of Information
Once the sample of case studies was selected, the team collected information on the barriers
and enablers experienced by those SMEs that have implemented circular economy business
models. As discussed, SMEs have to provide this information when submitting their solution
to the platform since it is part of the standard case study template. In the template the
questions “Barriers/challenges/Lessons learnt—what barriers/challenges did your organisation face?
What worked particularly well? What would you do differently next time?” appear in the “Description
of the case study” box, encouraging SMEs to answer by providing insights into what barriers they faced
and what enablers helped them succeed. In addition, another box in the template asks “Regulatory
framework prerequisites and constraints?” providing a space where regulatory barriers could be
Sustainability 2016,8, 1212 9 of 18
reported. The barriers and enablers listed for each SME were then grouped into the categories
identified in the literature review conducted for this paper, based on the expert judgement of the team.
This allowed us to move to the quantitative part of our analysis by determining the percentage of
SMEs in the sample that was affected by each category of barriers and enablers.
As a disclaimer, it is noted that while a barrier/enabler may be mentioned often by SMEs,
this does not automatically imply that it has been the most significant barrier/enabler in each individual
case study. It should also be clarified that the enablers can be identified as direct solutions for
clearing an existing barrier (e.g., start-up financing to address the barrier of lack of capital) but
also as favourable conditions (rather than measures to overcome a specific barrier) in an SME for
improving the environmental performance of business operations (e.g., an owner committed to
sustainability practices).
The team also decided to conduct a thorough description of the sample by analysing it
quantitatively, based on the filtering criteria used in the online database. On the “Solutions” page
of GreenEcoNet, solutions can be filtered by country, solution type (e.g., “technology/product”,
“training”), technology area (e.g., “resource efficiency”, “energy production”, “waste treatment and
recycling”), and SME sector (e.g., “manufacturing”, “accommodation and food service activities”).
The different options for each of these filters were determined at the beginning of the GreenEcoNet
project through the taxonomy cited above. We thus consider that these filters allow for a solid and
objective description of the SME sample.
The methodology for this analysis was based on the expert judgement of the team, informed by
literature reviews conducted throughout the project and the expert advice of various stakeholders
who were consulted throughout the duration of the project. These included representatives of small
business associations, resource efficiency experts, policy-makers, and small business owners.
3.2. Barriers and Enablers Derived from GreenEcoNet SME Case Studies
3.2.1. Sample Description
Regarding the geographical coverage of the sampled 30 case studies, 70% of them are from the
United Kingdom and 17% from the Netherlands. The four remaining SMEs are based in Estonia,
Belgium, Germany, and Greece. The lack of geographical diversity contrasts with the variety of sectors
from which the SMEs come: 40% manufacturing sector, 13% information and communication, 10%
wholesale and retail, 7% electricity, gas, steam, and air conditioning supply, 7% accommodation and
food service activities, and 7% transportation and storage. Five case studies are in other sectors
such as: administrative support; arts, entertainment, and recreation; and human health and social
work activities.
Each of these SMEs has strategies that include one or more green solutions. The most common
type of green solution in our sample is a green technology/product (70% of SMEs), followed by
organisational methods and (green) business plans (50%). Other types of green solutions in the case
studies are training (20%), IT (7%), networking and communication (7%), and financing (3%).
Each of the case studies also belongs to one or more technology areas. Resource efficiency
(41% of case studies) is the most represented technology area, followed by waste treatment and
recycling (16%), materials (10%) and energy production (10%). Transportation (8%) and buildings (7%)
are two other technology areas covered by the sample.
Regardless of the type of solution and the technology area it belongs to, we made a distinction
between SMEs that produce, supply or install a green solution (56% of the sample), and those that
have adopted a green solution (37%). Seven percent of the SMEs fulfil both roles. As an example,
an SME produced an environmental management system (i.e., a green solution) and also adopted it.
Sustainability 2016,8, 1212 10 of 18
3.2.2. Barriers
More than half of the sampled SMEs (54%) mention the lack of support from the supply and
demand network as their main barrier in the transition towards a circular economy. From a supply
perspective, a major challenge seems to be the absence of “green” suppliers for specific inputs that
the SME needs in the production process of a product or a service. According to the SMEs, in most
cases markets for these inputs are absent or insufficiently developed in the supply chain. Additionally,
some SMEs report difficulties in implementing a green solution since they are locked in at the bottom
of the supply chain or they are part of global supply chains sectors with correlated high environmental
impact. From a demand perspective, a major challenge underlined by the majority of SMEs is the
need to create a business case for customers in order to buy a green product or to use a green
service. According to the SMEs, the following issues are responsible for the lack of support from
the demand-side network: the need to provide accurate figures and additional evidence of benefits
related to green goods and services, the need to convince potential customers that the circular economy
approach is the way forward, and the misperception of customers that green products and services are
of lower quality than traditional goods and services.
Lack of capital is also a very frequently cited barrier (50%) in the sample, which in many cases
refers to lack of initial capital, lack of financial opportunities or alternatives to private funds and
traditional bank funding. Under “lack of capital” we also include the indirect (time and human
resources) costs related to extra R&D effort needed for the development or improvement of a new
green good or service. With respect to bank funding, more than 20% of the SMEs report difficulties
in attracting the necessary funding from traditional banks to implement more sustainable measures
within the company, to invest in the development of new green goods and services, or to finance
the purchase of resource-efficient equipment. From the responses of the sampled SMEs, a picture
emerges of the bank as an institution that is inflexible about SMEs’ requirements for occasional delays
in repayments. Bankers also appear to have difficulty understanding the commercial potential of
the circular economy, especially when it comes to testing or starting production of green innovative
products that are currently not available on the market. The analysis of the sample therefore shows
that despite efforts at European, national, and/or local levels to provide financial support to businesses
for green innovation, the lack thereof is still considered a barrier by many SMEs.
A quarter of the sampled SMEs report the lack of government support as a main barrier towards
the circular economy, referring to a lack of effective legislation as well as lack of support from
local authorities.
The administrative burden and lack of technical know-how are mentioned by around one in five
SMEs (21%). The former barrier includes complex systems and long procedures that businesses face to
obtain certifications and labels, as well as to meet standards and legal obligations. The latter barrier
includes a gap in employee skills and lack of knowledgeable people in matters related to circular
economy business practices. Lack of information and company environmental culture were two other
barriers mentioned by 13% and 8% of SMEs, respectively.
Beyond the abovementioned categories, SMEs note a number of additional barriers, including the
absence of a reference point to which SMEs can turn for support, the economic sector in which the
SME operates being extremely conservative and reluctant to make the “green” transition, as well as
the existence of exogenous factors such as the economic downturn, which dampened interest in green
business initiatives. These additional barriers are referred to in Figure 3below as “other barriers”.
Sustainability 2016,8, 1212 11 of 18
Sustainability 2016, 8, 1212 11 of 17
Figure 3. Percentage of SMEs mentioning the barrier (% of all SMEs).
3.2.3. Enablers
As shown in Figure 4, the most frequently mentioned enabler is the company culture of the staff
and manager. The majority of these SMEs state that the mindset and commitment of the staff is an
important aspect to ease the transition to a circular economy model. It is mentioned that for newly
founded start-up companies it is relatively easy to adopt circular economy principles, as their
company culture develops from scratch, which can be easier than changing practices in existing
firms.
Networking, in the broadest sense, is mentioned as an enabler by a third of the SMEs. In many
cases, this involves joining a group of like-minded SMEs striving for sustainability, or membership
of a supply chain partnership. A similar number of SMEs mention that their customers need or
prefer green products or services, which motivates their adoption of a circular business model.
This enabler is shown in Figure 4 as support from the demand network.
Figure 4. Percentage of SMEs mentioning the enabler (% of all SMEs).
About a quarter of case studies (27%) demonstrate the importance of a financially attractive
green business model. Green technology providers refer, in this respect, to special funds that are
available for businesses wishing to implement a circular solution, such as specific start-up financing
0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60%
Lack of support supply and demand network
Lack of capital
Lack of government support
Administrative burden
Lack of technical know-how
Lack of information
Other barriers
Company environmental culture
0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80%
Company environmental culture
Networking
Support from the demand network
Financially attractive
Recognition
Personal knowledge
Government support
Figure 3. Percentage of SMEs mentioning the barrier (% of all SMEs).
3.2.3. Enablers
As shown in Figure 4, the most frequently mentioned enabler is the company culture of the staff
and manager. The majority of these SMEs state that the mindset and commitment of the staff is an
important aspect to ease the transition to a circular economy model. It is mentioned that for newly
founded start-up companies it is relatively easy to adopt circular economy principles, as their company
culture develops from scratch, which can be easier than changing practices in existing firms.
0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80%
Company environmental culture
Networking
Support from the demand network
Financially attractive
Recognition
Personal knowledge
Government support
Figure 4. Percentage of SMEs mentioning the enabler (% of all SMEs).
Networking, in the broadest sense, is mentioned as an enabler by a third of the SMEs. In many
cases, this involves joining a group of like-minded SMEs striving for sustainability, or membership of
a supply chain partnership. A similar number of SMEs mention that their customers need or prefer
“green” products or services, which motivates their adoption of a circular business model. This enabler
is shown in Figure 4as “support from the demand network”.
About a quarter of case studies (27%) demonstrate the importance of a financially attractive green
business model. Green technology providers refer, in this respect, to special funds that are available for
Sustainability 2016,8, 1212 12 of 18
businesses wishing to implement a circular solution, such as specific start-up financing or local grants.
Financial attractiveness is engendered by the relatively low risk of the investment, especially in the
case of SMEs adopting solar photovoltaics. Another enabler, also mentioned by around one quarter
of the SMEs (23%), is the external recognition of a green business model, such as an award, prize,
or favourable treatment in government project tender procedures (when sustainability is a criterion
for tendering).
A smaller number of SMEs in the sample mention know-how of individuals within the company
as an enabling factor (10%). Finally, only one SME in the sample mentioned (non-financial) support
by the (local) government as enabler. Considering that 25% of the sampled SMEs identify the lack of
government support as a barrier, it can be concluded that some SMEs in the sample do not see the
government as being particularly helpful with regard to circular economy transition.
4. Discussion
The case study analysis has enabled us to learn whether and to what extent the barriers identified
from the literature review in Section 2have been experienced by the SMEs included in the sample.
While in the literature review barriers were identified and discussed individually, our analysis has
provided insights into how frequently barriers have been identified in our case studies compared to
other barriers. Obviously, as explained elsewhere in this paper, frequency does not necessarily imply
significance and since our case study analysis has not weighted the barriers, we cannot claim that
one barrier has been more significant than others. As a consequence, we cannot claim that the most
frequently mentioned barrier is by definition the most important. Nevertheless, an analysis of the
frequency of barriers mentioned is an indication of how often SMEs feel themselves to be confronted
by a barrier, which could be considered, with the above caveat in mind, a token of the significance of a
barrier from the perspective of the SMEs in our sample.
In general, it could be concluded that the barriers mentioned in the literature also apply to a
number of the SMEs in the sample. For example, a lack of capital, especially, is seen as a key barrier for
smaller companies [
27
,
28
]. About 50% of the SMEs in the sample mentioned this barrier, with one of
them stating: “Because of our low turnovers, banks have always been hesitant in releasing funding
to the business. It has been very challenging to secure a sufficient amount of funds to run our core
business, let alone for greening the business.”
The administrative burden when attempting to switch to a circular economy business model,
mentioned in the literature as a barrier to SMEs, has also been experienced by a few of the SMEs in
our sample, with one of them mentioning the “slow and bureaucratic industry standards approvals
process.” The complexity of administrative aspects throughout the supply chain has not been the
specific focus of the analysis, but, as one of the SMEs explained: “Traceability (of inputs) across the
whole supply chain is often difficult. Also, the different legal frameworks across countries add an
additional layer of complexity to identifying the origin of inputs.”
Another barrier mentioned in the case study analysis is the lack of support from SMEs’ supply and
demand networks (value chain). This confirms the finding in the literature review that SMEs have low
bargaining power in their supply chain; in our sample SMEs appear to feel “locked in” at the bottom
of their supply chain and do not have the capacity or “power” to fully implement a circular solution
by themselves.
The literature review also identified the lack of technical and technological know-how within SMEs as
a common barrier. As a consequence, the adoption of new technologies (e.g., those relevant to circular
economy business models) by SMEs is either not considered or rather limited, which hampers the
overall diffusion of these technologies on the market. Our case study analysis confirms that in some
situations SMEs want to improve the environmental performance of their business operations but
they are hampered by this barrier. In our sample, the lack of technical know-how is not considered as
a stand-alone barrier in most cases as it is closely connected to SMEs’ lack of resources and time to
acquire skills training. Neither do they have the financial means to hire external experts. As a result,
Sustainability 2016,8, 1212 13 of 18
a new technology needs to be operated with existing staff and knowledge and, if that is insufficient,
then the technology will not be adopted.
One difference between the findings in the literature review and the conclusions from the SME
case study analysis is the barrier of company environmental culture (management and staff), which in
the literature review is identified as one of the main barriers. In our case study sample this barrier
was among the least-often mentioned. A plausible explanation for this observation could be that the
SMEs analysed in our sample had already adopted a circular-economy type of business so it is more
likely that their company culture was more receptive to a sustainable business model. Interestingly,
the reluctance among SME business leaders to change to new business models, as mentioned in the
literature, was not specifically mentioned by SMEs in the sample. However, in several cases a lack of
time to investigate the possibilities was noted. Although this ‘lack of time’ on the one hand refers to a
lack of resources, it may also be due to a reluctance to change, and therefore an unwillingness to invest
time in looking for green solutions.
Similarly, while a lack of information about the benefits of the circular economy is seen as a
barrier to the implementation of circular economy business models in the literature, either due to the
unfamiliarity of the term “circular economy” [44] or due to the non-existent exchange of information
among companies [
36
,
45
], only a few of the SMEs in the sample experienced this barrier. The reason
for this is probably that the sample includes only SMEs that have already implemented a circular
economy business model and would therefore not have been hampered by a lack of information.
The SME experience described by the publications in our literature review is wider as it also contains
examples of SMEs that have not decided to adopt circular business models, and for whom a lack of
information about benefits could well have been a barrier.
The lack of government support and effective legislation is a commonly cited barrier in the literature.
On the one hand, SMEs find it more difficult to comply with environmental legislation than do large
businesses, and there is a lack of knowledge about the specific environmental legislation that affects
them [
35
]. On the other hand, legislation may also cause uncertainty about what a company needs
to do to comply with it [
36
38
]. A quarter (25%) of the SMEs in the sample mentioned this barrier.
It is notable that the sampled SMEs that experience a lack of government support seem to be more
uncertain about unexpected changes and the consistency of policies. One SME mentioned a sudden
change in a subsidy scheme, for example; another SME cited uncertainty about policies that have an
imminent fixed end-date, while there was no certainty about follow-up policies. Like the barriers
discussed above, a company that has created or that enjoys favourable conditions for aligning its
business operation with a circular business model may need to rely less on government assistance to
develop a suitable framework.
The above discussion shows how barriers are recorded from a general sample of SMEs
(both those that have already switched to a circular business model and those that have not) can
differ from those identified in a sample of circular-business SMEs. Our discussion has shown that
the latter SMEs perceive barriers differently from a group of SMEs that have not adopted a circular
business model. For example, a progressive SME owner, with knowledge of circular technologies,
is likely to pursue a circular business model and see this transition as an opportunity rather than
as a barrier. Such an SME may not be hampered by a lack of government support that might affect
other SMEs. Several papers in the current literature have attempted to investigate the issue of barriers
to circular economy transition but have mostly done so by focusing on specific sectors (see, for
example, [
18
,
19
,
70
]) and/or in specific geographic areas (see [
16
,
17
,
70
]). Yet, while these studies seem
to corroborate and complement our findings, our study offers a cross-sectoral study of barriers for a
large macro geographic, multi-state region. In other words, our paper attempts to break new ground
for academic research in terms of the identification of barrier commonalities, i.e., identification and
ranking of those barriers that are common across sectors and regions and hence are specifically related
to circular economy transition. As such, our analysis of barriers seems to constitute a framework for
investigating ways of addressing such barriers.
Sustainability 2016,8, 1212 14 of 18
Alongside barriers, it is thus important to focus on enablers for adopting a circular business
model. The sample findings in this paper on enablers make it clear that despite the existence of barriers,
there are effective ways around them. The case studies analysed for this paper show that a range of
enablers can be applied to clear barriers and/or create a favourable business environment towards a
circular business model. Our sample findings have shown, for example, that from a management point
of view an important enabler is company leadership that goes beyond pure everyday management
and that considers a circular business model to be more effective and efficient in the longer run.
This can be enhanced by capacity development, skills building, and leadership training focused on
SME management and leadership. Moreover, our case studies have made it clear that participation in
communities of practice can support the successful implementation of circular business solutions.
While research into barriers is evolving rapidly, there seems to be a gap in the investigation of
the design of SME specific enablers. Based on a few extant examples from the GreenEcoNet platform,
this paper has identified a number of enablers to support SMEs in adopting circular business models,
including the frequency of citation as a token of significance. Importantly, there seems to be a gap
in the robust design of SME-centred communities of practice based on social learning theory, and in
the development of capacity-building schemes, with a strong focus on SME needs and requirements.
The few extant examples in this paper need to be corroborated and validated by additional research
and testing.
5. Conclusions
This paper has analysed the barriers and enabling factors identified by SMEs during the
implementation of their circular economy business model. For this analysis, the SMEs were
selected from the GreenEcoNet platform, using a restrictive set of criteria in order to make the
conclusions relevant for “circular economy” initiatives. The insights gained are particularly relevant
for policy-makers at the EU and national level when devising circular economy policy frameworks
for SMEs. Similarly, and as highlighted in the discussion, the insights gained during the research for
this paper appear to break new ground and open up interesting research opportunities around the
identification of barrier commonalities, i.e., of the identification and ranking of those barriers that
are common across sectors and regions, and their specificities, i.e., those that are either sectorially
or geographically specific. As such, it may open the way to a better academic understanding of the
mechanisms underlying barriers and the resistance to the uptake and propagation of the circular
economy, and of better ways to address and lower these barriers.
This research indicates that despite the various policy instruments available to facilitate the
“green” SME transition, several barriers to such a transition exist. Most SMEs in the case studies
mention “lack of support from their supply and demand network” and “lack of capital” as barriers to
“going green”. The first barrier illustrates that SMEs usually operate as small actors in wider value
(market) chains and therefore depend on how other “green” actors in the chain are or want to be.
The second barrier highlights the fact that SMEs do not often have the financial capacity to manage the
disruptive transition to a circular business model.
The paper also indicates several enabling factors that could provide additional information to
policy-makers on how to support SMEs. Specifically, the results of this research demonstrate that
the success of SMEs in transitioning to a circular business model depends on how well this process
is supported by: a company culture with a “green” mindset on the part of the staff and manager;
a local or regional network with other SMEs and supporting multipliers to enhance information
sharing and awareness raising; and the benefits of having a “green” image and being recognised as a
“green” supplier by customers.
While acknowledging that EU and member states support green SME initiatives through funding,
training, and other incentives, this paper suggests that a wider range of enablers are required to
enhance the attractiveness of green SME business. It is therefore recommended that European and
national policies strengthen their focus on greening consumer preferences, market value chains,
Sustainability 2016,8, 1212 15 of 18
and company cultures, and support the recognition of SMEs’ circular business models.
The implementation of a wider policy focus can be supported by the creation of dedicated marketplaces
and communities of practice, such as GreenEcoNet.
Acknowledgments:
The research carried out for this paper has received funding from the European Union’s
Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development, and demonstration under grant
agreement No. 603939, GREENECONET project. The open access cost (OA) is covered by EC FP7 post-grant
OA publishing funds. Neither the European Commission nor any person acting on behalf of the Commission is
responsible for the use which might be made of the following information. The views expressed in this publication
are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Commission.
Author Contributions:
Vasileios Rizos conceptualised this paper and designed the research plan.
Anastasia Ioannou performed the literature review. Terri Kafyeke, Erwin Hofman, and Roberto Rinaldi analysed
the SME case studies included in the sample. Wytze van der Gaast and Corrado Topi contributed to the
development of the discussion section and the policy conclusions. Arno Behrens and Alexandros Flamos provided
advice throughout the process and revised the manuscript. Sotiris Papadelis contributed to the preparation
of the methodology. Martin Hirschnitz-Garbers examined the economic benefits of the circular economy.
All authors approved the final version of the paper. Furthermore, all authors were involved in the GreenEcoNet
EU-funded project and contributed to the design and set-up of the GreenEcoNet online platform, the collection
of case studies to be included in the platform and the dissemination of the project outcomes. The platform is
the source of the case studies that were analysed for this paper. It should be acknowledged that the following
organisations were partners in the GreenEcoNet project: CEPS (Centre for European Policy Studies), the University
of York—Stockholm Environment Institute, University of Piraeus (UNIPI), the Ecologic Institute, JIN Climate and
Sustainability, and the Green Economy Coalition.
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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©
2016 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access
article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution
(CC-BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
... Further, the policymakers' detachment and non-acquaintance also limit the circular regulation. While the CE framework requires high investment, virgin materials need a small venture, and thus investors need frigid results with small funding [128]. ...
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