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The Relevance of Circular Economy Practices to the Sustainable Development Goals


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This paper identifies the extent to which circular economy (CE) practices are relevant for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The results of a literature review and a matching exercise to determine the relationship between CE practices and SDG targets show that CE practices, potentially, can contribute directly to achieving a significant number of SDG targets. The strongest relationships exist between CE practices and the targets of SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), and SDG 15 (Life on Land). The paper also explores synergies that can be created through CE practices among several of the SDG targets. Furthermore, it identifies several potential trade-offs between targets for decent work, safe working environments, human health and current CE practices relating to recycling of municipal waste, e-waste and wastewater, and provides suggestions how these can be overcome. The paper concludes that CE practices can be applied as a “toolbox” and specific implementation approaches for achieving a sizeable number of SDG targets. Further empirical research is necessary to determine which specific types of partnerships and means of implementation are required to apply CE practices in the SDG context.
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The Relevance of Circular Economy
Practices to the Sustainable Development
Patrick Schroeder ,1Kartika Anggraeni,2and Uwe Weber2
1Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton, Brighton and Hove, United Kingdom
2SWITCH-Asia Network Facility, Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP),
Wuppertal, Germany
This paper identifies the extent to which circular economy (CE) practices are relevant for the
implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The results of a literature
review and a matching exercise to determine the relationship between CE practices and
SDG targets show that CE practices, potentially, can contribute directly to achieving a
significant number of SDG targets. The strongest relationships exist between CE practices
and the targets of SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean
Energy), SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption
and Production), and SDG 15 (Life on Land). The paper also explores synergies that can be
created through CE practices among several of the SDG targets. Fur thermore, it identifies
several potential trade-offs between targets for decent work, safe working environments,
human health and current CE practices relating to recycling of municipal waste, e-waste and
wastewater, and provides suggestions how these can be overcome. The paper concludes
that CE practices can be applied as a “toolbox” and specific implementation approaches
for achieving a sizeable number of SDG targets. Further empirical research is necessary to
determine which specific types of partnerships and means of implementation are required
to apply CE practices in the SDG context.
circular economy
developing countries
industrial ecology
SDG implementation
sustainable development goals
Supporting information is linked
to this article on the JIE website
The circular economy (CE) has been gaining traction as
an approach for achieving local, national, and global sustain-
ability. It has received increased attention from multinational
companies (Lacy et al. 2014) and policy makers in industrialized
countries (EC 2015). However, with the notable exception of
China (Yuan et al. 2006; Mathews and Tan 2011), the possible
contributions of the CE approach for low- and middle-income
countries of the global South have, so far, received relatively
Conflict of interest statement: The authors declare no conflict of interest.
Address correspondence to: Patrick Schroeder, Institute of Development Studies Ringgold standard institution - Green Transformation Cluster, Library Road, Brighton, BN1
9RE, United Kingdom. Email:,; Web:
© 2018 by Yale University
DOI: 10.1111/jiec.12732 Editor managing review: Nancy Bocken
Volume 23, Number 1
little attention. The academic research community (Chertow
and Park 2016) and international development practitioners
(Gower and Schroeder 2016) have only recently begun paying
attention to CE practices in developing countries.
This paper examines the relevance of the CE approach for
achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in de-
veloping countries. The research question this paper addresses
is: To what extent are CE practices relevant for the implemen-
tation of the SDGs? To answer this question, the authors have
taken the 17 goals and 169 targets set out in the document Journal of Industrial Ecology 77
Figure 1 Research methodology and sequences. CE =circular economy; SDG =Sustainable Development Goals.
“Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable
Development” (UN 2015) and matched these targets with CE
practices as identified from the emerging academic and nonaca-
demic literature on CE. Through this analysis, we have identi-
fied the potential contributions of CE practices to these specific
SDG targets.
The qualitative research method applied for this paper con-
sisted of a four-step procedure, including literature search and
narrative review (step 1), a matching exercise (step 2), an as-
sessment about the degree of the contribution of CE practices
to SDG targets (step 3), and a review and gap identification
(step 4). This procedure was iterated three times (see figure 1).
The paper is structured as follows: First, it provides a short
introduction to the literature review methods we used, fol-
lowed by an introduction about the linkages between CE, inter-
national development cooperation, and global environmental
challenges. Then, it moves to answer the question about the
relationship of CE practices and the SDGs, and presents the
findings of the matching exercise and analyzes how specific CE
practices can help to achieve the SDG targets.
Linking Circular Economy and the
Sustainable Development Goals
We used a narrative literature review approach for search-
ing, organizing, and analyzing the literature on CE and SDGs
(Hammersley 2001). Narrative reviews are a frequently used ap-
proach in the context of development studies. Although they
are not as rigorous as systematic reviews (Hagen-Zanker and
Mallett 2013), narrative literature reviews are valuable for link-
ing together studies on different topics, either for purposes of
reinterpretation or demonstrating interconnections (Baumeis-
ter and Leary 1997), as we attempt in this paper. The first
step of the review was a keyword search, using online search
engines Google and Google Scholar and academic databases
Scopus, and search engines of the academic publishers Wiley
Online Library and ScienceDirect to search and collect aca-
demic and nonacademic literature relating to CE and the SDGs.
We started with general keyword searches for “circular econ-
omy SDGs” and “circular economy developing countries”, and
more specific searches regarding specific CE practices such as
“industrial symbiosis developing countries” or “remanufactur-
ing SDGs,” and sector-specific CE practices such as “circular
economy forestry,” “circular economy recycling.”
In total, more than 100 pieces of literature were reviewed
for this article and informed the CE-SDG matching exercise.
We aimed to achieve a balance between comprehensiveness
and relevance to the topic. The literature review revealed that
information about CE practices is widely dispersed over different
fields and media. One of the contributions of this exploratory
narrative literature review is the gathering of relevant materials
from the fields of environmental sciences, industrial ecology
(IE), business studies, and development studies.
Definition of Circular Economy Practices
The findings of the literature review highlight the fact that
there is no agreed and simple definition of CE. For this paper, we
78 Journal of Industrial Ecology
follow the CE concept of the European Environment Agency
(EEA) (EEA 2016, 9):
“The concept can, in principle, be applied to all kinds of natu-
ral resources, including biotic and abiotic materials, water and
land. Eco-design, repair, reuse, refurbishment, remanufacture,
product sharing, waste prevention and waste recycling are all
important in a circular economy.”
CE is thereby defined through specific actions and practices
such as eco-design, reuse, refurbishment, remanufacturing (e.g.,
Nasr and Thurston 2006), repair, product sharing, and indus-
trial symbiosis (IS) (Chertow and Ehrenfeld 2012; Lombardi
and Laybourn 2012). We acknowledge that conceptual over-
laps exist between these different CE practices, principles, or
concepts, with other approaches such as cleaner production
and IE. In a larger context, we consider CE practices as impor-
tant elements for the transformation to systems of sustainable
consumption and production (UNEP 2012).
In our discussion, we include CE practices that are practiced
not only in manufacturing and municipal waste management,
but also sectors such as forestry and agriculture, which are par-
ticularly relevant for developing country contexts. For example,
a circular agricultural economy (“agrocology”) to promote local
food systems and sustain livelihoods in Africa has been pro-
moted by Nabudere (2013). The notion of CE being “restora-
tive and regenerative by design” (Ellen MacArthur Foundation
2013) are relevant for these two sectors, which we interpret
as the application of practices that do not diminish the regen-
erative and restorative capacity of eco-systems underpinning
the performance of forestry and agricultural sectors and their
Benefits of Circular Economy for Economy,
Environment, and Employment
Despite the focus on technical solutions, both the academic
literature, gray literature, and relevant reports suggest that CE
approaches could bring important benefits of cost savings, job
creation, innovation, productivity, and resource efficiency in
both developed and developing countries (e.g., Yuan et al.
2006; Friends of Europe 2014; Ellen MacArthur Foundation
2015; Gower and Schroeder 2016). The order of magnitude of
estimated benefits is high. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation
estimates that by 2030, a shift toward a CE could reduce net
resource spending in the European Union (EU) by 600 billion
annually, improve resource productivity by up to 3% annually,
and generate an annual net benefit of 1.8 trillion (Ellen Mac
Arthur Foundation 2015). Despite these promising economic
benefits, so far only as little as 6% of all materials processed by
the global economy are recycled and contribute to closing the
loop. Although the degree of circularity within the EU economy
is twice as high as the global average—about 13% of processed
materials—it is still low (Haas et al. 2015).
In terms of environmental benefits, Sweden could become
about 25% more energy efficient and increase overall mate-
rial efficiency by 25% by organizing manufacturing along CE
principles, minimizing waste, and maximizing the reuse and
recycling of materials, compared to today (Wijkman and
anberg 2015). According to Ecofys and Circle Economy
(2016), CE practices such as chemical leasing, nutrient recov-
ery in agriculture, materials substitution in construction sectors,
and shared ownership models in transport systems could reduce
up to 7.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq.)
globally. This would bridge half of the existing emissions gap to
reach the 1.5°C target as outlined under the Paris Agreement.
The EEA (2016) finds that different combinations of more am-
bitious targets for recycling of municipal and packaging waste
and reducing landfill in the EU could lead to a reduction in
greenhouse gas emissions of around 424 to 617 million tonnes
(Mt) of CO2-eq. over 2015–2035. In addition, CE actions and
resource efficiency in the sectors food and drink, fabricated
metals, and hospitality services could reduce annual CO2-eq.
emissions by around 100 to 200 Mt (EEA 2016).
Regarding employment; in France, the CE represents roughly
800,000 full-time equivalent jobs, or 3% of the total French
workforce (France Strat´
egie 2016). Morgan and Mitchell
(2015) estimate that in the UK a “Transformation” scenario
with substantial increases in recycling (up to 85%) and reman-
ufacturing (up to 50%), 517,000 new skilled jobs could be cre-
ated by 2030, compared to only 31,000 low-skilled jobs in a “No
new initiatives” scenario. The European Environment Bureau
(EEB) (EEB 2014) estimates European CE employment oppor-
tunities ranging from 634,769 (modest scenario) to 747,829
(ambitious scenario) by 2025. At the same time, a skills gap in
the workforce and lack of CE programs at all levels of educa-
tion were identified as major barriers to transform the linear to
a CE (European Academies’ Science Advisory Council 2015).
Although we were not able to find evidence in the literature, it
is very likely that similar potentials to create new employment
through the CE exist in many industrialized and developing
countries. The skills gap is likely to be even more significant in
developing countries.
The Role of Circular Economy Business Models
Realizing the potential benefits described above will require
strong action by the private sector. Many multinational com-
panies and small- and medium-sized enterprises are becoming
aware of the potential benefits and are beginning to explore
the options of CE business models (Lewandowski 2016). Based
on the classification of sustainable business model archetypes
(Bocken et al. 2014), we find that core CE business mod-
els so far mainly cover the technological aspects of sustain-
able business models. This includes application of CE prac-
tices such as maximization of material and energy efficiency,
creating value from waste, or applying biomimicry principles
to move from nonrenewable to renewable resources. More
socially oriented sustainable business models and practices,
such as ethical trade, consumer education to reduce unsus-
tainable consumption, and sufficiency-driven business (Bocken
and Short 2016), are, so far, not core elements of CE business
Schroeder et al., Circular Economy and SDGs 79
One promising CE business model concept is the product-
service system (PSS), which can be defined as “tangible prod-
ucts and intangible services designed and combined so that they
jointly are capable of fulfilling specific customer needs” (Tukker
2004, 247). As PSSs usually do not allow consumers as much
behavioral freedom and control over products, PSSs have not
yet been widely implemented (Tukker 2015). The transforma-
tion to other CE business models is challenging for companies.
Rizos and colleagues (2016) identified lack of support from the
supply and demand networks and lack of capital as the two
main barriers for European small and medium sized enterprises
(SMEs) to adopt CE business models; the main enabling fac-
tor is an environmentally conscious corporate culture including
management and staff.
Circular Economy and Developmental Challenges
CE can, potentially, solve developmental and environmen-
tal challenges relating to overconsumption of resources on
global and local levels. On the global level, the amount of
materials extracted has doubled since 1980, reaching close to
72 gigatonnes (Gt) in 2010, and is projected to reach 100 Gt
by 2030 (OECD 2015a). In terms of waste, CE practices of
recycling offer opportunities to address the waste management
crisis in developing countries. CE recycling practices offer po-
tentials for middle-income countries like Mexico and Brazil,
which mainly rely on landfilling for both industrial and final
consumer wastes (Tisserant et al. 2017). Environmental man-
agement approaches in industry, such as cleaner production,
pollution prevention, environmental management and audit-
ing, or energy efficiency, have already become important ele-
ments of international cooperation programs, often in the form
of research, demonstration projects, and environmental pol-
icy cooperation (Baas 2005). While some CE practices have a
precedent in development cooperation, CE as an alternative in-
dustrial development approach is currently almost absent from
development discourse.
The CE also offers opportunities for employment and press-
ing issues such as health and sanitation in developing countries
(Gower and Schroeder 2016). Many developing countries al-
ready possess vibrant repair and refurbishment sectors (Schmitz
2016), whose development and professionalization could be fur-
ther supported through international development programs to
reach their full potentials (Le Moign 2015). One important
technology frequently discussed in the context of e-waste is re-
paired secondhand phones. While the repair of mobile phones
does not result in significant displacement of new phones (Zink
and Geyer 2017), for consumers in developing countries who
would not be able to afford a primary phone, refurbished phones
provide significant welfare benefits due to increased connectiv-
ity. Finally, businesses as emerging actors in development co-
operation (Wach and Thorpe 2015) can also play an important
role as enabler of CE practices in development cooperation, and
thereby support the transition to sustainable consumption and
production patterns in developing countries (Schroeder et al.
Matching Circular Economy Practices and
Sustainable Development Goals Targets
Extraction of information from the literature was done by
searching the text and identifying specific CE practices as well
as the type of real-world problem they have addressed or aim
to address (e.g., waste management, water pollution, employ-
ment, or soil enhancement). This information was collected
in a data extraction form, which formed the basis for the as-
sessment table (see Supporting Information available on the
Journals’ website). During the second and third iterations of
this first step, we conducted 40+Google searches relating to
particular SDG targets for which the first general search did
not generate any literature. For example, the initial general
search did not generate any literature linking CE practices to
heritage conservation (Target 11.4). After a specific search on
“waste recycling heritage sites Europe,” we found information
on a current relevant EU-funded project in this field. Another
example of a specific keyword search, “women equal rights re-
cycling” and “gender circular economy developing countries”
relating to SDG Target 5.a., resulted in additional literature.
An example of a specific search with negative results is “legal
identity circular economy” for Target 16.9 (“By 2030, provide
legal identity for all, including birth registration”), which in-
formed the assessment that 16.9 does not have any link to CE
practices. In the final iteration, additional literature suggested
by the anonymous reviewers was included in the review and
For the steps 2, 3, and 4, we applied a heuristic research ap-
proach which can be defined as “a problem-solving technique
in which the most appropriate solution is selected using rules”
(Myers and Maulsby 1993). The qualitative heuristic approach
is a process that begins with a question or problem which the
researcher seeks to illuminate or answer (Moustakas 1990) and
which allows for discovering qualitative relations such as struc-
ture or patterns (Kleining and Witt 2000), in our case relations
between CE practices and SDG targets. According to Neth
and Gigerenzer (2015), heuristics can provide accurate and ro-
bust inferences, especially under situations of uncertainty where
optimization is not possible. Global sustainability efforts, inter-
national development, and the SDGs are processes fraught with
uncertainty (Swart et al. 2004), and as this paper aims to in-
form these processes in a practical way, heuristics seems to be
a suitable approach to find appropriate solutions to these com-
plex problems. The qualitative heuristic approach also enabled
the authors’ combined professional experience of more than 45
years in international development to inform the assessment,
an important element and common approach in development
studies research (Mikkelsen 2005).
For the data extracting, matching exercise, and assessments,
we employed start and stop rules. For data extraction from the
literature, the search rule was to identify one or more specific CE
practices. The stop rule was to stop once these were identified.
For the matching exercise, the search rule was to identify an
SDG target to which the CE practice could offer a solution
80 Journal of Industrial Ecology
or contribution. Then, we worked our way through the 169
SDG targets which we set up in the spreadsheet and allocated
the specific CE practices and literature sources to the individual
targets. Once the SDG practices were allocated, we assessed the
type or degree of contribution CE practices could potentially
make to this specific SDG target. This process was continued
until all 169 targets were assessed and the first matching and
assessment step was stopped.
We then identified gaps where the literature did not pro-
vide links to the SDG targets which then activated the specific
literature search (the first iteration), which followed the same
search and stopping rules. The processes were then repeated
twice more and assessments were revised based on extra infor-
mation from additional literature and whether or not all authors
agreed with the assessments. Decision rules for the finalizing as-
sessment required agreement of all authors on the assessment
result. We tried to minimize confirmation bias by re-evaluating
our assessments and cross-checking with findings from the lit-
erature. In the same way, we tried to ensure interassessor relia-
bility by reassessing initial findings after a certain period of time
through the iterative process. Furthermore, assessments made
by the main author were checked by the co-authors, and vice
We acknowledge as a limitation of the review that more
additional literature could have been found using alternative
synonyms for “circular economy,” for example, “closed-loop”
or “cyclic.” Furthermore, we acknowledge that a mixture of
academic peer-review, public policy, and gray literature was
reviewed and there is a range of quality in the evidence under-
pinning our analysis. We acknowledge that the final assessment
of the matching exercise is, to some degree, based on subjective
judgement and is not optimized, but we are confident that the
method described above and the findings are robust and accu-
rately reflect the potential contributions of CE practices to the
SDG agenda.
Findings and Results
The following section discusses and analyzes the relationship
between CE practices and the SDGs, the most recent global
agenda for international cooperation on sustainable develop-
ment (UN 2015). Although CE is closely related to SDG 12
(Sustainable Consumption and Production), it is not specifi-
cally mentioned in the SDG context. We argue that CE prac-
tices and principles are transversal and the adoption of CE
practices will be necessary to achieve many targets outlined
under several of the SDGs, not only for SDG 12.
We now try to answer the question this paper addresses:
“To which extent are circular economy practices relevant for
the Sustainable Development Goals?” To answer this question
we used an exploratory matching exercise and relationship as-
sessment using a simple relationship assessment grid consisting
of five categories to determine the qualitative relationship be-
tween CE practices and the 169 SDG targets: (1) direct/strong
contribution of CE practices to achieving the goal; (2) indirect
contribution (via other SDG targets); (3) progress on target
supports uptake of CE practices; (4) weak or no link; and (5)
cooperation opportunity to promote CE practices. Additional
explanations of the categories and examples are provided in
table 1 below.
The rationale for each individual assessment, related litera-
ture sources, and the degree of confidence in the assessment has
been included for each specific assignment of all 169 targets,
which is provided in the Supporting Information on the Web.
An example of a completed relationship assessment grid for
targets of SDG 8 (“Promote sustained, inclusive and sustain-
able economic growth, full and productive employment and
decent work for all”) is provided in table 2 below. The ra-
tionale for using Goal 8 as an illustrative example is to show
that the CE does not only relate to Goal 12, but CE prac-
tices are important for many of the other targets under dif-
ferent SDGs, for example, Target 8.4 on increasing resource
After assigning each of the SDG targets to one of the five
categories, as the next step we calculated the overall scores of
the “CE practices-SDG targets relationship.” The total score
is 169 as only one category can be assigned to each target.
The individual results for each of the SDGs and the summary
score are shown in table 3 and the final scores per category are
depicted in column chart format in figure 2.
The overall scores generated through this mapping exercise
show that CE practices can directly contribute to achieving
21 of the targets and indirectly contribute to achieving an
additional 28 targets. The strongest relationships and syner-
gies between CE practices and SDG targets lie within SDG 6
(Clean Water and Sanitation), SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean
Energy), SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), SDG
12 (Sustainable Consumption and Production), and SDG 15
(Life on Land) having high scores both for direct and indirect
contributions. SDG 1 (No Poverty) and SDG 2 (Zero Hunger)
and SDG 14 (Life Below Water) are impacted by CE practices
mostly indirectly.
The targets of SDG 4 (Quality Education), SDG 9 (Indus-
try, Innovation and Infrastructure), SDG 10 (Reduced Inequal-
ities), SDG 13 (Climate Action), SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and
Strong Institutions), and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals)
show a relationship in so far as progress on the targets would
positively contribute to uptake of CE practices globally. This
category had the highest score covering 52 targets. Specific
targets which are highly important to support the CE in devel-
oping countries include 9.c (information and communication
technology [ICT] and Internet access), as the CE is closely
interconnected with digitalization (Webster 2016), and 12.c
(phasing out inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels), which have
been identified as an underlying barrier to the CE (European
Academies’ Science Advisory Council 2015).
Thirty-five (35) targets have shown no or only weak links
with CE practices, particularly the targets of SDG 3 (Good
Health and Well-being), SDG 5 (Gender Equality), SDG 10
(Reduced inequalities), SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Com-
munities), and SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions)
have high scores in this category. All goals, except for SDG
Schroeder et al., Circular Economy and SDGs 81
Ta b l e 1 Assessment category description and examples
Relationship category Explanation of category Example SDG target for this category
1. Direct/strong contribution
of CE practices to
achieving the goal
The achievement of targets in this category is
directly related to CE practices. Achieving
targets without CE practices would be
difficult or even impossible.
11.6 By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita
environmental impact of cities, including by
paying special attention to air quality and
municipal and other waste management
CE practices such as 3Rs in waste management
which prevent incineration and open burning
of municipal waste are crucial to achieve this
2. Indirect contribution (via
other SDG targets)
This category is assigned to targets to which CE
practices indirectly contribute via other
targets. It indicates synergies that can be
created between different targets through CE
1.1 By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all
people everywhere, currently measured as people
living on less than $1.25 a day
In the case of target 1.1, CE practices do not
directly contribute to eradicate extreme
poverty, but CE practices directly contributing
to targets 8.2 and 9.2 will indirectly
contribute to making progress on target 1.1.
3. Progress on target supports
uptake of CE practices
This category indicates a target which has a
reverse causality to CE. Rather than CE
practices contributing to achieving the target,
making progress on a specific target of this
category will support the wider uptake of CE
4.4 By 2030, substantially increase the number of
youth and adults who have relevant skills,
including technical and vocational skills, for
employment, decent jobs, and entrepreneurship
The wide uptake and diffusion of CE practices
and related business models will depend on
enhanced technical skills of workers and
4. Weak or no link This category applies to targets for which no
link or only weak connection was identified
during the assessment.
5.2 Eliminate all forms of violence against all
women and girls in the public and private spheres,
including trafficking and sexual and other types of
No link to CE in literature and practice found
5. Cooperation opportunity
to promote CE practices
Under the SDGs, a number of targets
specifically outline cooperation and means of
implementation. This category has been
assigned to targets which would offer
opportunities for CE practices to be included
in concrete cooperation initiatives emerging
from the SDG process.
6.5 By 2030, implement integrated water resources
management at all levels, including through
transboundary cooperation as appropriate
Transboundary cooperation for integrated water
management, in most cases, does not include
CE practices. In the SDG context,
cooperation mechanisms on this target could
provide opportunities to include CE concepts
and practices.
Note: CE =circular economy; SDG =Sustainable Development Goals.
9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure) and SDG 16, have
targets that would allow for cooperation and partnerships for
implementation of CE practices, in particular SDG 17 (Part-
nerships for the Goals/Means of Implementation). The overall
distribution of scores across the five categories is depicted for
each target in figure 3 below.
Synergies and Trade-Offs in the
Relationship of Circular Economy
Practices and Sustainable Development
Goals Targets
The literature on SDG implementation (e.g., OECD 2015b)
is concerned with synergies, complementarities, and potential
trade-offs between each of the SDGs. For instance, increasing
agricultural production to achieve Goal 2 (Zero hunger) can
have negative impacts on biodiversity covered by SDG 15 (Life
on land) (ICSU and ISSC 2015). Our findings suggest that CE
practices have the potential to address trade-offs, for example,
between SDG 8 aiming for economic growth and SDG 9 pro-
moting industrialization and infrastructure versus the need for
climate protection under SDG 13 and biodiversity under SDG
15. At the same time, CE practices can, potentially, create ad-
ditional trade-offs between SDG targets. An example would be
the targets to improve waste management in cities under Target
11.6 and increasing recycling rates of Target 12.5, which might
negatively impact on health of recycling workers, thereby po-
tentially working against target 3.9, if not complemented with
82 Journal of Industrial Ecology
Ta b l e 2 Assessment grid for relationship of CE practices to SDG 8 targets
Goal 8. Promote sustained,
inclusive, and sustainable
economic growth, full and
productive employment, and
decent work for all
of CE
practices to
achieve target
of CE
practices to
achieve target
(e.g., via
other SDGs)
target will
toward CE
Weak or no
opportunities for
CE promotion
Rationale for assessment (e.g.,
related CE practices, priority
sectors, CE business models,
synergies between targets) Literature references
Degree of
confidence in
8.1 Sustain per capita
economic growth in
accordance with national
circumstances and, in
particular, at least 7% gross
domestic product growth per
annum in the least developed
1 By creating new business
opportunities and green jobs
in LDCs (e.g., handicraft
sector using renewable
resources, waste collection
and recycling, renewable
energy services, repair), CE
practices contribute to
achieving this growth target.
Schroeder et al.
(2017); Gower and
Schroeder (2016)
Very high
8.2 Achieve higher levels of
economic productivity
through diversification,
technological upgrading, and
innovation, including
through a focus on
high-value-added and
labor-intensive sectors
1CE practices such as industrial
symbiosis and
remanufacturing are
high-value-adding practices,
with high innovation
potentials. Recycling sectors
are labor-intensive with much
potential to increase
Chertow (2007);
Lombardi and
Laybourn (2012);
Morgan and Mitchell
(2015); Ferguson and
Souza (2010); Li et al.
(2007); WBCSD
Very high
8.3 Promote
policies that support
productive activities, decent
job creation,
entrepreneurship, creativity
and innovation, and
encourage the formalization
and growth of micro-, small-
and medium-sized
enterprises, including
through access to financial
1 Promotion of these policies
would support development of
new CE business models and
green jobs (e.g., handicrafts,
recycling, sustainable product
design, extended producer
responsibility programs,
village-level energy service
providers). Synergies with
targets 8.2 and 8.4.
See 8.2 and 8.4 Very high
Schroeder et al., Circular Economy and SDGs 83
Ta b l e 2 Continued
Goal 8. Promote sustained,
inclusive, and sustainable
economic growth, full and
productive employment, and
decent work for all
of CE
practices to
achieve target
of CE
practices to
achieve target
(e.g., via
other SDGs)
target will
toward CE
Weak or no
opportunities for
CE promotion
Rationale for assessment (e.g.,
related CE practices, priority
sectors, CE business models,
synergies between targets) Literature references
Degree of
confidence in
8.4 Improve progressively,
through 2030, global resource
efficiency in consumption
and production and endeavor
to decouple economic growth
from environmental
degradation, in accordance
with the 10-year framework
of programs on sustainable
consumption and production,
with developed countries
taking the lead
1CE practices such as repair,
remanufacturing, recycling,
industrial symbiosis,
closed-loop supply chains,
very important for achieving
higher levels of resource
efficiency in production. New
CE business models based on
secondhand markets, product
service systems (PSS), and
local sharing economy
complement these efforts on
the consumption side.
Baines et al. (2007);
Neto et al. (2010);
Savaskan et al.
(2004), Chertow
(2007); Lombardi and
Laybourn (2012),
Castellani et al.
(2015): Oliveira et al.
Very high
8.5 By 2030, achieve full and
productive employment and
decent work for all women
and men, including for young
people and persons with
disabilities, and equal pay for
work of equal value
1CE can help create new forms
of employment and sources of
income (but not necessarily
create full and productive
employment in the very
sense), contribution via
targets 8.2 (labor-intensive
sectors), target 2.4
(sustainable agriculture).
Morgan and Mitchell
(2015); France
egie (2016)
8.6 By 2020, substantially
reduce the proportion of
youth not in employment,
education, or training
1Same as target 8.5 See 8.5 High
84 Journal of Industrial Ecology
Ta b l e 2 Continued
Goal 8. Promote sustained,
inclusive, and sustainable
economic growth, full and
productive employment, and
decent work for all
of CE
practices to
achieve target
of CE
practices to
achieve target
(e.g., via
other SDGs)
target will
toward CE
Weak or no
opportunities for
CE promotion
Rationale for assessment (e.g.,
related CE practices, priority
sectors, CE business models,
synergies between targets) Literature references
Degree of
confidence in
8.7 Take immediate and
effective measures to
eradicate forced labor, end
modern slavery and human
trafficking, and secure the
prohibition and elimination
of the worst forms of child
labor, including recruitment
and use of child soldiers, and
by 2025 end child labor in all
its forms
1 Weak link, possible link to
forced labor and child labor in
waste picking and informal
recycling sectors
Rutkowski and
Rutkowski (2015)
8.8 Protect labor rights and
promote safe and secure
working environments for all
workers, including migrant
workers, in particular women
migrants, and those in
precarious employment
1 Very important target to
achieve safer working
conditions for recyclers, e.g.,
in informal e-waste recycling,
and reducing work-related
hazards within industries in
emerging economies. Progress
on this target important to
avoid potential trade-offs
between targets 11.6
(improving waste
management) and 3.9
(pollution impact on health)
Julander et al. (2014);
Annamalai (2015)
Very high
8.9 By 2030, devise and
implement policies to
promote sustainable tourism
that creates jobs and
promotes local culture and
1 Promoting policies for
sustainable tourism can
facilitate the take-up of CE
concepts such as zero waste
resorts, or eco-tourism in
connection with conservation
Wimmer (2017);
Schroeder et al.
Schroeder et al., Circular Economy and SDGs 85
Ta b l e 2 Continued
Goal 8. Promote sustained,
inclusive, and sustainable
economic growth, full and
productive employment, and
decent work for all
of CE
practices to
achieve target
of CE
practices to
achieve target
(e.g., via
other SDGs)
target will
toward CE
Weak or no
opportunities for
CE promotion
Rationale for assessment (e.g.,
related CE practices, priority
sectors, CE business models,
synergies between targets) Literature references
Degree of
confidence in
8.10 Strengthen the capacity
of domestic financial
institutions to encourage and
expand access to banking,
insurance, and financial
services for all
1 Progress on this target will
likely enhance access to
finance for new CE business
models and startups, which
has been identified as a major
barrier for CE business
Rizos et al. (2016);
ING (2015)
8.a Increase Aid for Trade
support for developing
countries, in particular least
developed countries,
including through the
Enhanced Integrated
Framework for Trade-Related
Technical Assistance to
Least Developed Countries
1 Cooperation opportunity with
World Trade Organization
(WTO) on technology
transfer and capacity building
to include CE practices into
the Aid for Trade frameworks
WTO (2015) Medium
8.b By 2020, develop and
operationalize a global
strategy for youth
employment and implement
the Global Jobs Pact of the
International Labor
1 Cooperation opportunity with
International Labor
Organization (ILO) on
technology transfer and
capacity building to include
CE practices and technologies
into these frameworks for
youth employment
ILO (2009) Medium
Overall relation to Goal 8 2 3 4 1 2
Note: CE =circular economy; LDCs =least developed countries; SDG =Sustainable Development Goals.
86 Journal of Industrial Ecology
Ta b l e 3 Overall relationship scores of CE practices and 169 targets of the SDGs
Direct contribution
of CE practices to
achieve target
Indirect contribution
of CE practices to
achieve target (e.g.,
via other SDGs)
Achieving target will
contribute toward CE Weak or no link
opportunities for CE
Goal 1 0 4 1 1 1
Goal 2 1 3 3 0 1
Goal 3 1 0 0 11 1
Goal 4 0 0 5 3 2
Goal 5 0 0 2 6 1
Goal 6 4 1 0 0 3
Goal 7 3 1 0 0 1
Goal 8 2 3 4 1 2
Goal 9 2 0 6 0 0
Goal 10 0 1 4 4 1
Goal 11 1 3 3 2 1
Goal 12 3 5 2 0 1
Goal 13 0 1 3 0 1
Goal 14 1 2 3 1 3
Goal 15 3 3 1 1 4
Goal 16 0 1 6 5 0
Goal 17 0 0 9 0 10
Total 21 28 52 35 33
Note: CE =circular economy; SDGs =Sustainable Development Goals.
additional measures to improve working conditions outlined
under target 8.8.
In figure 4, we have clustered the goals according to eco-
nomic, social, and environmental pillars and the type of re-
lationship with CE practices. The arrows between the SDGs
indicate the main interactions and connections between the
goals in relation to CE practices.1For instance, we identified
that many of targets under SDG 4 (Quality Education) have no
direct link to CE practices; however, progress on the target 4.4
on technical skills and vocational training would contribute sig-
nificantly to upscaling CE practices and achieving goals of eco-
nomic pillar, in particular SDG 8 (Decent work and economic
growth) and SDG 9 (Industry, innovation and infrastructure).
Another example that demonstrates the cross-cutting nature of
CE practices is SDG 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing). Most tar-
gets under this goal have no relationship with CE practices, but
implementing CE practices under SDG 6 (Water and Sanita-
tion) and SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy) will contribute
meaningfully to progress on health and well-being. Other ex-
amples are targets of SDG 13 (Climate Action) to which CE
practices do not directly contribute. Achieving climate targets
such as 13.2 (“Integrate climate change measures into national
policies, strategies and planning”) would greatly support uptake
of CE practices related to renewable energy and contribute to
achieving energy targets of SDG 7 (see figure 4 below).
The following subsections provide further insights into syn-
ergies and trade-offs in relation to specific CE practices. We
focus the discussion on the CE practices of recycling (including
household waste and e-waste), wastewater recycling and sani-
tation, IS, remanufacturing and repair, reduction and reuse of
products, and CE practices for energy efficiency and renewable
Sustainable Development Goals Synergies and
Trade-Offs Related to Recycling of Municipal
Household Waste and E-Waste
SDG Targets 11.6 and 12.5 both aim at reducing waste and
promote recycling, one of the main CE practices already prac-
ticed widely worldwide. In developing countries, recycling of
Schroeder et al., Circular Economy and SDGs 87
Figure 2 Relationship between circular economy (CE) practices and achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) targets (17 SDGs
with 169 targets in total).
municipal household waste is often carried out by informal sec-
tor workers (Ezeah et al. 2013; Chaturvedi et al. 2015). The
contributions of informal plastic recycling in India to several of
the SDGs have been highlighted by the World Business Council
on Sustainable Development (WBCSD) (WBCSD 2016). The
Indian informal sector collects and handles 4.4 Mt of plastics
annually (compared to 0.2 Mt collected by the formal sector);
however, environmental and social externalities such as decent
working conditions are yet to be solved (WBCSD 2016).
E-waste is an even more difficult issue as it has both global
and local dimensions, due to transboundary illegal shipments of
e-waste and local, often informal, recycling activities (Bisschop
2015). Despite its global dimension, e-waste is not specifically
mentioned in the SDG framework. There is a close link between
these recycling activities and the Target 3.9 “substantially re-
duce by 2030 the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous
chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination.”
E-waste recovery and recycling has significantly lower life cy-
cle impacts and lesser emissions to air, water, and soil than
other options such as incineration or landfilling (W¨
ager et al.
2011). Recycling technologies and processes for e-waste which
do not generate negative environmental impacts and chemi-
cal emissions exist (Li et al. 2007). However, the way most
e-waste recycling operations are carried out at present causes
negative impacts on workers’ health and points to some of the
potential goal conflicts around the CE practice of recycling.
Notions of the social and solidarity economy applied to CE re-
cycling practices can lead to more robust CE strategies toward
environmental and social aims (Moreau et al. 2017), including
protection of workers’ health.
Target 8.8 aims to “protect labour rights and promote
safe and secure working environments for all workers, in
particular women migrants, and those in precarious employ-
ment,” and is highly relevant for informal recycling workers. In
India, according to Annamalai (2015), over 95% of the e-waste
is treated and processed in urban slums where untrained workers
carry out dangerous procedures without protective equipment
and are exposed to a wide range of toxins detrimental to hu-
man health. Even formal e-waste recycling workers in countries
with well-regulated recycling practices such as Sweden have
high exposure to toxic metals (Julander et al. 2014).
An important objective to make CE work for SDG 3 and
SDG 8 would be to eliminate CE practices with negative health
impacts on workers in both informal and formal recycling sec-
tors. This can be achieved by introducing stringent health and
safety measures, supported by activities of Goal 4 of “quality
education” and “technical skills and decent jobs” (Target 4.4).
Moreover, what is required is the transfer of recycling tech-
nologies and processes that prevent chemical emissions with
negative effect on the environment. This would contribute to
achieving Targets 12.4 (“By 2020, achieve the environmen-
tally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout
their life cycle”). Current recycling activities carried out by the
informal sector will require strong stakeholder initiatives to im-
plement capacity building, vocational training, and technology
transfer to turn them into “decent jobs” (Targets 8.3 and 8.5).
Sustainable Development Goals Synergies and
Trade-Offs Related to Circular Economy Practices
and Water and Sanitation
CE practices associated with closed-loop systems for wastew-
ater recycling and reuse (Jeffries 2017), and recycling of sewage
sludge (Angelakis and Snyder 2015) will be indispensable to
88 Journal of Industrial Ecology
Figure 3 Relationship between circular economy (CE) practices and 169 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) targets (visual
presentation adapted from OECD 2015b).
achieve SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), in particular
Targets 6.1, 6.2, 6.3, and 6.4, and Target 14.1 (Life Below Wa-
ter). However, the existing infrastructure for water and wastew-
ater systems in industrialized countries are not adequate to sup-
port the CE. Existing infrastructure will need to be optimized
decrease wastage, while new infrastructure will need to be de-
signed to fully enable advanced CE practices for water (IWA
Innovative CE practices can also be applied to solve sanita-
tion challenges in developing countries. Examples include CE
practices and business models working with composting toilets,
which transform human waste into compost for agricultural use.
Human waste can be used to grow insect larvae, which are used
as feed for fish farms and other livestock-production systems
(Vickerson 2016; Gower and Schroeder 2016), thereby also
indirectly contributing to agricultural productivity and sustain-
able food production systems (Targets 2.4 and 2.5). These CE
practices have been applied by both large companies and SMEs
in developed and developing countries.
However, potential negative public health impacts associ-
ated with fecal sludge management of latrines (Myers 2016) and
water and sludge recycling practices include risk of human ex-
posure to waterborne contaminants during transport (Jin et al.
2014). Workers who handle and recycle human feces into fer-
tilizer are at increased risk of becoming ill from waterborne
diarrheal and parasitic diseases, which need to be prevented
through safety measures so as not to create trade-offs with SDG
3 (Good Health and Wellbeing), in particular Targets 3.3 and
3.9. Relevant guidelines and basic hygiene practices for work-
ers have been developed (Sch¨
onning and Stenstr¨
om 2002) and
their application can significantly reduce health risks.
Sustainable Development Goals Synergies and
Trade-offs Related to Industrial Symbiosis
By turning one industrial facility’s waste into resources of
another, IS is an important CE practice. It offers potential con-
tributions to several of the SDG targets, including Targets 3.9
(see above), 6.3 (“improve water quality by reducing pollu-
tion”), 8.2 (“higher levels of economic productivity through
diversification, technological upgrading and innovation”), and
12.4 (“By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound manage-
ment of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle).
In terms of health impacts, Chertow (2007) found no evidence
that IS practices and by-product reuse impact negatively on
health of community of workers. At the same time, Chertow
(2007) notes that environmental and health issues need to be
carefully examined on a case-by-case basis, in particular in agri-
cultural sectors, to minimize the spread of diseases. The IS ap-
proach by Lombardi and Laybourn (2012, 28) as a “network to
Schroeder et al., Circular Economy and SDGs 89
Figure 4 Relationships between Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the context of circular economy (CE) practices.
foster eco-innovation and long-term culture change” and “cre-
ating and sharing knowledge through the network” has strong
potential to contribute to Targets 8.2 and 12.4, especially if
IS networks employ cross-sector engagement models across the
life cycle of products chains. IS also offers significant potentials
to contribute to Target 9.4 (“By 2030, upgrade infrastructure
and retrofit industries to make them sustainable, with increased
resource-use efficiency and greater adoption of clean and envi-
ronmentally sound technologies and industrial processes”).
Two key enablers for IS are geographical proximity and ex-
ternal coordinators; however, long-distance IS exchanges with-
out external coordinators can also be feasible (Prosman et al.
2017), although they are less common. Due to the complexity of
IS systems, its development and emergence is difficult to analyze
and predict (Yap and Devlin 2017), posing no small challenges
to industrial experts and developers. Specific challenges for the
SDG context include the need for coordinating organizations
to manage IS networks (Yap and Devlin 2017), the linking up
of existing stand-alone facilities (Wolf and Petersson 2007)
and financial barriers due to transport and processing costs
of materials compared to low landfill costs (Lombardi and
Laybourn 2012) in both developed and developing countries.
Making IS work in developing country contexts will likely re-
quire technology transfer partnerships on favorable terms as
outlined under Target 17.7.
Sustainable Development Goals Synergies and
Trade-Offs Relating to Remanufacturing, Repair,
and Refurbishment
Innovative business models employing CE practices which
keep products and materials in use include remanufacturing
(Nasr and Thurston 2006; Gray and Charter 2007), refur-
bishment (WRAP 2013), repair (Lacy et al. 2014), and reuse
(Castellani et al. 2015). The capacity and functions are largely
preserved, allowing recapture of the value-added to the mate-
rials, rather than allowing them to disappear into landfill or
incineration after a single uses. Wider uptake and application
of these practices would be required to achieve Target 8.4 (“Im-
prove progressively, through 2030, global resource efficiency
90 Journal of Industrial Ecology
in consumption and production and endeavour to decouple
economic growth from environmental degradation”). Reman-
ufacturing requires companies to manage high levels of com-
plexity relating to processes and products (Seifert et al. 2013)
and requires skills which are not present in many countries
workforces, which could be particularly problematic for SMEs
(Bourguignon 2016). Although SMEs have already begun to in-
clude sustainability criteria into their innovation processes and
have generated value through eco-efficiency measures (Bos-
Brouwers 2010), new CE business models are difficult to de-
sign and manage. Higher-value CE approaches, such as re-
manufacturing and repair, therefore require progress on targets
under SDG 4, in particular “technical skills and decent jobs”
(Target 4.4). Furthermore, for successful remanufacturing busi-
ness models, retailers play a key role for effective collection
from consumers and effective coordination mechanisms be-
tween suppliers and retailers are crucial (Savaskan et al. 2004).
Another challenge is that many original parts manufacturers
do not remanufacture their products and, in some cases, even ac-
tively attempt to prevent the development of secondary markets
for their products (Ferguson and Souza 2010). Refurbishment
and repair business models are already important elements of de-
veloping country economies which are making use of disposed
products from Western markets, in particular the automotive
and electronics sectors (Schmitz 2016). In developing coun-
tries, remanufacture and repair of electronics such as mobile
phones and household goods offer new employment opportu-
nities (Brent and Steinhilper 2004) (Target 8.5) and, through
improved connectivity, indirectly contribute to poverty reduc-
tion (Targets 1.1 and 1.2).
Refurbishment practices in construction sectors (WRAP
2013; ARUP 2016) offer promising solutions to Goal 11 (Sus-
tainable Cities and Communities), especially to Target 11.6
(“By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact
of cities”). To scale up refurbishment and repair practices glob-
ally, international product standards need to be changed and
improved to develop products that last longer and are easier to
repair and refurbish. One barrier to this is that many product
designers lack the skills to make products last longer or de-
sign them in ways to be refurbished and repaired (Bakker et al.
Sustainable Development Goals Synergies and
Trade-Offs Relating to Reduction and Reuse
of Products
For reduction of waste under target 12.5 (“By 2030, substan-
tially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction,
recycling and reuse”), the CE practice of reuse provides an envi-
ronmentally preferred alternative to many other waste manage-
ment methods. Reuse promotes resource efficiency and reduces
air, water, and soil pollution across the product life cycle, as
demonstrated by Castellani et al. (2015). Extended product
lifetimes and designing products for reuse, including modular
systems (Stahel 2016), are important to achieve higher degrees
of reuse and circulation. Consumer attitudes play an important
role in reuse to shift away from the current “throwaway soci-
ety” paradigm. This would not only entail conscious consumer
choices for green and reusable products, but very likely also
anticonsumption practices (Black and Cherrier 2010), such
as voluntary simplicity and downshifting, to reduce material
throughput and reject certain “linear” products. Another CE
practice and innovative business model based on reuse prin-
ciples is the PSS, which could contribute to Targets 8.4 and
Moving away from the linear throwaway model is also rele-
vant for the food retail sector, which is responsible for a large
share of food waste. New business models and food sharing
online marketplaces, based on circular thinking that connect
retailers with charities, food recovery groups, and consumer
groups, can reduce food waste at the retail level (Esposito et al.
2016), thereby contributing to achieving Target 12.3 (“By 2030,
halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer
levels”). Reuse and recycling of food waste as pig feed could
reduce land use for livestock production. In the case of EU
pork, which accounts for 20% of world production, potentially
1.8 million hectares of agricultural land could be saved (zu
Ermgassen et al. 2016). This CE practice could reduce the need
for soybean farming for animal feed in South America, which
poses a significant threat to terrestrial biodiversity, thereby in-
directly contributing to Targets 15.2 (“halt deforestation”) and
15.5 (“halt the loss of biodiversity”).
Sustainable Development Goals Synergies and
Trade-Offs Relating to Circular Economy Practices
for Energy Efficiency and Renewables
Several CE practices can contribute toward achieving targets
under SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy). Waste heat re-
covery from industrial processes and industrial waste-to-energy
networks (Taskhiri et al. 2014), especially if applied in eco-
industrial parks, offer significant potentials to improve indus-
trial energy efficiency, outlined in the SDG Target 7.3 (“By
2030, double the global rate of improvement in energy effi-
ciency”). Anaerobic digestion and biogas utilization could con-
tribute to Target 7.2 (“By 2030, increase substantially the share
of renewable energy in the global energy mix”), it can be used
for household level and large- and medium-scale biogas plants
for agricultural waste with large untapped potentials. Accord-
ing to Chen and colleagues (2012), China only uses 2% of
its total amount of agricultural waste for anaerobic digestion.
Similarly, in the EU, over 78 Mt of biodegradable waste were
landfilled in 2012, which could generate 150 petajoules of re-
newable energy in the form of biogas or biomethane reducing
11 Mt CO2-eq. (European Biogas Association 2015). Circu-
lar solutions can also be applied to energy infrastructures on
small island developing states and for rural electrification (Tar-
get 7.b), for example, deploying closed-loop minigrids powered
by solar photovoltaics (PV) to replace diesel-powered genera-
tors (Spiegel-Feld 2015; IRENA 2014). Issues that need to be
considered to make these systems sustainable are appropriate
collection channels and recycling facilities of end-of-life PV
Schroeder et al., Circular Economy and SDGs 91
panels (IRENA and IEA-PPSP 2016) and for used lead-acid
batteries (Schroeder 2016).
Conclusions and Recommendations
The findings of this paper suggest that CE practices and re-
lated business models can help achieve several of the SDGs’
targets. They directly contribute to achieving 21 of the tar-
gets and indirectly contribute to an additional 28 targets. The
strongest relationships exist between CE practices and targets of
SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), SDG 7 (Affordable and
Clean Energy), SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth),
SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), and SDG
15 (Life on Land). CE practices also offer potential to create
synergies between several SDGs, such as those promoting eco-
nomic growth and jobs (SDG 8), eliminating poverty (SDG 1),
ending hunger and sustainable food production (SDG 2), and
those SDGs aiming for biodiversity protection in the oceans
(SDG 14) and on land (SDG 15). While CE practices will not
solve all the issues to be addressed by the SDGs—35 of the
targets have no or little relation to CE practices—the CE of-
fers potential as an implementation approach for specific SDG
To make advanced CE practices and business models such as
IS, remanufacturing, closed-loop supply chains, or PSSs work
for the SDGs, more efforts on skills training, capacity build-
ing programs, technology development, and multistakeholder
partnerships are required, as outlined under SDG 17. Active
engagement of businesses along global supply chains will be
needed. It will be crucial to establish synergies with SDG 4
(Quality education) to build the skills and capacity required for
scaling-up and replicating CE practices. Which specific inter-
national implementation partnerships are suitable to include
CE practices into their programming, and to which effective-
ness they can help in achieving specific SDG targets, requires
further in-depth empirical research.
Our analysis also shows that CE practices relating to recy-
cling of household waste, e-waste, sewage sludge, and human
waste will require additional efforts through skills training and
health and safety measures to prevent trade-offs with Targets
for human health and well-being (Target 3.9) and safe working
environments (Target 8.8). Although this paper provided an
overview on the relationship between CE practices and SDGs
targets, additional research will be required to further explore
and analyze in depth the synergies and opportunities between
CE practices and SDG targets in specific country contexts.
As much as the CE can help in achieving many SDG targets,
the SDGs also can help the promotion of CE practices. Progress
on many of the other SDG targets, which are not directly related
to CE, will benefit the uptake of CE practices. Of particular im-
portance are SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions),
SDG 4 (Quality education) representing the “software” ele-
ments of governance and skills, and SDG 9 (Industry, Innova-
tion and Infrastructure) representing the “hardware” elements
of facilities and infrastructures for a circular economic system.
Finally, given the limitations of this study, we recommend fur-
ther in-depth research to generate more empirical evidence on
the linkage between CE and the SDGs, to extend and build on
this exploratory review.
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Supporting Information
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Schroeder et al., Circular Economy and SDGs 95
... In recent years, the Circular Economy (CE) has gained traction as a strategy to reduce resource extraction, waste, and emissions. The concept is increasingly supported as a central element in the transition to a more sustainable economic system by academia, policymaking, and prominent business figures (Bradford, 2020;Economist, 2020;EPA Network, 2020;OECD, 2020;Schroeder et al., 2019). The implementation of business models (BM) aligned with the principles of the Circular Economy is seen as a key leverage for the needed transition. ...
... In recent years the circular economy (CE) has been promoted as a potential solution in the urgent transition to a more sustainable economic system (Schroeder et al., 2019;Velenturf and Purnell, 2021), however, in practice, the implementation of sustainable and circular business models continues to remain relatively low OECD, 2019). This is also reflected in the ongoing call for more sustainability-oriented innovation tools and comprehensive business model innovation process frameworks, which is itself a reaction to the relative complexity of operationalizing CE-based ideas and the lack of practical guidelines for firms (Blomsma and Brennan, 2017;Kalmykova et al., 2018;. ...
... and implement new business models, particularly in uncertain, volatile and complex environments such as the current one(Mezger, 2014; Schilke et al., 2018; Schoemaker et al., 2018). Literature suggests that the strength of a firm's DC shapes its proficiency at BMI(Teece, 2018), understanding DC as a "firm's ability to integrate, build, and reconfigure internal and external competences to address rapidly changing environments"(Teece et al., 1997, p. 516).The circular economy (CE) has been endorsed as an effective contributor to long-term sustainable developmentSchroeder et al., 2019), as it offers guiding principles to decouple resource consumption and environmental impacts fromeconomic growth, through the retention of value in products and materials for as long as possible (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2014; Ghisellini et al., 2016). Furthermore, it has been recently promoted as a viable and necessary strategy for a post-COVID green recovery-to "build back better"-where the development of circular business models (CBMs) plays a key role (Ibn-Mohammed et al., 2021; United Nations Environment Programme [UNEP], 2020;Wuyts et al., 2020). ...
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In recent years, the circular economy has gained traction as a promising contributor to sustainable development. However, the implementation of sustainable and circular business models remains relatively low. Although the related literature is rapidly evolving, there is still a lack of understanding of the complex process of circular business model innovation, a need for concrete guidelines for firms and calls for more empirical studies. This thesis explores three related questions: what is known about circular business model innovation? how does it happen? and how to facilitate it? To this end, first, a systematic literature review on the emergent field of circular business model innovation is combined with a multiple-case study on ten firms. A summary framework of present and future research is offered, framing and assessing current literature and identifying major research gaps. Secondly, building on the theory of dynamic capabilities, the multiple-case study data is abductively analyzed to identify 26 best practices for circular business model innovation. These are grouped in twelve microfoundations of dynamic capabilities, and highlighting practices such as the adoption of a lifecycle perspective and ecosystem collaboration. Thirdly, 21 innovation cases are analyzed to identify 10 drivers and 25 barriers that affect the different types of circular business innovations. And finally, following an action design research approach, a design thinking-based process framework for guiding the design and implementation of circular business models is developed, including twelve specific tools. This thesis provides an improved understanding of business model innovation for the circular economy, offering concrete guidance for practitioners and a set of context-adaptable tools to support firms in their sustainability transformations.
... Normative judgement requires stakeholder participation (Hörisch et al., 2020a) to create joint understanding and foundation for positive sustainability contributions and to support the implementation of measures aiming to create a sustainability transformation. This includes frameworks developed in multi-stakeholder processes, such as the United Nation's SDGs (Kühnen and Hahn, 2017;Schroeder et al., 2019;Silva, 2021) or planetary boundaries model (Rockström et al., 2009). Normative judgements requiring stakeholder participation also play a role in exploring the relevance and suitability of these frameworks as targets for sustainable development (Topple et al., 2017) and the selection of indicators, for example for stakeholder well-being (Coutinho et al., 2018;Garrido et al., 2016). ...
Current approaches for measuring and assessing contributions of companies and their products to sustainability largely focus on reducing negative impacts. However, becoming “less bad” still means having adverse impacts on the environment. Various authors have therefore called for investigating how positive contributions can be made to further sustainable development. This systematic literature review explores how positive contributions to sustainability have been discussed in the environmental management literature dealing with sustainability performance measurement and assessment. Our review of 328 publications reveals an understanding of positive contributions to sustainability that is a mostly implicit or vague use. Inductive analysis, however, reveals three distinct understandings – an operationalization, a stakeholder and a transformation perspective – each of which is embedded in a different theoretical frame, namely decision, stakeholder and transition theory. These perspectives have so far been discussed separately in the literature. By drawing on theoretical foundations of performance measurement, we propose an integrated understanding of positive contributions to sustainability: A positive sustainability contribution has the goal of bringing about a sustainability transformation, considers the environmental, economic and social context through stakeholder participation, and is operationalized to facilitate decision-making and the implementation of effective sustainability measures. A clear definition is of key importance for both research and practice to both reduce negative and increase positive contributions to sustainable development.
... Besides, LCCA assesses the decision-making during the planning and designing stage for environmental and social sustainability from an economic perspective (AbouHamad & Abu-Hamd, 2019;Miah et al., 2017). To achieve sustainability goals, it is important to overview all the activities in the project life cycle (Chawla et al., 2018;Kivilä et al., 2017;Kylili & Fokaides, 2017;Schroeder et al., 2019). The planning at the early design phase of a construction project could be more cost-effective for a safe and sustainable construction throughout the project life cycle (Alaloul et al., 2019;Heralova, 2017;Islam et al., 2015;Sharma, 2012), providing potential for optimising energy efficiency and operation and maintenance (O&M) cost (Alqahtani & Whyte, 2016a;Bueno & Fabricio, 2018;Kehily & Hore, 2012). ...
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Construction industry projects play a significant role in the sustainable economic growth of all other industries. To achieve a sustainable economy, the future associated costs act as a barrier that must be addressed in the initial stages of a construction project. To evaluate the future costs, Life Cycle Cost Analysis (LCCA) is found to be an effective technique that determines the present worth of future costs. This study focuses on reviewing the conducted research in the field of optimising cost during the project life cycle via LCCA to sustain economic sustainability and associating the environmental and social cost factors to enhance sustainability. A systematic literature review strategy is developed to extract relevant literature from Scopus, Web of Science, Science Direct, Emerald and American Society of Civil Engineering from the year 2009 to 2020. Adopting the PRISMA statement, a total of 83 articles are reviewed systematically in detail. Many construction sections are explored with the impact of LCCA on them. The LCCA impact the performance of construction projects during certain practices such as structural designing, energy cost optimisation, building envelope efficiency in energy demand and utilisation optimisation and earthquake engineering. Moreover, this study highlights the influence of LCCA in optimising the environmental impact of a new or existing construction project to avail economic sustainability along with the social and environmental. A conceptual framework has been proposed that shows the influence of LCCA on the construction industry, which directly impacts economic sustainability and indirectly environmental sustainability.
Circular Economy (CE) frameworks augmented multi-dimensional research, including definitions, principles, indicators, history, limitations, enablers, and allied issues. Rethinking the designing strategies requires the exploration of CE associates and their functioning as companions for amplification through multiple suggestions, highlighting the interactions with the overall CE system towards sustainability. This paper focuses on how CE literature concentrates on premeditated areas and solution approaches. A lack of deterministic manifestations critically limits the interpretation and application of CE concepts. The paper contributes to the CE theoretical and practical understanding by for the first time outlining the CE associates, their connotation, progression, positioning in architecture, and their current state. These associates support individualization of a CE concept. The coherently applied methodology attempts to reduce the knowledge gap by following a systematic quantitative literature review process to screen 76 articles and 122 CE definitions, referencing one decade of literature. Application of comprehensive morphological mining facilitated the extraction of CE associates and later analysis. On application of Bibliometric Analysis, Text Analysis, Semantic Analysis, and Relation Mapping to the literature, 49 associates emerged. They were further validated by application of Content Analysis and Weighted Average Priority Ranking on extracted article content and definitions for deriving the most prominent associates. Subsequently, Association Rules Data Mining and K-Means Clustering were deployed in exploring the relations, ranking, and significance of CE associates. The findings consistently state that business actions (virtualize, exchange); sustainability pillars (society); and R strategies (refuse, refill, and repurpose) are unexplored CE associates, whereas Business, Economics, Environment, Measurement, Product, Industry, Resource, System, Waste, and Recycle are the most explored associates of the CE ecosystem.
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Although consumption is one of the most important elements of any economy, including those that are developing, excessive consumerism is becoming increasingly common today, often resulting in the phenomenon of food waste. Food waste is a multi-aspect issue. It is a topical problem of varying nature and intensity, particularly for the environment, the economy, and society. In this context, efforts were made to emphasize the importance of the idea of a circular economy, due to the fact that the positive effects of its implementation and correct application may be the minimization of the problem of food waste, which can be seen from an economic, social, or environmental point of view. To obtain this goal, consumer research was conducted among the inhabitants of Eastern Poland. Their principal task was to define social attitudes and explain a problem known as household food waste. The results were subjected to the cluster analysis method and correspondence analysis, and the corresponding calculations and figures made it possible to draw conclusions from the research. Consumers seem to be aware of the dilemma of excessive food discarding in their households. They also recognize their active role in preventing this socio-economic problem. Despite the concerns expressed by consumers, food waste is still very high. This may most likely be because of a declarative approach rather than to the actual attitudes of respondents.
Labor education is a complex concept whose value is not only the sum of labor + education. It plays an extremely important role in the growth education of students. Its fundamental purpose is to cultivate students’ good technical literacy, improve their practical skills, and form innovative thinking. The monitoring data show that the path of labor education in schools is good, but there are also problems such as unbalanced development of labor practice, insufficient leading role of schools, insufficient basic role of families, and serious lack of social support. Responsibility index, learning motivation, motor health, and self-awareness are significantly and positively correlated with labor practice index. Based on the gray relationship theory, this paper selected relevant data of Chinese students, calculated the comprehensive gray relationship degree between each factor and students’ labor reeducation level, and analyzed the variables; the new connotation of education, the construction of labor education evaluation index system, and the construction of labor education support system were studied.
Sustainability reports may play an important role as a supporting tool in the transition of organisations towards more circular economy models, since their content can help to measure, monitor and communicate the organisations’ transition and to establish goals in the short/medium term. The aim of this study is to determine whether it is possible to calculate indicators capable of measuring the transition of organisations towards circularity from the information that they are currently communicating in their Corporate Sustainability Reports (CSRs), and what information would need to be incorporated in these reports to successfully carry out this procedure. To this end, by applying a three-step methodology, 34 indicators grouped into 10 categories were proposed to measure the level of circularity of organisations. This was completed with a detailed proposal of units/metrics to measure the indicators, based on those that organisations commonly use in their CSRs. For this purpose, information from 8 international programmes/frameworks that measure circularity at the territorial level was combined with circularity information that organisations are currently communicating in their CSRs. Finally, the proposed set of indicators and metrics were applied to a Spanish organisation dedicated to the forestry and paper sector with a CSR based on GRI-Standards. The results demonstrated that 25 of the 34 proposed indicators (74%) can be measured directly using the information included in the CSRs.
COVID-19 has brought new challenges to the achievement of the sustainable development goals as proposed by the United Nations in the 2030 Agenda. However, innovative projects developed by governments, private sector, and civil society present themselves as an opportunity to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on sustainable development. This study uses the Observatory of Public Sector Innovation promoted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development to explore how innovative projects address the 17 sustainable development goals. The Portuguese context is used to qualitatively characterize this phenomenon. The findings reveal that these projects also offer relevant contributions in areas such as public infrastructure support, health promotion, quality of education, and reduced inequalities.
Sustainability is being addressed by more and more organizations. In the context of sustainable global development, the circular economy is gaining interest from governments, people and various organizations. The circular economy has the main measure of reducing the amount of waste generated and of streamlining the number of organizational resources. In this context, companies are attracted to these concepts that protect the environment. Organizational interests are diverse, but the most important are the financial benefits. The paper aims to identify the role of information and communications technology in the CE context. It also presents economic, social, and technical constraints and barriers that need to be addressed in order to pave the way for the implementation of the principles of the circular economy.
The Circular Economy concept is recognized as a promising instrument to address sustainability goals related to production and consumption patterns. This concept can be promoted through product labels which provide consumers with information about the product. So far, there is a lack of circular economy labels. The existing eco-labels mainly show the environmental impact of a product; however, few include some circularity aspects. Thus, this study addresses this gap by introducing an Eco-Label Circularity Index (ECI) based on scoring systems and Circular Economy principles in order to assess the circularity level of existing eco-labels. The proposed framework was applied to a sample of 27 eco-labels to test and demonstrate its applicability and provide insights into the circularity of the eco-labels examined. The findings show that the examined labels do not adequately cover Circular Economy issues through their certification process, hence they are unable to provide a clear indication of the products contribution to Circular Economy. The implementation of the ECI in this study demonstrates its use as a straightforward evaluation process and a useful first step in making the circular aspects of products transparent and reducing information asymmetry between producers and consumers.
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In light of the environmental consequences of linear production and consumption processes, the circular economy (CE) is gaining momentum as a concept and practice, promoting closed material cycles by focusing on multiple strategies from material recycling to product reuse, as well as rethinking production and consumption chains toward increased resource efficiency. Yet, by considering mainly cost-effective opportunities within the realm of economic competitiveness, it stops short of grappling with the institutional and social predispositions necessary for societal transitions to a CE. The distinction of noncompetitive and not-for-profit activities remains to be addressed, along with other societal questions relating to labor conditions, wealth distribution, and governance systems. In this article, we recall some underlying biophysical aspects to explain the limits to current CE approaches. We examine the CE from a biophysical and social perspective to show that the concept lacks the social and institutional dimensions to address the current material and energy throughput in the economy. We show that reconsidering labor is essential to tackling the large share of dissipated material and energy flows that cannot be recovered economically. Institutional conditions have an essential role to play in setting the rules that differentiate profitable from nonprofitable activities. In this context, the social and solidarity economy, with its focus on equity with respect to labor and governance, provides an instructive and practical example that defies the constraints related to current institutional conditions and economic efficiency. We show how insights from the principles of the social and solidarity economy can contribute to the development of a CE by further defining who bears the costs of economic activities.
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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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Sharing and exchanging waste materials between industrial actors, a practice known as industrial symbiosis (IS), has been identified as a key strategy for closing material loops. This article adopts a critical view on geographical proximity and external coordinators—two key enablers of IS. By “uncovering” a case where both enablers are absent, this study seeks to explore firm-level challenges of IS. We adopt an exploratory case-study approach at a cement manufacturer who engages in cross-border IS without the support of external coordinators. Our research presents insights into two key areas of IS: (1) setting up the initial IS exchange and (2) improving the performance of existing IS exchanges. Moreover, our research provides initial insights into the underlying nature of the related firm-level challenges and explores how internal coordination between manufacturing and purchasing may or may not act as a substitute for geographical proximity and external coordinators. In doing so, our insights into firm-level challenges of long-distance IS exchanges contribute to closing global material loops by increasing the number of potential circular pathways.
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Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are increasingly aware of the benefits of closing loops and improving resource efficiency, such as saving material costs, creating competitive advantages, and accessing new markets. At the same time, however, various barriers pose challenges to small businesses in their transition to a circular economy, namely a lack of financial resources and lack of technical skills. The aim of this paper is to increase knowledge and understanding about the barriers and enablers experienced by SMEs when implementing circular economy business models. Looking first at the barriers that prevent SMEs from realising the benefits of the circular economy, an investigation is carried out in the form of a literature review and an analysis of a sample of SME case studies that are featured on the GreenEcoNet EU-funded web platform. Several enabling factors that help SMEs adopt circular economy practices are then identified. The paper concludes that although various policy instruments are available to help SMEs incorporate circular economy principles into their business models, several barriers remain. The authors recommend that European and national policies strengthen their focus on greening consumer preferences, market value chains and company cultures, and support the recognition of SMEs' green business models. This can be achieved through the creation of dedicated marketplaces and communities of practice, for example.
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This short paper – primarily for development policy-makers and practitioners – highlights a significant opportunity to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Case studies from Brazil, Ghana, Kenya and India demonstrate how supporting (and removing obstacles to) circular economy business models can provide a triple win: - increasing productivity and economic growth - improving the quality and quantity of employment - saving lives, by reducing environmental impacts such as water pollution, air pollution and climate change (approximately 9 million people die of diseases linked to mismanagement of waste and pollutants each year) The concept of the circular economy is almost entirely absent from the development discourse at present. And yet, the circular economy holds out the promise of an alternative growth model that reduces the tension between lifting people out of poverty and protecting the planet, dramatically increasing the scope for meeting the SDGs.
In the emerging narrative of sustainable development in Asia, the essential challenge is to reduce the use of natural resources and environmental degradation alongside the increasing demand for goods and services. To achieve this, Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP), one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015, aims at reconciling the three goals of minimising the extraction of natural resources from the environment, limiting waste and emissions over the life cycle of goods and services and improving human development and wellbeing. Sustainable Asia: Supporting the Transition to Sustainable Consumption and Production in Asian Developing Countries provides an overview and analysis of the current status of SCP in Asian developing countries. The book focuses on projects supported by the EU-funded SWITCH-Asia Programme, a regional development cooperation programme promoting the adoption of SCP practices among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and consumer groups in Asia since 2007. For readers looking for a comprehensive introduction to the topic of SCP together with a detailed analysis of the current developmental situation in various Asian developing countries and key sectors such as manufacturing, tourism, renewable energy and agriculture, this book is an invaluable tool. The book examines in detail the SCP approaches and innovative solutions demonstrated by the SWITCH-Asia supported projects in Asia and thus serves as a reference for practitioners, researchers and policymakers alike.
Detailed and comprehensive accounts of waste generation and treatment form the quantitative basis of designing and assessing policy instruments for a circular economy (CE). We present a harmonized multiregional solid waste account, covering 48 world regions, 11 types of solid waste, and 12 waste treatment processes for the year 2007. The account is part of the physical layer of EXIOBASE v2, a multiregional supply and use table. EXIOBASE v2 was used to build a waste-input-output model of the world economy to quantify the solid waste footprint of national consumption. The global amount of recorded solid waste generated in 2007 was approximately 3.2 Gt (gigatonnes1), of which 1 Gt was recycled or reused, 0.7 Gt was incinerated, gasified, composted, or used as aggregates, and 1.5 Gt was landfilled. Patterns of waste generation differ across countries, but a significant potential for closing material cycles exists in both high- and low-income countries. The European Union (EU), for example, needs to increase recycling by approximately 100 megatonnes per year (Mt/yr) and reduce landfilling by approximately 35 Mt/yr by 2030 to meet the targets set by the Action Plan for the Circular Economy. Solid waste footprints are strongly coupled with affluence, with income elasticities of around 1.3 for recycled waste, 2.2 for recovery waste, and 1.5 for landfilled waste, respectively. The EXIOBASE v2 solid waste account is based on statistics of recorded waste flows and therefore likely to underestimate actual waste flows.