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Transforming Business Models: Towards a Sufficiency-based Circular Economy



Business model innovation for a circular economy has become core to contemporary sustainability research and practice, but does it go far enough? While circular economy initiatives have closed and narrowed resource loops to some extent, overall consumption continues to rise offsetting much of the benefits. A further paradigm shift is necessary, going beyond existing solutions, towards a broader societal-wide approach to deliver a sufficiency-based circular economy. That is, a society where excessive levels of consumption (and production) are curtailed at their root cause to better satisfy the health and wellbeing needs of the individual consumer, broader society and global environment. We present sufficiency examples in the food and clothing sector and explore how such approaches can augment existing circular economy solutions. We present a framework to better understand how industry, society and policymakers might collaborate more effectively in designing and implementing long-term initiatives for moving towards a sufficiency-based circular economy.
Transforming Business Models: Towards a Sufficiency-based
Circular Economy
Nancy M.P. Bocken a, b, c* and Samuel W. Short d
a Lund University, IIIEE, Tegnérsplatsen 4, 223 50 Lund, Sweden, *
b Delft University of Technology, Industrial Design Engineering, Delft, Netherlands.
c Visiting professor, Lappeenranta University of Technology, School of Business and Management
d Independent consultant and sustainability entrepreneur,
<a> Introduction
We live in a world that champions consumerism, innovation and novelty to drive endless
economic growth. Life-spans of consumer goods lessen (Bakker et al., 2014; Ellen
MacArthur Foundation, 2018) because of, and despite, rapid advances in technologies
and capabilities. While companies might contribute to societal benefits few companies
question the spur for consumption. At the same time, governments and society encourage
growth to create wealth, employment, and generate tax revenues to support public
services and infrastructure investments. This focus on economic growth has led to a short-
term perspective with scant regard to the environment and long-term human wellbeing.
While there are promising exceptions—for example, Unilever stopping quarterly
reporting as part of its long-term sustainability goals (Bhattacharya & Polman, 2017) and
Patagonia experimenting with ‘zero growth’ (Chouinard & Stanley, 2013)—more work
needs to be done to challenge short-termism.
The ‘circular economy’ has been heralded as a driver for environmental gains through
encouraging the slowing, closing and narrowing of resource loops (Bocken et al., 2016;
Geissdoerfer et al., 2017). The question is whether the circular economy can mitigate
resource use and climate change to the extent that is needed (Zink & Geyer, 2017).
Scientists highlight the serious consequences of the path modern society has followed:
climate change, wildlife and biodiversity losses (IPCC, 2018), increasing waste streams
and extensive plastic waste pollution (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2016), inequalities
and rising economic migration (Royal Society, 2012), and an obesity epidemic while
others remain malnourished (Caballero, 2005). This suggests a need to move from a
consumption-orientated society towards a society based, not only on circular economy,
but on ‘sufficiency’, or in other words, a transition to a society where we manage with (in
some cases much) less. In a sufficiency-based society, everyone has enough for a good
life, but without the unnecessary excesses of the modern developed world
. Such a
transition represents a global mind-set shift towards a focus on health and well-being
rather than monetary outcomes; equality and fairness across society and environment; an
intergenerational perspective rather than short-termism; and perhaps most importantly, a
collective sense of commitment and responsibility. Awareness of the need for change is
Thailand has made ‘sufficiency’ part of its national development plans, See and
increasing, but while global challenges are becoming increasingly pressing (IPCC, 2018),
shifting direction is far from easy, and requires change at all levels in society (Kemp et
al., 1998). While more conventional approaches to sustainability, such as efficiency and
productivity improvements may be largely firm-centric innovations, circular economy
and sufficiency initiatives by their nature demand a broader system-level approach, and
the participation and cooperation of actors across government, industry and civil society.
This chapter explores the topic of sufficiency and discusses how a multi-actor perspective
focusing on the interactions between actors (Fischer & Newig, 2016) might assist in
developing and implementing sufficiency-orientated business models. A review of the
literature and analysis of positive examples of sufficiency practices already undertaken
in the food and clothing sectors is presented, and this is then used to develop and discuss
a framework to gain a better understanding of sufficiency transitions. The chapter
concludes with discussion of some limitations with the framework at present, and
recommendations for future research to progress this field of research.
<a> What is sufficiency?
Sufficiency, in this chapter’s context, refers to the idea of having enough for a healthy
meaningful life, but without excess (Alexander, 2012). This is perhaps most easily
articulated with respect to food. A ‘sufficient’ diet or food intake is one that provides
adequate nutrition for a healthy and active life and minimises the potential for illness and
diseases. Evidence of exceeding a sufficient diet (i.e., consuming too much) can be seen
in the growing percentage of adults who are now overweight or obese (Caballero, 2005),
and in the numerous articles now making the link between environmental impact and diet
(e.g., Tilman & Clark, 2014). Equally, the effects of under-consumption and malnutrition
are clear.
Excessive consumerism is seen across the developed world from food, fast fashion
clothing (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2018; Jackson, 2009), to overly large cars and
homes, and extensive travelling (e.g. IATA, 2017). At the same time, in developing
nations, the problems of sufficiency are often reversed where populations suffer from
under-consumption and lack of access to basic needs. Despite awareness of the problems,
defining, agreeing and achieving sufficiency targets for major impact consumer
categories such as food, housing, clothing, transportation, and vacations (Druckman &
Jackson, 2010) is far from straightforward. Nonetheless, despite the challenges, a
sufficiency approach seems essential in moving towards a sustainable society, and
therefore a better understanding of how sufficiency can be integrated and implemented is
urgently required.
<a> Sufficiency and the Circular Economy
The circular economy (CE) seeks to enhance resource efficiency and reduce waste
through closed loop industrial systems that make use of recycling and reuse to keep
resources in play for as long as possible (Bocken et al., 2016; Geissdoerfer et al., 2017).
Manufacturers have sought to enhance efficiency and productivity since the earliest days
of industrial activity, but CE extended this focus beyond the individual firm or supply-
chain to bring a through-life perspective encompassing resource use, manufacturing,
consumption and disposal (Tukker, 2015). However, the CE does not automatically lead
to a complete solution to the problems of unsustainable consumption. Allwood (2014)
observes that closed-loop models cannot always be applied, e.g. some materials such as
cement cannot be recycled; while others degrade with recycling, and the economic costs
and energy demand of collection and recycling may outweigh the benefits. Moreover, in
a world of growing populations, rising living standards and increasing consumer
expectations, the demand for virgin materials outstrips availability of recyclable materials
(Allwood, 2014).
The CE literature has expanded exponentially over the past decade to now embrace a
wide range of sustainability initiatives (Geissdoerfer et al., 2017). Closed-loop recycling-
based business models are increasingly augmented with design for longevity, repair and
reuse, product service systems, and shared economy initiatives that seek to optimise use
of existing resources and assets (Tukker, 2015). Some of these CE initiatives, depending
on application, can already be considered good sufficiency initiatives - enabling
consumers and society to make do with less.
The literature suggests a series of paradigm shifts in industrial sustainability from initial
lean manufacturing, efficiency and productivity in the 1980s, through clean and green
production in the late 1990s, to today’s closed-loop circular economy initiatives (see e.g.
Blomsma & Brennan, 2017). Beyond CE, we propose the new paradigm of sufficiency is
now emerging and gaining relevance as shown in Figure 1. Each paradigm builds on its
predecessors to deliver more comprehensive and stronger sustainability outcomes, driven
in part by economic considerations, and increasingly by environmental and social
Figure 1. Paradigm Progression in Industrial Sustainability
All four paradigms involve some degree of sufficiency, such as using less materials and
less labour and reusing waste materials. However, while the earlier paradigms could be
characterized as Making and doing more with less”, the sufficiency paradigm offers a
very different approach seeking to Make do with less”. Using disposable plastic
packaging as an example to illustrate the difference in approach, a CE approach might
ask: “How can the waste stream of plastic packaging be recycled or reused to reduce
demand for new material and reduce waste to landfill and plastic environmental
pollution?”. In contrast, the sufficiency-orientated approach would ask: “How can we
reduce (and ultimately eliminate) the need and demand for disposable plastic packaging
This distinction is important because, although the earlier paradigms have delivered
important benefits, they often lead to rebound effects that negate the sustainability
benefits they offer (Zink & Geyer, 2017). For example, efficiency improvements have
enabled increasingly cheaper production and products, which has vastly increased supply,
accessibility and demand. Moreover, the focus on recycling may move attention away
from more impactful issues, such as reducing the total number of products bought, living
car free and not flying, limiting meat intake, and even having fewer children (Wynes &
Nicholas, 2017; Stern & Wolske, 2017).
Figure 1. Paradigm Progression in Industrial Sustainability
Lean Manufacturing
Paradigm 1
(Products and
processes efficiency
Efficiency and
Waste reduction
Lean supply-chains
Clean/Green Production
Paradigm 2
(Products & processes
environmental focus)
Emissions and
pollution reduction
Green technologies
and Renewables
Green supply-chains
Circular Economy
Paradigm 3
(Product full llfe-cycle
focus on reusing
materials and waste)
Eliminate waste
through Reuse,
Repurpose and
Design for recycling
End-of-life producer
Closed-loop business
Industrial Symbiosis
Paradigm 4
(Societal-wide focus
on consumption
Health and wellbeing
Extended product
life/ellimination of
planned obsolescence
Asset usage
optimisation (sharing
economy, product
service systems)
Choice Editing
The sufficiency paradigm goes further, seeking to offer a much broader societal-wide
approach to reduce absolute consumption per person and by society. This approach builds
on the earlier paradigms, but focuses on how to reduce consumption (and production) and
encourage societal behavioural changes to deliver the needed transition. Rather than
relying primarily on technology, product and process innovations, the sufficiency
paradigm will require greater policy interventions, education, civil society actions, and
new business models to reshape industry and society to tackle the root causes of
<a> A broader perspective on Sufficiency
Business model innovation has received significant attention as a possible pathway to
enhanced sustainability outcomes. Sustainable Business Models (SBMs) are prevalent in
sustainability literature, and tools such as the business model canvas (Osterwalder &
Pigneur, 2010) are widely used by practitioners in designing new business models. Some
firms have designed and implemented business models (BMs) to drive a sufficiency
initiative (Wells, 2018). However, importantly, the BM concept lacks a broader systems
and transitions perspective: while transitions researchers may gain from understanding
BMs as inertia or enablers in sustainability transitions, business model researchers may
benefit from understanding the different actors and levels of change needed to scale up
(Sarasini & Linder, 2018). BMs are largely the remit of firms and their investors, but
transitions research suggests that societal transitions involve a much broader range of
stakeholders such as governments, academia, civil society, and consumers, and the
interactions between these groups to assist in designing and implementing the needed
innovations to deliver a paradigm shift (e.g., Kemp et al., 1998). Industry may play a key
part in formulating a transition plan (e.g. shaping Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable
Development Goals; Scheyvens et al., 2016). However, the transition may equally be
initiated elsewhere by other stakeholders. The interaction between business and other
actors may become a catalyst for industrial change, new technologies and innovative new
BMs. The transitions literature is conceptually diverse, but has discussed the role of
different actors (e.g. Fischer & Newig, 2016) in a CE context (Kirchherr et al., 2017;
Ghisselini et al., 2016).
<a> Method
To build a comprehensive view of sufficiency initiatives a series of examples are
assessed to understand the types of relationships and interactions between actors, and
the conditions enabling transitions towards sufficiency. In this chapter we use a
categorization of three simple clusters of actors for our analysis of the implementation
and scaling of these sufficiency initiatives: (i) government – policymakers; (ii) market –
firms and entrepreneurs; and (iii) civil society – the public, activists, etc (as described in
Fischer & Newig, 2016).
The food and clothing industry are analysed from a range of resources including press
articles and personal experience. The food industry was selected for this initial work as
sufficiency is conceptually easy to grasp, because the negative effects of under and over-
consumption are readily apparent. Moreover, food supply is arguably the most pressing
area of concern for humanity, and consequently sufficiency interventions are already
reasonably prevalent. Pressures for sufficiency in other sectors are different and hence
drivers for change and mechanisms for achieving a transition may also be different. The
addition of the clothing industry seeks to offer balance to the analysis, and is selected
because it is seen as one of the most polluting industries with often exploitive supply-
chains, and, it has experienced unprecedented growth in sales coupled with significantly
reduced wears per item before being disposed (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2016). This
has led to various industry and individual initiatives that could contribute to greater levels
of sufficiency. These examples are used to develop a conceptual framework. Through
brainstorming and consideration of other industry sectors the language for the framework
is generalised to ensure broader relevance to all sectors rather than being food and
clothing industry specific.
<a> Results
Table 1 presents a range of sufficiency initiatives identified in the food sector, and Table
2 presents initiatives in the clothing sector. The examples have been selected to illustrate
the range and scope of approaches to sufficiency. The tables identify the primary actors
involved in initiating the innovation, categorized by Government, Market, and Civil
Society. Interactions between actors are identified, along with the sufficiency outcomes,
and BM implications. Examples where the business model builds upon a CE approach to
deliver sufficiency are highlighted with (CE).
<b> Sufficiency in the food industry
Table 1. Examples of sufficiency initiatives in the food sector.
(Note. BM refers to the business model, CE indicates a Circular Economy approach)
BM and
Implication for
‘Loop’ initiative
by Terracycle 2
aimed at large
scale change
towards reusable
engaging other
Reusable food
container initiative
manufacturers and
retailers and
Reducing the
packaging footprint
by reusing and
reducing the need
for single use
New business
opportunities and
engagement with
sustainability issues
containers for
buying loose food
products and
‘plastic free
Civil Society and
Market -
movement and
small retail
consumers and
changing their
behaviours towards
single-use food
An alternative to
the packaged
products offered by
most of the food
industry and
grocery chains
Alternative value
proposition, based
on environmental
benefits and
reduced waste
War on waste
Market - Media
Citizens and value
Reducing waste in
value chains3
Overall sufficiency
in value chains
selling or using up
‘ugly’ vegetables
Market -
Supermarket in
France4, followed
citizens and media
Reducing waste in
retail and consumer
Generating value
from former ‘waste’
Company Terracycle launching reuse initative for packaging. See:
Australian example on War on Waste episode on disposable cups: Sales of reusable coffee cups are up 78% - cafes
are offering discounted coffee if you bring your own “keep cup”.
See e.g.:
BM and
Implication for
for soups or
by other examples
Donation of
unsold food to
Civil society
groups targeting
social inequalities
Pressure on retailers
and hospitality in
collaboration with
excessive food
waste, while also
helping the poor
Image benefits for
retailers. Reduced
disposal costs. (CE)
Revised food
Civil society -
consumer action
groups targeting
health and waste
Pressure on
Industry and
policymakers to
implement new
Consumers make
more informed
decisions about
food purchase and
Opportunities for
new product
based on nutrition,
waste reduction
¨5 fruit and veg
per day¨
Government -
intervention based
on WHO report
Promotion through
media, education,
and healthcare
Positive and long-
lasting impact on
eating habits
New business
created by shift in
Sugar tax on soft
Government -
health chief,
intervention over
obesity costs
Taxation strongly
resisted by industry
and consumers
drinks, not clear if
consumption of
sugar reduced yet
New opportunity
for lower sugar
content drinks
targeting children
Government -
Restrictions on
media and industry
on advertising to
Advertising is a
powerful tool
driving over-
Pressure to change
product offerings or
Altering the
corporate business
model for society5
like Ben & Jerry’s
climate justice
Market -
Regions + countries
adopting benefit
following example
repurposing for the
society and
model change (e.g.
benefit corporation)
Slow food
Civil society
Promoting better
quality, local food
and quality over
Reduced food
consumption and
better, more local
Local value chains;
organic food boxes,
slow food branded
premium foods
Market -
Business, like
Union coffee,
moving away
from commodities
Direct, close, long-
term connection
with suppliers,
offering quality
Better quality,
moving away from
commoditising food
Premium pricing
model, which
trickles down to
value chain7
Health foods
Market - Industry
response to
changing societal
attitudes to
Promoted to
consumers through
ads and celebrity
Encouraging and
providing healthier
product offerings
Enhanced value
through new and
premium offerings
Fairtrade to tackle
Civil society
organisation works
with industry and
Consumer premium
to enhance supply-
chain sufficiency
innovation. Product
Social enterprise
Benefit corporations; companies like Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s restructuring as benefit corporations
Union coffee example:
‘The farmer receives a fair, sustainable price. Always above minimum Fairtrade price, in 2017 on average over 50
per cent above’
BM and
Implication for
chocolate bar
Market - Industry
driven by
Changes introduced
by stealth to
Consumer health
benefits and
resources go further
Innovation in the
product offering to
remain competitive
Choice Editing
Market -
Retailers shifting
attitudes to
products that are
particularly poor
quality or
unsustainable from
Consumers forced
to forego poor
products, and
suppliers forced to
BM changes to the
product mix and
School Meals and
Market -
Celebrity chef
campaign against
child obesity
Interaction with
policymakers to
influence education
Encourage youth to
understand healthy
living and
New business
opportunities in
education and
catering sectors
Master-chef TV
Market -Media
content providers
Media influence on
society promoting
population to think
about nutrition
New business
opportunities for
media creators and
Organic Foods
Civil Society -
movement against
industrial farming
Evolving from local
farmers markets to
grocery chains
organic labelling
Consumer health
benefits. Local
economy and
transport benefits
New market
opportunity, maybe
offering premium
Changes to in-
store product
placement (e.g.
healthy products,
Civil Society -
Consumer action
Government nudge
undertaken by
Reducing impulse
purchases of
unhealthy products
Changes in
<b> Sufficiency in the clothing industry
Table 2. Examples of sufficiency initiatives in the clothing sector
(Note. BM refers to the business model, CE indicates a Circular Economy approach)
BM and
Implication for
schemes initiated
by business
Market -
Businesses like
M&S with Oxfam
and H&M (own
collecting clothes
for reuse and
Pressure on other
business to start
similar initiatives,
and customer
Consumers make
more informed
decisions about
clothing disposal,
can buy niche
collections from
recycled material or
buy second hand
Take back, support
charity, collections
based on collected
Second hand in
branded stores
(e.g. Patagonia,
Fillipa K)
Market -
Branded clothing
(often premium)
in collaboration
with consumers
Pressure on other
business, generating
Recognizing the
value of clothes,
appreciating second
Multiple value
streams from same
garment (CE)
Civil society -
NGOs and
Municipal pressure
to reduce waste to
Consumers make
more informed
decisions about
clothing disposal
residual value of
used clothes (CE)
BM and
Implication for
concerned about
Make, Not Buy
Civil society -
Greenpeace with
business around
Black Friday
Climate NGOs
interacting with
business and other
consumers not to
Business models
gaining revenue in
different ways8
product longevity
and Buy better,
buy less9
Market -
business targeting
waste reduction,
counteracting fast
Pressure on other
consumers to
purchase more
Value proposition
focused on quality
over quantity, often
with premium
pricing (CE)
Business offering
warranties, on
products like
socks, backpacks
and outdoor gear11
Market -
promoting quality
over quantity
Unique proposition
that may be
followed by others
Encouraging and
consumers to make
products last
Value proposition
focused on quality
over quantity, offer
of repair services
Second hand
markets (flea
markets, eBay,
Market - Market
makers seeing
value in second
(3rd, 4th etc) life
Alternative to fast
fashion model;
value of vintage
Encouraging and
consumers to make
products last
Market-makers like
eBay, Thred-up and
initiatives to
boycott, or not
Civil society -
Individuals with
Supported by
NGOs, wider
influencing others
to forego
consumption and
choose products for
longevity and
Selling classic
‘capsule wardrobe’
- a collection of
only a few items of
essential clothing
items that don't go
out of fashion14
Warm Sweater
Day15 - Global
initiative to
campaign for
action against
climate change16
Civil society
individuals and
the market
Companies and
engaging with the
Saving energy and
promoting climate
change awareness
Companies linking
up with the sweater
Reframing the
corporate vision,
priorities and
business model
for environment
and society17
Market -
community led
Regions and
countries adopting
B-Corp model;
following example
Societal and
benefits. (e.g.
Patagonia’s B-corp
status allowing
donation of time,
model change (e.g.
benefit corporation)
e.g. MUD Jeans ‘lease a jeans’, and take-back and discount system; companies charging premium
Birkenstock proud to show 2003 Birkenstock slippers in advert, MUD Jeans Slow living campaign, Ecoalf
boycotting Black Friday to promote recycling and repairs
See E.g. Wrangler’s messaging on Buy better, buy less:
See e.g.:
Latter two being clothing specific
Example of an individual blog:
See e.g.:
See e.g.
See e.g.
Companies like Ninety-percent donating most profits to good causes
BM and
Implication for
services and at least
1% of clothing
sales revenues to
Honesty and
Market -
Business seeking
to identify the true
impact of
Creating industry,
government and
awareness, driving
best practice and
new standards
Creating awareness
of true impact of
driven business
Personal Carbon
While mainly
applied to
household energy
use and travel, it
could work for
purchasing goods
like clothing too.
Civil society
Communities and
individuals with
Citizens, business
and local
awareness and
overall, mitigated
Local solutions e.g.
for mobility and
enabling local
carbon trading
<a> Discussion
<b> Proposed framework
Based on the examples in the food and clothing sectors, and applying the three clusters
of actors, Figure 3 presents a comprehensive framework for understanding sufficiency
governance and interventions. The framework illustrates the interactions between the
three groups of actors – Government, Market, and Civil-society, using arrows to
represents the direction of flow of influence or intervention. From the sufficiency
examples examined, there are also interactions between the actors within each cluster of
the framework, and these are represented by loops at each level.
See: Fawcett, T., and Y. Parag. ‘An Introduction to Personal Carbon Trading’. Climate Policy 10, no. 4 (2010):
For example, Finnish towns adopting Personal Carbon Trading initiatives, see:
Figure 2. Framework for sufficiency governance and interventions
The framework offers a structure for better understanding how to go beyond the business
model concept and influence and change the landscape within which businesses operate
to facilitate sufficiency-orientated BMs. The framework is envisaged to serve two main
Industrial networks,
supply-chains and
Business Models.
Corporate governance.
Education, Legislation,
Regulations, Taxation,
Nudge strategies, Public
Health and Welfare Policy.
Public health campaigns,
Environmental initiatives,
Waste management and
recycling policy, Incentive
programmes and investment,
Influence on societal norms
and values.
Industrial and Infrastructure
policy, Environmental and
Circular Economy policy
(EU), Health and Safety
policy, Public investment
and incentives, Regulations
and certifications, Tax
policy, Legislation.
Products and Services,
Marketing and Promotional
campaigns, Choice-editing,
Influence on societal norms
and values, Initiating new
social trends, Partnerships
with civil society.
Consumer demands and
preferences, emerging social
trends, expectations and
norms, consumer action and
boycotts, community
Lobbying, emerging
technologies, policy
consultation and
development, expert
Societal norms,
values and
Emerging societal
trends. Lobbying and
popular campaigns
from civil society.
External factors influence all levels and all actors to varying degrees, e.g.:
Environmental pressure (e.g. Climate, biodiversity loss, pollution, waste, resource constraint).
Economic constraints (access to investment funds, supply-chain costs, profitability, etc.)
Multilateral global governance policies (e.g. WHO, EU, UN, IMF, WTO, Climate accords)
Identifying unserved public needs, exploring
alternative lifestyles, individual and collective
initiatives, representation of minorities and
the environment, protest and campaign
Industry standards
and best practices,
processes and
Identifying trends and emerging needs,
balancing competing stakeholder demands,
macroeconomics, overview-perspective
1. Mapping, analysing and understanding existing or historical sufficiency
initiatives in any industry sector. Users of the framework would identify the
initiation point(s) and then use the framework as a template for exploring the
evolution of sufficiency initiatives.
2. Design and implementation of new sufficiency initiatives. The framework
provides a structure to consider and experiment with alternative sufficiency
options. It is recommended to undertake a structured approach, exploring
opportunities with each actor at each level, in an iterative process of exploration.
<b> Designing the BM and creating the business case
As the examples presented in this chapter show, there are numerous opportunities for
sufficiency initiatives, albeit mostly niche applications at present and generally rather
small incremental steps to-date. Expanding on previous work by Bocken & Short (2016)
and Bocken (2018), a number of dominant and viable business models for sufficiency
emerge from these examples. These include: Promoting quality over quantity (e.g. using
premium pricing to cover durability, life extension, repair); Focusing on service delivery,
not product sales (e.g. pay per use); Giving products a 2nd (and 3rd, 4th etc..) life; Lower
cost frugal innovations (simple solutions focused on low tech, low resource use); and,
Offering alternative forms of consumption (and making the sustainable alternative more
Sufficiency initiatives can sometimes be successfully initiated and driven directly by
industry (by market actors). This is perhaps not entirely intuitive as sufficiency seems to
imply selling less and de-growth (Wells, 2018); however, as illustrated, success is
possible where firms and entrepreneurs are able to identify new and profitable business
opportunities that capitalise on emerging societal trends, innovations, or changes in the
regulatory environment (e.g. Bocken & Short, 2016). Where a sufficiency initiative
creates a competitive advantage, it will displace existing firms and products which is
where the de-growth will occur.
Where the immediate business case is weak or negative, industry and investors may be
unwilling or unable to lead. In these instances, sufficiency requires going beyond the
business model, to enabling (or forcing) industry and consumers to adopt a different path,
for instance through incentives and regulation which make it attractive to do so. Such
initiatives may be driven bottom-up by grass-roots activists, or philanthropic investors,
or top-down by government policy interventions. Media providers can also be powerful
initiators of social change and social media now enables trends and societal norms to
evolve from all parts of society and spread at unprecedented rates.
Many of the sufficiency examples analysed in this chapter, particularly in the clothing
sector, build upon current CE related business models, and so, some may argue that these
are simply part of the CE paradigm. However, analysis suggests that sufficiency-
orientated initiatives are distinct, characterised by a difference in the underpinning
philosophy and objectives. Although some CE initiatives may deliver sufficiency
outcomes, most initiatives need to be specifically conceived and designed to do so, and
even seemingly compelling CE examples may ultimately undermine sufficiency through
failing to tackle the root causes of the problems, through rebound, or other unintended or
unforeseen system-level effects (Zink & Geyer, 2017). Equally, as demonstrated in the
food sector examples, a CE approach is not always necessary at all to deliver sufficiency
outcomes. As such, sufficiency offers an important augmentation to CE but it is also
observed to be a distinct paradigm in itself.
<b> Implementation patterns
In the presented cases five implementation patterns recur (Figure 3). The examples in the
clothing sector are predominantly represented by (i) grass-roots or civil-society initiatives
that involve neither the market nor government policymakers, such as peer-to-peer
clothing sharing; and (ii) market initiatives driving or responding directly to consumer
needs (e.g. where a business case can be made without policy intervention). Although
pattern (i) is not so evident in our food sector examples, initiatives such as organic and
local produce started out as peer-to-peer relationships until market actors recognised the
scale up opportunity. Pattern (ii) is also seen in the food sector. However, in contrast to
the clothing sector, the food sector initiatives are predominantly represented by Figure 3
(iii) illustrating policy interventions driven by government, or more frequently (v) where
policy is formed in response to pressure from, or in collaboration with civil society actors.
Figure 3. Interaction loops observed in the sufficiency examples
The difference between the approaches in the food and clothing sectors is quite
pronounced within the presented examples. In part this may be an artefact of the selection
of cases, but it seems reasonable to suppose that there is a real difference reflecting
different dynamics in each of the sectors. In the food sector health and wellbeing are the
primary considerations and the rapidly rising state costs associated with healthcare
ii. New business and industry
standards initiated by firms and
entrepreneurs, in response to, or in
collaboration with civil society and
i. Consumer to consumer
initiatives such as peer-to-peer
sharing (possibly organised by
civil society organisations)
iii. Policy intervention initiated
directly by government (and
possibly transnational policies)
iv. Government policy
intervention initiated by or in
collaboration with industry
vi. Business to business
(e.g. supply-chain initiatives)
v. Government policy
intervention initiated by or in
collaboration with civil society
vii. Civil society and industry work
in partnership with policymakers to
drive new regulation, legislation and
other policy interventions
from figure 2)
(i-v patterns observed in the cases)
(vi-vii additional theoretical patterns)
provision have shone a spotlight on the effects of dysfunctional consumption.
Consequently, regulation and other policy interventions are more pressing and more
readily accepted. In contrast, the clothing sector does not create the same health and
wellbeing issues in the developed world (albeit there are significant issues in overseas
supply-chains), and this may explain why policy intervention has to-date been limited.
Based on these observations we can hypothesize that there is a timeframe dimension to
be considered along with the maturity and urgency of sufficiency initiatives in the sector
that determine the appropriate approach. To give a couple of examples:
1. A transition from (i) grass-roots initiative, to (ii), entrepreneurial activity, and then
perhaps to (iv) as industry works with policymakers to redefine regulations to give
preferential treatment for their emerging business models, and from there back to
(ii) where industry takes the lead in broader scale-up.
2. Or, local-level community initiative (i), until a critical mass is reached and pushes
policymakers to act to expand the initiative to a national level through policy
intervention to create a functioning marketplace (v), and from there industry can
then engage with consumers directly (ii).
Reviewing the interaction patterns, it is apparent that additional patterns are possible. The
most feasible of these are added as (vi), representing a business to business loop purely
within the market actors such as a supply-chain sufficiency initiative. Option (vii)
represents all three levels, civil society and market actors working collaboratively in
partnership with government policymakers to drive system change.
<a> Conclusions
In this chapter we have introduced the subject of ‘sufficiency’ in the circular economy
and argue that sufficiency needs to become front and centre in future sustainability
initiatives. Climate change, resource constraints, and social pressure are anticipated to
push society, industry and governments progressively in this direction, and we propose
that sufficiency potentially represents the next major paradigm in industrial sustainability.
There are significant challenges in implementing sufficiency-orientated solutions at scale,
not least push-back from industrial and other vested interests, policy resistance of
consumers, and the fiscal and political ramifications of slowing or shifting current
consumption-based economies. However, there are positive examples, and we have
presented an analysis of successful sufficiency initiatives in the food and clothing sectors
to explore the dynamics, the actors and the interactions to understand how such initiatives
are instigated and propagated. A multi-actor perspective from transitions literature is used
and based on this a framework was proposed. The framework provides insights into the
complexities of implementing the sufficiency paradigm, and the need for a more
comprehensive system-level perspective than earlier industrial paradigms required.
This work is preliminary, based on just two sectors. Future work is needed to expand this
research to explore and refine the applicability to a broader range of sectors. In addition,
practical application of the framework for developing new sufficiency initiatives will be
aided through the building of a comprehensive catalogue of BMs, actions and
mechanisms for change based on historical cases. A potential barrier to sufficiency is the
difficulty in definition and agreement of sufficiency targets. Future research is
recommended to explore the needed sufficiency levels in greater depth. The framework
and the suggested catalogue of examples can support practitioners, policy makers, and
civil society organisations in designing and implementing future sufficiency initiatives.
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... 2 In this cover essay, I will use the terms scaling and amplification interchangeably. and the extent to which it is aligned with sufficiency or efficiency (e.g., Hobson and Lynch, 2016;Bocken and Short, 2020;Bauwens, 2021;Rask, 2022). I also intend to engage with this debate. ...
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Conference Paper
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Research on sustainable business models (SBM) is a young and dynamic stream of research that is essential for exploring how companies propose, create, deliver and capture value (Bocken et al., 2014; Lüdeke-Freund & Dembek, 2017; Lüdeke-Freund et al., 2018; Stubbs & Cocklin, 2008). Recently, scholarly interest has moved towards the question of how SBM fosters broader sustainability transitions and, in turn, how such transitions spawn novel SBM (Aagaard et al., 2021; Proka, Beers & Loorbach, 2018). Scholars refer to this field of research as ‘business models for sustainability transitions’ and understand ‘sustainability transitions’ as “fundamental change at a societal level” (Aagaard et al., 2021, p.2). This is particularly important in face of worldwide social-ecological challenges like climate change or environmental degradation...
Manufacturers are often identified as agents of change to conserve resources. The circular economy is the paradigm of the societal operation model that aims to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation through a system of efficiency measures. However, a growing body of literature reported the failure of efficiency measures to conserve energy and resources in the current socio-economic environment. Several complex compensatory mechanisms called the rebound effect were reported to offset efficiency gains and resulted in higher resource use. In this paper, we addressed the lack of data on the microeconomic one-company rebound effect investigation by presenting the case study of a medium manufacturer from the US that implemented energy, water and material efficiency measures. While the company qualified as a top-performing “circularity developer” according to the published self-assessment questionnaire, it retained its linear business model. Energy efficiency and renewable energy measures resulted in a short-term rebound effect of 161% or backfire. In the long term, the rebound effect of 25% was calculated. The drivers and barriers that the company encountered when implementing efficiency measures were identified. In conclusion, it was found that the system focused exclusively on efficiency was incapable of conserving resource use and delivering on CE decoupling promise. Wider societal acceptance of sufficiency measures was suggested to improve resource-saving capacity in manufacturing.
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There is no easy way out or single solution from the current rather linear economic system. The sustainability impacts of resource production and use are highly interlinked. Even renewables that deliver zero carbon energy depend on the use of critical materials and takes up precious space and land , while land use change, climate change and changing weather patterns, as well as biodiversity loss are already affecting food production. The Circular Economy, representing an alternative sustainable development pathway, is often seen as a panacea for sustainability issues. However, with high expectations and much at stake, there needs to be a strong and widespread understanding of how to operationalise the concept. Solutions cannot solely rely on technical advances or top-down policy implementation, but also require individual responsibility and changes in consumption patterns coupled with appropriate policies and business responses.
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The circular economy concept has gained momentum both among scholars and practitioners. However, critics claim that it means many different things to different people. This paper provides further evidence for these critics. The aim of this paper is to create transparency regarding the current understandings of the circular economy concept. For this purpose, we have gathered 114 circular economy definitions which were coded on 17 dimensions. Our findings indicate that the circular economy is most frequently depicted as a combination of reduce, reuse and recycle activities, whereas it is oftentimes not highlighted that CE necessitates a systemic shift. We further find that the definitions show few explicit linkages of the circular economy concept to sustainable development. The main aim of the circular economy is considered to be economic prosperity, followed by environmental quality; its impact on social equity and future generations is barely mentioned. Furthermore, neither business models nor consumers are frequently outlined as enablers of the circular economy. We critically discuss the various circular economy conceptualizations throughout this paper. Overall, we hope to contribute via this study towards the coherence of the circular economy concept; we presume that significantly varying circular economy definitions may eventually result in the collapse of the concept.
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Wynes and Nicholas (2017 Environ. Res. Lett. 12 074024) claim that some of the most important actions individuals can take to mitigate climate change have been overlooked, particularly in educational messages for adolescents, and estimate the potential impact of some of these, including having fewer children and living car free. These estimates raise questions that deserve serious analysis, but they are based only on the technical potential of the actions and do not consider the plasticity of the behaviors and the feasibility of policies to support them. The actions identified as having the greatest potential are lifestyle changes that accrue benefits over a lifetime or longer, so are not realistic alternatives to actions that can be enacted immediately. But presenting lifestyle choices and the relative impacts of different actions as discussion starters for adolescents could be promising, especially if the discussions highlight issues of behavioral plasticity, policy plasticity, and time scale. Research has identified design principles for interventions to achieve the strongest emissions reductions at time scales up to the decadal. Design principles for achieving longer-lasting changes deserve careful analytic attention, as well as a stronger focus in adolescent textbooks and messages to the general population. Both adolescents and researchers would do well to think carefully about what could promote the generational changes needed to reach a climate change target such as 'well below 2 °C'.
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Current anthropogenic climate change is the result of greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere, which records the aggregation of billions of individual decisions. Here we consider a broad range of individual lifestyle choices and calculate their potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developed countries, based on 148 scenarios from 39 sources. We recommend four widely applicable high-impact (i.e. low emissions) actions with the potential to contribute to systemic change and substantially reduce annual personal emissions: having one fewer child (an average for developed countries of 58.6 tonnes CO2-equivalent (tCO2e) emission reductions per year), living car-free (2.4 tCO2e saved per year), avoiding airplane travel (1.6 tCO2e saved per roundtrip transatlantic flight) and eating a plant-based diet (0.8 tCO2e saved per year). These actions have much greater potential to reduce emissions than commonly promoted strategies like comprehensive recycling (four times less effective than a plant-based diet) or changing household lightbulbs (eight times less). Though adolescents poised to establish lifelong patterns are an important target group for promoting high-impact actions, we find that ten high school science textbooks from Canada largely fail to mention these actions (they account for 4% of their recommended actions), instead focusing on incremental changes with much smaller potential emissions reductions. Government resources on climate change from the EU, USA, Canada, and Australia also focus recommendations on lower-impact actions. We conclude that there are opportunities to improve existing educational and communication structures to promote the most effective emission-reduction strategies and close this mitigation gap.
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In this article, we use Hirsch and Levin’s notion of umbrella concepts as an analytical lens, in order to articulate the valuable catalytic function the circular economy (CE) concept could perform in the waste and resource management debate. We realize this goal by anchoring the CE concept in this broader debate through a narrative approach. This leads to the insight that whereas the various resource strategies grouped under the CE’s banner are not new individually, the concept offers a new framing of these strategies by drawing attention to their capacity of prolonging resource use as well as to the relationship between these strategies. As such, the CE offers a new perspective on waste and resource management and provides a new cognitive unit and discursive space for debate. We conclude by discussing research opportunities for the industrial ecology (IE) community relating to the concept’s theoretical development and its implementation. Specifically, we pose that reinvigorating and growing the social science aspects of IE is required for both. After all, it is in understanding and facilitating the collective implementation of any idea, also the CE concept, that the potential lies for shaping our material future.
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Too many companies have approached sustainability initiatives in a way that is just plain unsustainable. To foster more lasting change, it’s important to address six of the biggest stumbling blocks. Read more:
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The so-called circular economy—the concept of closing material loops to preserve products, parts, and materials in the industrial system and extract their maximum utility—has recently started gaining momentum. The idea of substituting lower-impact secondary production for environmentally intensive primary production gives the circular economy a strong intuitive environmental appeal. However, proponents of the circular economy have tended to look at the world purely as an engineering system and have overlooked the economic part of the circular economy. Recent research has started to question the core of the circular economy—namely, whether closing material and product loops does, in fact, prevent primary production. In this article, we argue that circular economy activities can increase overall production, which can partially or fully offset their benefits. Because there is a strong parallel in this respect to energy efficiency rebound, we have termed this effect “circular economy rebound.” Circular economy rebound occurs when circular economy activities, which have lower per-unit-production impacts, also cause increased levels of production, reducing their benefit. We describe the mechanisms that cause circular economy rebound, which include the limited ability of secondary products to substitute for primary products, and price effects. We then offer some potential strategies for avoiding circular economy rebound. However, these strategies are unlikely to be attractive to for-profit firms, so we caution that simply encouraging private firms to find profitable opportunities in the circular economy is likely to cause rebound and lower or eliminate the potential environmental benefits.
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While the terms Circular Economy and sustainability are increasingly gaining traction with academia, industry, and policymakers, the similarities and differences between both concepts remain ambiguous. The relationship between the concepts is not made explicit in literature, which is blurring their conceptual contours and constrains the efficacy of using the approaches in research and practice. This research addresses this gap and aims to provide conceptual clarity by distinguishing the terms and synthesising the different types of relationships between them. We conducted an extensive literature review, employing bibliometric analysis and snowballing techniques to investigate the state of the art in the field and synthesise the similarities, differences and relationships between both terms. We identified eight different relationship types in the literature and illustrated the most evident similarities and differences between both concepts.
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The transition within business from a linear to a circular economy brings with it a range of practical challenges for companies. The following question is addressed: What are the product design and business model strategies for companies that want to move to a circular economy model? This paper develops a framework of strategies to guide designers and business strategists in the move from a linear to a circular economy. Building on Stahel, the terminology of slowing, closing, and narrowing resource loops is introduced. A list of product design strategies, business model strategies, and examples for key decision-makers in businesses is introduced, to facilitate the move to a circular economy. This framework also opens up a future research agenda for the circular economy.
Business model innovation is increasingly seen as a means to promote sustainable forms of production and consumption, having been linked to technological innovations in electric vehicles and the circular economy. Business models are an organisational phenomenon that concern focal firms and their networks. However, there is no theory of the firm in transition theory, such that the role of business model innovation in wider transformative processes is unclear. This paper aims to redress this issue by combining a business model perspective with core concepts and constructs from transition theory. We elucidate sources of change and inertia that issue from new and existing business models, illustrating our arguments by focusing on mobility services, which have the potential to radically transform road transportation via new business models. We derive new lines of inquiry that can be used to examine the dynamics of business model innovation in the context of sustainability transitions.