Word count (excl. references: 6690)
Business models and supply chains for the Circular Economy
Martin Geissdoerfer1,2,*, Sandra Naomi Morioka3, Marly Monteiro de Carvalho3, Steve
1 Institute for Manufacturing, Engineering Department, University of Cambridge, 17 Charles
Babbage Road, Cambridge, CB3 0FS, United Kingdom,
2 Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation, Haas School of Business, University of
California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-1930, United States of America
3 Production Engineering of Polytechnic School, University of São Paulo, Av. Prof. Almeida
Prado, 128 Tr.2 Biênio 2o. andar, São Paulo, SP, 05508-900, Brazil
Journal of Cleaner Production (author’s version)
Free Elsevier Sharelink: https://authors.elsevier.com/c/1Wyeb3QCo9R1Yx
• The Circular Economy is gaining importance as a possible solution to address
sustainable development in academia, industry, and policy
• Based on literature analysis and four case studies, this paper proposes a framework to
integrate circular business models and circular supply chain management in a way that
fosters sustainable development
• The proposed framework shows how different circular business models are driving
circular supply chains in different loops: closing loops, slowing loops, intensifying
loops, narrowing loops, and dematerialising loops
• The identified circular business models vary in complexity of the circular supply chain
and in the value proposition.
• The framework reinforces the CBM's conditions for sustainability: economic,
environmental and social goals, proactive stakeholder management, long-term
perspective. The research indicates circular business and circular supply chain help in
realising sustainability ambitions.
The Circular Economy is increasingly seen as a possible solution to address sustainable
development. An economic system that minimises resource input into and waste, emission, and
energy leakage out of the system is hoped to mitigate negative impacts without jeopardising
growth and prosperity. This paper discusses the sustainability performance of the circular
business models (CBM) and circular supply chains necessary to implement the concept on an
organisational level and proposes a framework to integrate circular business models and
circular supply chain management towards sustainable development. It was developed based
on literature analysis and four case studies. The proposed framework shows how different
circular business models are driving circular supply chain in different loops: closing loops,
slowing loops, intensifying loops, narrowing loops, and dematerialising loops. The identified
circular business models vary in complexity of the circular supply chain and in the value
proposition. Our research indicates circular business and circular supply chain help in realising
Keywords: circular business models, circular supply chain, sustainable business models,
sustainable development, circular economy; business model innovation.
Sustainable development aims at satisfying current needs without harming future generations'
ability to satisfy their needs (WCED 1987), while considering limitations in the Earth's
resources in face of human development (Meadows et al. 1972; Meadows, Randers, and
Meadows, 2004), as well as synergies and trade-offs between economic, environmental and
social goals (Elkington 1997). Based on the preceding Millennium Goals, the United Nations
proposed 17 sustainable development goals (SDG's), to be achieved by, 2030, including issues
related to poverty, gender equality, sustainable cities, amongst others (United Nations, 2015).
In order to address sustainable development, the concept of the Circular Economy is gaining
traction and is increasingly seen as a complete or partial solution to these challenges
(Geissdoerfer et al., 2017a). With an economic system that minimises resource input into and
waste, emission, and energy leakage out of the system, it is hoped that environmental impact
can be reduced, without jeopardising growth and prosperity (Bakker et al., 2014; European
Commission, 2014; Evans, 2009; Webster, 2015). The origins of the concept of Circular
Economy is said to have been introduced by David Pearce in 1990 by Andersen (2007) and Su
et al. (2013). The concept was addressing the relationships between the four economic
functions of the environment, consisting in amenity values, its function as a resource base and
a sink for economic activities, and its role as a life-support system. However, Stahel (1982)
might have introduced the concept earlier, talking of a self-replenishing system that minimizes
material and energy input as well as environmental deterioration without negative influences
on growth and progress.
The circular economy is based on the idea of putting private business into the service of the
transition to a more sustainable system. As the singular actor with the most resources and
capabilities, companies could considerably advance this transition by creating additional value
with an extended and more proactively managed stakeholder network (Geissdoerfer, Bocken,
and Hultink, 2016; Porter and Kramer, 2011; Nidumolu, Prahalad, and Rangaswami, 2009).
Especially the concept of Failed Value Exchanges is decisive in this context; it assumes that
by realising value that is either missed, destroyed, not internalised, or not offered despite
existing demand in the market, organisations can potentially benefit society while at the same
time gaining competitive edge (Yang et al., 2016).
We and other authors (Chesbrough and Rosenbloom, 2002; Doleski, 2015; Knyphausen-
Aufsess and Meinhardt, 2002; Osterwalder and Pigneur, 2013) consider business model
innovation as a key tool to implement these changes into organisations because of the concept’s
usefulness in analysing, structuring, planning, and communicating in face of the increasing
complexity of organisational configurations and activities (Doleski, 2015; Knyphausen-
Aufsess and Meinhardt, 2002).
The business model concept became popular in the 1990s with the emergence of new revenue
mechanism accompanying the emergence of e-commerce (Magretta, 2002; Osterwalder and
Pigneur, 2005; Zott et al., 2011). In this context, it was initially used to pitch simplified but
comprehensive business ideas to investors within a short time frame (Knyphausen-Aufseß and
Meinhardt, 2002). Several authors have defined the concept differently and there have been
comprehensive reviews of these definitions to come up with a unified understanding (such as
Evans et al., 2002; Schallmo, 2013; Zott et al., 2011). On the basis of these comparative
approaches, we define business model as simplified representations of the elements of a
complex organisational system and the interrelation between these elements. It determines the
organisation’s value proposition, value creation and delivery, and value capturing and aims at
analysis, planning, and communication in face of increasing complexity. The organisational
environment and value network is also considered to different degrees in most approaches
(Geissdoerfer et al., under review).
Combining the challenges of putting Circular Economy into reality and the practice-oriented
approach of business model innovation leads to the concept of circular business models
(CBM), a term used to describe business models that are suited for the Circular Economy by
incorporating elements that slow, narrow, and close resource loops, so that the resource input
into the organisation and its value network is decreased and waste and emission leakage out of
the system is minimised (Bocken et al., 2016). As we lay out in the following section, we would
add an emphasis on the linkage between CBM and circular supply chain management (CSCM)
towards closed loops in different approaches as closing loops, slowing loops, intensifying
loops, narrowing loops, and dematerialising loops. intensifying and dematerialising loops.
The arguably biggest difference between conventional business models and those designed for
the Circular Economy lies in their value creation and delivery element, and here particularly in
the supply chain. We use the term circular supply chain management (CSCM), which
comprises the configuration and coordination of the supply chain to close, narrow, slow,
intensify and dematerialise resource loops. Despite the importance of CSCM for CBMs and
therefore for the implementation of the Circular Economy, it remains a rather unexplored area
of research (Homrich et al., 2017). Moreover, it is important to contextualize CSCM with other
related but not the same concepts like sustainable supply chain management (SSCM) (Wu and
Pagell, 2011) or green supply chain management (GSCM) (Zhu and Sarkis, 2004), in which
the closed loops are not a core issue. in order to contribute to the nascent knowledge about
CSCM and add insights from industry on CBM, the present research aims to propose a
framework to integrate circular business models and circular supply chain management
towards sustainable development. To address this goal, four case studies are presented, Alpha,
an office furniture remanufacturer, Beta, a high recycled content flat aluminium sheet
manufacturer, Gama designs and produces luxurious fashion accessories from fire hoses, and
Delta provides a bike sharing service. This paper is structured in the following way. First, the
research’s background is illustrated (Section 2), before we explain the applied research method
(Section 3). This is followed by a presentation (Section 4) and a subsequent discussion of the
findings (Section5). The paper ends with a conclusions and outlook section (Section 6).
2. Literature background
This section introduces the two key concepts underlying this research, circular business models
(CBM) and circular supply chains (CSC), and illustrates their role in sustainable development.
2.1 Circular business models
The modern understanding of the Circular Economy is based on different schools of thought,
like Cradle to Cradle (McDonough and Braungart, 2002), Laws of Ecology (Commoner 1971),
Looped and Performance Economy (Stahel, 2010), Regenerative Design (Lyle 1994),
Industrial Ecology (Graedel and Allenby 1995), Biomimicry (Benyus, 2002), or the Blue
Economy (Pauli, 2010). The circular economic system avoids waste and tries to preserve the
inherent value of products as long as feasible (European Commission, 2014). The goal of this
is to minimise the consumption of resources by recycling materials and/or energy after the use
phase to avoid leakage out of the system (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2013). The butterfly
diagram focus on the biological and technical closed loops as a continuous flow of materials
through the value circle, without focusing on one particular circular loop but in the
understanding of how these loops work (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2013).
To utilise the sustainable business model's analytical, strategic, and communicational potential
to integrate sustainability considerations on the organisational level, three mayor elements have
to be added: sustainable value creation, more pro-active management of a more comprehensive
set of stakeholders, and a long-term perspective (Geissdoerfer et al., 2016; 2017b; under
review). We synthesise this from an increasing range of definitions of the SBM concept in the
literature. These key definitional elements can be found, among others, in the definitions of
Boons et al. (2013), who addresses not only the creation of superior customer value but also
private and public societal benefits; Schaltegger et al. (2012), who highlights customer and
social value, economic advantages, and the mitigation of social and environmental concerns,
Stubbs and Cocklin (2008), who emphasises the cooperation with a broad range of
stakeholders. and Evans, Rana, and Short (2014), who focus on both the creation of social,
environmental, and economic value for and the alignment of interests of a broader set of
stakeholders that is going beyond the monetary value for customers and shareholders that
‘unsustainable’ business models would aim at.
Following Bocken et al. (2013), we consider business models for the circular economy as a
class of or generic strategy for sustainable business models. By closing, narrowing, slowing,
intensifying, and dematerialising loops, the resource inputs into and the waste and emission
leakage out of the organisational system are minimised, and, consequently, the sustainability
performance improved. Closing, narrowing, and slowing loops (Bocken et al., 2016) refer to
the biological and technical nutrition cycles of the Circular Economy (Ellen MacArthur
Foundation, 2012), and comprises recycling measures (closing), efficiency improvements
(narrowing), and use phase extensions (slowing or extending). Although considered in the
original concept as part of slowing loops, we want to emphasise the importance of a more
intense use phase (intensifying), and add the substitution of product utility by service and
software solutions (dematerialising) to our conceptualisation.
Consequently, as illustrated in Figure 1, CBMs can be defined as SBMs - which are business
models that aim at solutions for sustainable development by creating additional monetary and
non-monetary value by the pro-active management of a multiple stakeholders and incorporate
a long-term perspective - that are specifically aiming at solutions for the Circular Economy
through a circular value chain and stakeholder incentive alignment.
Figure 1. Comparison of traditional, sustainable, and circular business models
Figure further explores this correlation by contrasting circular (C) and linear (L) configurations
of the value proposition, value creation and delivery, and value capture element of a business
model with its economic, environmental, and social performance, providing an example of
each item, as well as a possible manifestation in an office furniture manufacturing operation.
In this paper, it is argued that all three elements of a business model (value proposition, value
creation and delivery, and value capture (Richardson, 2008)) have to ‘go circular’ to achieve
optimal sustainability performance within the Circular Economy.
Figure 2. A value based view on the sustainability of circular business models.
To further argue about the integration between CBM and sustainability, Table 1 indicates how
each business model element (value proposition, creation and delivery system and value
capture) is affected by economic, environmental, social dimensions and a long-term
orientation, which are four core issues of corporate sustainability (Lozano, 2008). Regarding
value proposition, the core goal and vision of the organization translated into offerings
(products and services) need to ensure revenue to compensate direct and indirect costs, to be
designed according to approaches such as eco-design and design for disassembly, to ensure
society wellbeing, and finally to guarantee long-term capacity to address economic,
environmental and social concerns. In terms of value creation and delivery system for CBM, it
is critical to develop a value network with stakeholders that are motivated by and contribute to
economic viability, environmental benefits, social concerns and preparation for long-term
challenges of businesses associated. Finally, value captured by the system associated with
CBM includes not only economic one, but also natural resource preservation and society
wellbeing both in the short and in the long-term.
Table 1. Deployment of sustainability dimensions into circular business models
Circular business models
Value creation and
Offerings (products and
services) with economic
margin to ensure profit
Incentives for actors in the
supply chain to extend
product use and return
disposal to the value system
Profit (or at least not
negative result) to each
Products and services
designed to minimize
natural resources depletion
and logistic operations
burden by extracting more
value from less natural
Maximize product and
service value for society
towards stakeholders in the
consciousness on the value
Long-term capacity to
environmental and social
Incremental and radical
changes in the system level
to ensure long-term
Preparation of current
production systems to be
make "perfect" circular
economy viable in the
2.2 Circular supply chain management
The term supply chain management (SCM) was first coined by Oliver and Webber in 1982
(Christopher, 2016; Stadtler et al., 2015), and interest in the topic has rapidly increased ever
since (Cooper and Ellram 1993). Today, the topic is researched by a broad range of disciplines,
from operations management to psychology (Burgess et al., 2006), resulting in a body of
literature in excess of 40,000 journal articles and books (Asgari et al., 2016). As a consequence,
there is hardly any periodical on marketing, manufacturing, distribution, customer
management, or transportation that does not contain one or more articles in the field (Ross
This immense interest in SCM, combined with narrow silos of knowledge of the different
disciplines and organisational functional units, and the broad diversity of employed research
methodology (Burgess et al., 2006) lead to a broad range of definitions and understandings of
the topic (see e.g. New 1997; Lummus et al., 2001; Mentzer et al., 2001; Kauffman, 2002).
Based on these definitions and the review articles illustrated in Table 1, we define SCM as the
configuration and coordination of the organisational functions marketing, sales, R&D,
production, logistics, IT, finance, and customer service within and across business units and
organisations to improve operative effectiveness and efficiency of the system and generate
competitive advantages. SCM depends on organizations' network, since one single enterprise
does not own the entire set of skills and resources required to deliver its value proposition. In
turn, these networks' configurations are variable according to certain attributes (such as
dynamic behaviour, level of trust between nodes, distribution of risks or benefits, geographical
dispersion, etc.), to characteristics of each organisation representing the network node (such as
strategy, position in the value chain, degree of influence, etc.), and also to product type
(tangibility, customization, variability, etc.) (Taylor et al., 2001). Another fundamental issue is
the type of collaboration between organizations, which vary depending on the level of
formalisation, commitment and duration of relationship: simple market transition, non-
contractual agreement, contractual agreement, joint venture, and integrated company (Jagdev
and Thoben, 2001). This discussion is particularly relevant in the corporate sustainability
context, since strong collaboration network tend to be crucial in terms of improving
sustainability performance (MacCarthy and Jayarathne, 2011).
Table 2. Literature overview SCM, developed from Burgess et al. (2006); Asgari et al. (2016).
Most cited textbooks
Review articles SCM
Reviews Sustainable SCM
(Chopra and Meindl, 2015)
(Croom, Romano, and Giannakis, 2000)
(Fleischmann et al. 1997)
(Rungtusanatham et al., 2003)
(Browne et al., 2005)
(Simchi-Levi and Kaminsky, 2007)
(Sachan and Datta, 2005)
(Meade, Sarkis, and Presley, 2007)
(Handfield and Jr. 1998)
(Kouvelis, Chambers, and Wang, 2009)
(Bowersox, Closs, and Cooper, 2012)
(Gupta, Verma, and Victorino, 2009)
(Carter and Rogers, 2008)
(Monczka et al., 2015)
(Burgess, Singh, and Koroglu, 2006)
(Seuring, Müller, and M??ller, 2008)
(Storey et al., 2006)
(Bekkering, Broekhuis, and Van Gemert,
(Giunipero, Handfield, and Eltantawy,
(Ilgin and Gupta, 2009)
(Tayur and Ganeshan 1999)
(Alfalla-Luque and Medina-López, 2009)
(Carter and Liane Easton, 2011)
(Sarkis, Zhu, and Lai, 2011)
(Seuring and Gold, 2012)
(Gimenez and Tachizawa, 2012)
(Chen and Paulraj, 2004)
(Abbasi and Nilsson, 2012)
(Giannakis and Croom, 2004)
(Ashby, Leat, and Hudson-Smith, 2012)
(Ho, Au, and Newton, 2002)
(Morgan and Gagnon, 2013)
(Lummus, Krumwiede, and Vokurka, 2001)
(Lin et al., 2014)
(Mentzer et al., 2001)
(Stindt and Sahamie, 2014)
(Majid Eskandarpour et al., 2015)
(Fahimnia, Sarkis, and Davarzani, 2015)
(Larson and Halldorsson, 2002)
(Ntabe, Munson, and Santa-eulalia, 2014)
There are also narrower definitions in the literature, which usually focus functionally on
purchasing and define SCM as the strategic selection of, collaboration with, and control of
suppliers. While these definitions have advantages for operationalisation in practice and
demarcation from other concepts in theory, we choose a rather comprehensive definition to
allow for broad applicability of our discussion. Depending on the definition, SCM can be an
important part or almost identical with the concept of the value chain (Porter, 2004) and value
creation and delivery (Richardson, 2008). Therefore, it is an essential part of the business model
of organisations (Knyphausen-Aufsess and Meinhardt, 2002; Richardson, 2008) and plays a
crucial role in transforming it for the Circular Economy. Organizational networks are called to
reassess how and where value is added, consumed and recovered (Barber, Beach, and
The differences in supply chains of conventional and circular business models stem from the
necessary closing, slowing, and narrowing of material and energy flows (Bocken et al., 2016).
As we have argued in Figure 2, we assume that CBMs achieve the best sustainability
performance, if all elements of the business model are aligned to support these three functions
(value proposition, value creation and delivery, and value capture (Richardson, 2008)). While
there are already some reviews on sustainable and ‘green’ supply chains, like (Abbasi and
Nilsson, 2012; Ashby, Leat, and Hudson-Smith, 2012; Carter and Liane Easton, 2011;
Fahimnia, Sarkis, and Davarzani, 2015; Gimenez and Tachizawa, 2012; Majid Eskandarpour
et al., 2015; Sarkis et al., 2011; Seuring et al., 2008; Srivastava, 2007) and the special issue in
Journal of Cleaner Production (JCP, 16(15), 2008), the literature on supply chains for the
Circular Economy is rather nascent, mostly referring to closed loop supply chains with
relatively few reviews to date, like (Govindan et al., 2015; Daniel et al., 2009; Stindt and
Sahamie, 2014) The existing literature on Circular Economyis incomplete, referring mainly to
its implementations in China (including sometimes dubious academic approaches, like (Ying
and Li-jun, 2012)), with one review in the context of Waste-to-Energy supply chains (Pan et
Based on this literature, we define Circular Supply Chain Management (CSCM) as the
configuration and coordination of the organisational functions marketing, sales, R&D,
production, logistics, IT, finance, and customer service within and across business units and
organisations to close, slow, intensify, narrow, and dematerialise material and energy loops to
minimise resource input into and waste and emission leakage out of the system, improve its
operative effectiveness and efficiency and generate competitive advantages.
Following the importance of the value chain for the business model and the need for alignment
of all the business model’s elements for optimal sustainability performance, it can be argued
that CSCM aiming at fostering sustainable development should incorporate SBM
characteristics. Thus, CSCM for sustainable development should comprise the creation of
additional monetary and non-monetary value, a pro-active multiple stakeholder management,
and a long-term perspective, as illustrated in Table 3.
Table 3. Comparison of SCM, CSCM and CSCM for sustainable development (SD)
CSCM for SD
Operative effectiveness and
Minimising material and
Minimising material and energy
Minimising waste and
Minimising waste and emission
Social effectiveness (e.g. Intra-
and intergenerational equity,
secure and meaningful
employment, professional and
(e.g. Land use, biodiversity,
pollution, resource depletion)
Economic effectiveness (e.g.
healthy ownership structures,
sustainable (VRIO) competitive
Coordination of organisational
Closing resource loops
Closing resource loops
Slowing resource loops
Slowing resource loops
Narrowing resource loops
Narrowing resource loops
Creation of additional monetary
and non-monetary value
Pro-active multiple stakeholder
3. Research method
The literature analysis provided a theoretical background for the conducted case studies. This
research method was chosen given the exploratory characteristic of the research. Besides, case
studies are also suitable for investigations on contemporary phenomenon (Yin, 2010) and
provides in-depth understandings of unique set ups (Simmons, 2009), as is the situation for the
present research. We followed the recommendations of Eisenhardt (1989) and Yin(2009).
Once the literature review was conducted, providing the main literature background, the next
step was to choose the companies to be part of the research. A specific selection criterion was
defined, as the research method based on case studies calls for defining a theoretical sampling
(Eisenhardt and Graebner, 2007), rather than a statistically representative one. The main
selection criteria was that the organization's business model had to be aligned with either
closing, slowing, intensifying loops, narrowing loops and/or dematerialising loops. Four
companies were selected for exploring business opportunities under the circular economy
logic. Alpha's core idea is to provide remanufactured office furniture, using end of life goods
to produce well-functioning products within an internal design solution. Meanwhile, Beta
produces flat rolled aluminium with very high recycled content (significantly higher than others
in the market). Gama designs and produces luxurious fashion accessories (such as purses and
belts) from fire hoses and Delta provides a bike sharing service. The first three companies are
from the United Kingdom, while the forth one is a Brazilian company. Beta is the only large
company, while the others are medium and smaller companies, with less than 50 employees
(Delta) and around 10 employees (Alpha and Gama). Despite different sectors and business
models, each company chosen as case study represents a starting point for characterising
elements and functions contributing to the Circular Economy.
Data collection was conducted mainly based on semi-structured interviews with key informants
of the companies. Biases in the interviews and reporting were considered during data analysis,
as pointed out by previous qualitative research on corporate sustainability. To mitigate this
research limitation, interview data was complemented by published documents and companies'
websites. Besides during interviews, concrete examples were asked to illustrate generic
statements. Key informants were chosen given their involvement and general knowledge about
each company's business model. Interviewees included the CEO and founder of Alpha, Gama
and Delta, and the corporate sustainability manager of Beta. The interviews encompassed
questions about the interviewees' description and perceptions according to the CBM of their
respective companies. In particular, they were asked about the company's (1) value proposition
in terms of economic, environmental and social value the firm aim at delivering; (2) creation
and delivery system with focus on the role of the business in closing the loop of the product
life cycle; and (3) value captured by the various stakeholders of each case study. The collected
data were analysed qualitatively, according to aspects regarding sustainable development and
4. Research results analysis
As previously indicated by Table 3, CSCM for SD encompasses traditional aims and means as
SCM and as CSCM, with additional issues related to (1) social, environmental and economic
goals, (2) pro-active multiple stakeholder management, (3) long-term perspective, and (4)
closing, narrowing and slowing resource loops.
4.1 Economic, environmental and social goals
We initiated the data analysis by discussing social, environmental and economic goals of the
case studies. To do so, a triangulated analysis was performed, including the case studies'
declared mission and/or vision stated in their corporate websites, combined with the interviews.
In order to maintain the companies' name confidential, the exact statements from the websites
are not shown. All four of the organizations are for-profit organizations, as they aim at
providing revenue to cover their costs and generate profit by selling their products and services.
Regarding environmental goals, three of them explicitly seek to tackle environmental goals in
reducing landfill, as declared in the respective websites. In particular, they foster the market
for recycled (Beta and Gama) and remanufactured (Alpha) goods. When asked about the
environmental impact of Delta, the company replied that they probably have a positive impact
on carbon emission, but have not yet focused effort to calculate it. They believe that by enabling
the possibility for people to cycle instead of using their cars to move around the city can has
potential to compensate the emissions associated to their operations.
The explicit connection of the studied companies to social goals vary from one case to the
other. Alpha's statement is clear and specific on their goals to create local jobs through
remanufacturing. Delta's goal for society is also explicit, which is to integrate bicycles as an
alternative for urban transportation. Meanwhile, Beta declares their commitment to customers,
co-workers and local communities, without pointing out what specifically they intend to create
to these stakeholders. Data from both interview and website statement indicates Beta's
contribution to society in terms of technology innovation and development related to
production process of sheets from recycled aluminium, as well as to the application and usage
of aluminium sheets with high recycled content. In turn, Gama's statement is also not explicit
in this regard and mentions a more intangible value, indicating how much society loses with
materials going to landfill or incineration, in terms of quality, narrative and opportunity to do
4.2 Pro-active multiple stakeholder management
Another relevant aspect for CSCM and CBM is relates to a pro-active multiple stakeholder
management. A summary of the stakeholders and the value created and delivered to each of
them is shown in Table 4. It brings evidence that the organizations are having a proactive
approach not only towards its shareholders, but also to other internal and external stakeholders.
Alpha and Gama, for instance, explicitly mentioned their intention to contribute to practice for
circular economy, serving as an example and to push partners and innovation to make their
circular business viable. Besides, Beta saw the opportunity to reduce dependency of imports
commodity-priced materials with high carbon emission and turned into heavy investments in
new technology to produce quality aluminium sheets with high percentage of recycled material.
Moreover, they also engaged in partnership with clients to develop technology applied to low
carbon aluminium components and applications, e.g., towards actively enabling the market for
low carbon products to grow.
Delta, on the other hand, saw from international market the opportunity to invest bike sharing,
as one of the pioneers of this idea in its country (Brazil). It is worth noting that, what the cases
have in common is the need to develop their consumer market, actively promoting awareness
on the environmental and/or social value they aim to create and deliver. Development of a
supply chain network that is able to collect used office furniture that would be in the end of life
and to combine skills and infrastructure to remanufacture goods is also a challenge for Alpha.
The company is engaged in developing these partners to enable their business to grow.
Table 4. Sustainable value captured by stakeholders.
Structurally lower cost
Supply risk reduction,
longer term return
Opportunity to work
for a company with
challenging targets for
increasing rate of
recycled content in the
business with purpose
Quality and price
products and services,
(independent from the
inputs for production)
Partnership with clients
development applied to
low carbon aluminium
Private sponsor for
bike sharing service:
brand value, relation
to local government
Chance to sell surplus
waste stock (used as
equipment suppliers to
address the technical
challenges of high
with suppliers of
materials (such as
Connection to the
jobs, reduction of
demonstration of a
Engagement of local
organizations to collect
Low carbon footprint
Transition to a
Less burden on
Reduction of carbon
emission throughout the
Less burden on
Low carbon additional
solution for urban
jobs, reduction of
demonstration of a
production value (instead
of buying from abroad)
Image before society
4.3 Long-term perspective within short term actions
Alpha is an office furniture remanufacturer, Beta is a high recycled content flat aluminium
sheet manufacturer, Gama designs and produces luxurious fashion accessories from fire hoses,
and Delta provides a bike sharing service. Regarding the long-term perspective, companies are
pushed to account for future generations based on their decision of the present. The positive
contribution of each case study in the long run was also discussed during interviews. For Alpha
and Gama, as mentioned before, it is about building an economically viable business today to
help disseminate the circular economy principles. Regarding Alpha, this is particularly in the
office furniture business, for which it is fundamental that other organizations in logistics (direct
and reverse) and production (remanufacturing) are able to provide infrastructure to other
Gama, on the other hand, is interested in materials with high potential of usage, without the
objective of closing specific material cycles. Although they started and are very strong with
luxury accessories from fire-hoses, they also work with other materials, such as leather waste
and parachute silk. Their intention is to awake on people the perception on the value of certain
materials and on the possibility of having goods that last virtually never end in the landfill and
can be used for many generations ahead. Beta's legacy to the long-term is aligned with its
business decision on investing in technologies for low carbon aluminium goods and production
In turn, Delta aims to disseminate the culture of bike sharing as a day-to-day solution and not
only for leisure to adults and children as users, and also to private and public organizations as
4.4 Circular resource loops and guidelines for sustainable business models
Regarding the companies' respective resource loops, interesting insights were also collected in
the field. The circular business models presented by the case studies are aligned with the
Butterfly diagram (Ellen-MacArthur-Foundation, 2013). Focusing on the right side of the
diagram (the technical cycles), Alpha clearly contributes to the refurbish/remanufacture cycle,
while Beta and Gama are examples of recycling business models. Yet, Delta is more aligned
with the maintenance cycle, intensifying the use of their bicycles by internally designing and
manufacturing a robust product that is easy repair. The CBM's value proposition together with
requirements of a CSCM are summarized in Table 5.
Table 5. Towards circular business model and circular supply chain in the case studies.
partners to provide
reverse logistics of
used furniture and
High investment on
R&D for product
Low waste in
based on long
bike assembly to
ensure long usage
clients interested in
instead of product
new office furniture
very high recycled
(such as purses
and belts) from
Pushing the supply
chain to develop
Promoting the culture
boundaries for low
supply chain to
the culture of bike
Urgency to action to
Need to develop
materials to reduce
Need for more
efficient ways for
5. Discussions and framework proposal
Combining the analysis of the literature and data from case studies, a framework is proposed,
combining the discussions on sustainable development, circular economy, circular supply
chain management and circular business models in practice (Figure 3). In doing so, we try to
bring initial discussion on how these constructs are interconnected. On the left side, the
framework reinforces the dependency between a single organization, a specific CBM, and its
value network, as a circular supply chain. In this sense, the research corroborates with previous
arguments on the contribution of CSCM to closing, narrowing and slowing the loop (Bocken
et al., 2017), complementing this view with intensifying and dematerialising efforts, as
discussed in Section 4.4 and illustrated in Table 5. Empirical evidence from performance case
studies reinforces the crucial role of network infrastructure and capabilities to enable CBM
operations. For instance, Delta realized the key role of using a bicycle that was durable and
relatively easy to perform maintenance and decided to switch is operations from buying to
assembling their own bicycles.
Furthermore, the proposed framework also indicates that the previous arguments depend on
the following conditions (aims and means) for circularity and for sustainability: economic,
environmental and social goals, proactive stakeholder management, long-term perspective.
Each business condition was previously discussed in the literature (Geissdoerfer et al., 2017b)
and the performed research initially addresses this issue, as the case studies presented in
Sections 4.1, 4.2 and 4.3 bring empirical evidence on the relevance of these conditions. These
aspects reinforces that the triple bottom line approach focused on a sustainability based on
three pillars: economic, environmental and social ones (Elkington, 1997b) is relevant, but not
sufficient for CBM's and SBM's. A broad and proactive approach on stakeholders and long-
term perspective to complement short termed ones are also crucial factors for successful
Previous knowledge has already pointed out initial discussions on the relation between
sustainable development and circular economy (Geissdoerfer et al., 2017a). In this sense, our
paper adds to this by bringing empirical evidence on the relationship between these
perspectives, as the present research explores this link by arguing the three conditions for CBM
to address challenges for Circular Economy and, at the same time, for Sustainable
Development. The connection between these perspectives is still open for discussion. On the
one hand, one can argue that Circular Economy is one possible way, amongst others, to reach
Sustainable Development. On the other hand, Sustainable Development is a concept that is so
broad and intangible that may lose meaning, while Circular Economy could became a more
tangible way to organize society and economy. In summary, our research seeks to contribute
at some extend to this discussion, by illustrating an overlapping area between the concepts, but
understands the need for further and deeper arguments. This overlapping area represents
arguments from the case studies that, while the tackle the three conditions for sustainability
using a business model based on closing, slowing, narrowing, intensifying and/or
Figure 3. Proposed framework.
6. Conclusions and outlook
The present research contributes to the literature by proposing an integrated framework on
CBM and CSCM built on theory and practice, discussing their interrelation and the contribution
to the dimensions of sustainability. To address this, four case studies were presented: Alpha,
an office furniture remanufacturer, Beta, a high recycled content aluminium sheet producer,
Gamma, a recycled luxury accessories manufacturer, and Delta, a bike-sharing company.
All four case studies present circularity aspects incorporated into their business models and
supply chains. The findings confirm previous research on SBMs derived from creating value
from waste (Bocken et al., 2014) and evidence for CBM and CSCM elements was found. This
includes products designed and manufactured from disposed materials, partnership building
for reverse logistics and efforts to provoke system change by communicating and collaborating
for the Circular Economy. This reinforces previous theoretical researches that indicated the
need not only for technical innovations (e.g., in terms of material flows), but also for social
innovations (e.g. in terms of changes in consumer behaviour), such as discussed in Winans et
However, the cases studied still face challenges in changing the paradigm from linear to
circular, especially regarding adaptations needed in the companies’ supply chains and in
purchasing processes of customers. Empirical data show alignment between CBM and
consequently CSCM to sustainable development challenges. As proposed by the framework
showed in Figure 3, CBM, aligned with circular supply chain, can contribute to sustainable
development by promoting economic, environmental and social goals; pro-actively managing
stakeholders; including a long-term perspective; and closing, slowing, intensifying, narrowing
and dematerializing resource loops. The resource loops for circularity were previously pointed
out by the literature (Bocken, Bakker, and Pauw, 2016). Our framework complements this view
by adding explicitly initiatives on intensifying and dematerializing loops for circular economy.
This paper brings implications to practice by presenting different CBM and discussing the main
challenges faced in practice. The case studied present similarities and contrasts. For example,
while Alpha is a small company, with local action, born with a circularity mind-set and the
explicit purpose to contribute to sustainable development, Beta is a large globally present
organisation and enlarges the amount of recycled material into its product mainly to
compensate for uncertainty in resource purchasing. Despite these differences, all the case
companies’ business models depend on changing consumers and suppliers’ behaviour, since
CBM and CSCM demand a systemic paradigm shift. For instance, the companies’ customers’
product quality perception from remanufactured or recycled material tended to be lower than
for traditional goods, resulting in lower realisable prices. This is despite the products’ high
quality requirements and comparatively little advantages in their cost structure.
The main limitations in our research encompass, first and foremost, the limited number of case
studies and data collection based mostly on only one interview for each case study. However,
the interviews were triangulated with publicly available documents to mitigate this. Interviews
with other stakeholders from the supply chain to complement data collection can be an
interesting future follow-up study to complement the present one. All in all, this research is to
be seen as among the first steps in evaluating whether ‘going circular’ really makes businesses
and their supply chains more sustainable. A more systematic assessment of their contribution
to sustainable development goals will be desirable to confirm and complements these first
This work was supported by the Brazilian institutes: National Counsel of Technological and
Scientific Development (CNPq) and Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education
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