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Shifting from a linear to a circular bio‐economy requires new business models. The objective was getting insights into the uncharted research field of business model innovation for a circular and sustainable bio‐economy within the agrifood sector. Eight European cases valorising agricultural waste and by‐products by closing loops or cascading were studied regarding their innovation drivers and elements, via interviews, on‐site visits and secondary data. In this domain, the findings highlight that business model innovations are depending on the (i) macro‐environmental institutional‐legal conditions and market trends, (ii) driven by internal economic, environmental and/or social objectives, but especially strongly linked to (iii) other actors often from different sectors seeking synergies and (iv) value co‐creation via combined organisational and technological innovations. Business models for a circular bio‐economy thus depend on various action levels and need radical combined organisational and technological innovations for a most efficient usage of agricultural waste and by‐products. This also means new business configurations instead of linear innovation strategies currently still being dominant due to economic viability.
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RESEARCH ARTICLE
How to innovate business models for a circular bio-economy?
Mechthild Donner
1
| Hugo de Vries
2
1
INRAE French National Research Institute
for Agriculture, Food and Environment, UMR
MOISA (University Montpellier, CIRAD,
CIHEAM-IAMM, INRAE, Institut Agro),
Montpellier, France
2
INRAE French National Research Institute
for Agriculture, Food and Environment, UMR
IATE (INRAE, Institut Agro, University
Montpellier), Montpellier, France
Correspondence
Mechthild Donner, INRAE, Joint Research
Centre MOISA, 2 Place Pierre Viala, 34060
Montpellier Cedex 1, France.
Email: mechthild.donner@inrae.fr
Funding information
European Union's Horizon 2020 research and
innovation programme, Grant/Award Number:
688338
Abstract
Shifting from a linear to a circular bio-economy requires new business models. The
objective was getting insights into the uncharted research field of business model
innovation for a circular and sustainable bio-economy within the agrifood sector.
Eight European cases valorising agricultural waste and by-products by closing loops
or cascading were studied regarding their innovation drivers and elements, via inter-
views, on-site visits and secondary data. In this domain, the findings highlight that
business model innovations are depending on the (i) macro-environmental
institutional-legal conditions and market trends, (ii) driven by internal economic, envi-
ronmental and/or social objectives, but especially strongly linked to (iii) other actors
often from different sectors seeking synergies and (iv) value co-creation via com-
bined organisational and technological innovations. Business models for a circular
bio-economy thus depend on various action levels and need radical combined
organisational and technological innovations for a most efficient usage of agricultural
waste and by-products. This also means new business configurations instead of linear
innovation strategies currently still being dominant due to economic viability.
KEYWORDS
agricultural waste and by-products, bio-economy, business models, circular economy,
co-creation, innovation, sustainability
1|INTRODUCTION
In a context of limited natural resources, climate change and growing
population, circular economy has become a popular concept for sus-
tainable development and of increasing interest for policy makers,
companies and the civil society. It aims to shift from the current linear
take-make-disposemodel to closing loops by recycling and reusing
products, components and materials, and by reducing waste to a mini-
mum (Ellen MacArthur Foundation [EMF], 2013; Murray, Skene, &
Haynes, 2017). It is thus considered as a new and alternative way to
reconcile economic growth with the use of natural resources and to
develop sustainable economic systems, but with a narrower focus on
economic and environmental dimensions (Geissdoerfer, Savaget,
Bocken, & Hultink, 2017). The implementation of circular economy is
still in an early stage but driven worldwide by diverse policies, con-
cerning macro, meso and micro action levels (Ghisellini, Cialani, &
Ulgiati, 2016). As an emerging concept (Velenturf et al., 2019), there is
not yet a common definition of circular economy (Kirchherr, Reike, &
Hekkert, 2017; Korhonen, Honkasalo, & Seppälä, 2018), it is
rather used as an umbrella term(Homrich, Galvao, Abadia, &
Carvalho, 2018). The Ellen MacArthur Foundation conceptualises and
defines circular economy as an industrial system that is restorative or
regenerative by intention and design(EMF, 2015).
In the past years, the importance of circular economy for the
agrifood sector has been highlighted (Barros, Salvador, de
Francisco, & Piekarski, 2020; EMF, 2015; Esposito, Sessa, Sica, &
Received: 31 July 2020 Revised: 10 December 2020 Accepted: 25 December 2020
DOI: 10.1002/bse.2725
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in any
medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.
© 2021 The Authors. Business Strategy and The Environment published by ERP Environment and John Wiley & Sons Ltd..
Bus Strat Env. 2021;116. wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/bse 1
Malandrino, 2020; FoodDrinkEurope, 2020; Jurgilevich et al., 2016).
In Europe alone, around 90 million tonnes of food and 700 million
tonnes of crops are wasted each year (http://agrimax-project.eu/),
and the worldwide food production and supply chains consume about
30% of the global energy production (Food and Agricultural Organisa-
tion of the United Nations, 2015). Agricultural waste and by-products
are usually defined as plant or animal residues that are produced dur-
ing various agricultural operations and that are not or not further
processed into food or feed (Organisation for Economic Co-operation
and Development, 1997). Waste streams are produced in all parts of
the agrifood system or chains, mainly due to over-dimensioned,
spatially or temporarily in-adapted processes and handling schemes.
However, agricultural waste and by-products can be converted into
valuable resources, resulting in new value-added bio-based products
such as bio-energy, bio-fertilisers, bio-materials or bio-molecules
(Venkata Mohan et al., 2016). Creating value from or valorising
agricultural waste and by-products is challenging due to the heteroge-
neity and perishability of agri-resources, and the seasonal and territo-
rial fluctuations in volumes and quality (Donner, Gohier, & De
Vries, 2020); this even more holds for urban food waste. Moreover,
different valorisation opportunities exist in alternative sectors, with
differences in value, as shown in the value pyramid for biomass
valorisation (Rood, Muilwijk, & Westhoek, 2017). Cascading
approaches, that is, a multiple and diversified use of waste streams
through consecutive production processes (Ghisellini et al., 2016) via,
for example, biorefineries require then careful consideration (Donner
et al., 2020). Research on circular bio-economy approaches for
valorising agricultural waste for new products is relevant but still
presenting important gaps, including new circular business models, as
highlighted in the recent literature review by Barros et al. (2020).
A shift from a linear to a circular and sustainable bio-economy
requires a radical change at a system level (Science Advice for Policy
by European Academies, 2020). Circular economy is thus strongly
linked to innovation, as important policy measures and socio-
economic changes, including new technologies and products, are
needed for a transition. On the other hand, circular economy can also
be a driver for eco-, responsible or sustainable innovation in produc-
tion and consumption (Boons & McMeekin, 2019). Companies need
to rethink and redefine how they understand and do business and
how they generate and offer value to customers (Centobelli,
Cerchione, Chiaroni, Del Vecchio, & Urbinati, 2020; Pieroni,
McAloone, & Pigosso, 2019). Hence, business model innovations are
needed that offer new products or services and/or new market
opportunities (EMF, 2013); especially between businesses, new
interactions emerge (Stewart & Niero, 2018). Therefore, business
managers and researchers increasingly explore how new, sustainable
and circular business models can create economic growth while
reducing negative effects on the natural environment and society
(e.g. Bocken, Strupeit, Whalen, & Nußholz, 2019; Boons &
Lüdeke-Freund, 2013; De Giacomo & Bleischwitz, 2020; Schaltegger,
Hansen, & Lüdeke-Freund, 2016; Stubbs & Cocklin, 2008).
Our research objective is to get insights into the drivers and
elements of business model innovation within the agrifood sector
and contributing to the circular bio-economy transition via agricul-
tural waste and by-product valorisation. Eight European circular
business cases are studied that convert agricultural waste and by-
products into value-added products, with particular attention to
their business model and technological innovations. The underlying
questions are: (i) What types of circular business model innovations
exist in the agricultural sector? (ii) Is agribusiness model innovation
for a circular bio-economy different from the linear economy? And
(iii) What would be needed for more radical innovations in the
agrifood domain leading to more circularity? With our study, we
contribute to the recent discussion on business models for a circu-
lar bio-economy and fill the specific gap in the agricultural sector.
We also propose a new conceptual framework for circular business
model innovation connected to bio-technological innovations in the
agrifood sector, which shows the complexity and interactions at
different action levels.
2|LITERATURE REVIEW AND
THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
2.1 |The business model concept
Despite an increasing research interest in business models and busi-
ness model innovations, a sound theoretical foundation is still missing
(Pucihar, Lenart, Kljaji
c Borštnar, Vidmar, & Marolt, 2019). In general,
a business model describes how a firm does business, that is, the
activities of a firm, the way it operates and how it creates value for its
stakeholders (Casadesus-Masanell & Ricart, 2010; Magretta, 2002;
Teece, 2010). The notion of value is central to a business model and
has been broadened from economic value to environmental and
social value within the emerging literature on new and sustainable
business models (e.g. Birkin, Polesie, & Lewis, 2009; Schaltegger,
Lüdeke-Freund, & Hansen, 2012), hence including the three pillars of
sustainability (people, plant and profit; Elkington, 1998). The concept
of circular business models is more recent and builds on management
literature and on circular strategies from the resource efficiency
field (Nußholz, 2017). It thus integrates principles and practices from
the circular economy with the goal to achieve a more resource
effective and efficient economic system (EMF, 2015). Accordingly,
Mentink (2014, p. 35) defines a circular business model as the ratio-
nale of how an organization creates, delivers and captures value with
and within closed material loops. Linder and Williander (2017, p. 2)
define it as a business model in which the conceptual logic for value
creation is based on utilizing the economic value retained in products
after use in the production of new offerings, thus highlighting the
return flow from the user to the producer. Sustainable and circular
business models are closely related and can be considered as a
sub-category of business models (Antikainen & Valkokari, 2016).
However, circular business models offer new perspectives by
developing strategies to close, slow, intensify, de-materialise or
narrow resource loops (Bocken, De Pauw, Bakker, & Van Der
Grinten, 2016; Ünal, Urbinati, Chiaroni, & Manzini, 2019).
2DONNER AND de VRIES
2.2 |Business model innovation
In contrast to business models, the concept of business model innova-
tion (BMI) is less well understood, perhaps because its literature is
more recent (Foss & Saebi, 2017). There is general agreement that
business model innovation (BMI) is continuously needed due to
market liberalisation, increased competition and changing socio-
economic conditions. Nowadays, products can easily be copied and
local markets overtaken by international competitors (Taran, Boer, &
Lindgren, 2015). BMI can thus increase the resilience of firms to
changes in its environment and become a source of a firms' competi-
tive advantage (Mitchell & Coles, 2003). Some authors go even further
by considering that BMI can reshape industries, contribute to more
sustainability (Geissdoerfer, Vladimirova, & Evans, 2018) and possibly
even change the world(Massa & Tucci, 2013, p. 438). However,
BMIs are risky, as they are time-consuming and require investments,
for example, in R&D, resources or equipment. Therefore, a systemic
and holistic thinking to innovation is recommended, instead of an indi-
vidual and isolated approach (Amit & Zott, 2012). BMI consists of
changing a business model by creating, diversifying, acquiring or trans-
forming it (Pieroni et al., 2019). Massa and Tucci (2013) distinguish
between two types of BMI. The first refers to the design of novel
business models for newly created organisations (business model
design), the second to the reconfiguration of an existing business
model (business model reconfiguration), in which managers acquire new
or reconfigure existing resources to change their business model.
Regarding the degree of innovation, one can distinguish between
radical and incremental. While radical innovation describes a high
degree of novelty or a breakthrough, that is, an innovation which
breaks with previous structures, procedures, activities or products in a
firm, an incremental innovation has a low degree of novelty, is less
risky, and does not break with previous products, processes or
organisation methods but significantly improves them (Souto, 2015).
Moreover, Bocken, Short, Rana and Evans (2014) describe eight
archetypes of sustainable business models, classified in higher order
groupings that show three main types of innovation: technological,
social or organisational. They suppose that firms can use one or several
archetypes as references for shaping their own transformation.
2.3 |Drivers of business model innovation
There are few studies on BMI drivers, which may be many, different
in nature, placed at different levels, and be external or internal to a
firm(Foss & Saebi, 2017, p. 217). Hence, BMI can be triggered either
by internal (technology-push or inside-out) or external (market-pull
or outside-in) opportunities or threats (Bucherer, Eisert, &
Gassmann, 2012). Innovations due to changes in the external environ-
ment have been described in earlier studies, such as changing
demands of stakeholders (e.g. Ferreira, Proença, Spencer, &
Cova, 2013), changes in the competitive environment (e.g., De Reuver,
Bouwman, & MacInnes, 2009), opportunities brought about by new,
for example, information and communication technologies
(e.g. Pateli & Giaglis, 2005), or other general trends such as consumer
awareness, circular economy or CSR (corporate social responsibility)
(Todeschini, Cortimiglia, Callegaro-de-Menezes, & Ghezzi 2017). The
ability to innovate a business model in response to major external
environment changes has been characterised as dynamic capability
(Teece, 2018; Zott, Amit, & Massa, 2011). Bocken and Geradts (2020)
have identified internal drivers for sustainable BMI within large
multinational corporations at three levels: institutional (e.g. norms
and believes that affect organisational behaviour), strategic
(e.g. collaborative innovation) and operational (e.g. people capability
development). Finally, Schaltegger et al. (2012) highlight the link
between a firms' overall strategy and its BMI for sustainability:
(a) defensive strategies with slight degrees of business model adjust-
ment or adoption might be motivated only by a need to comply with
legislation and protect the current business model, (b) accommodative
strategies go along with a change and improvement of the business
model by addressing environmental and/or social objectives;
(c) proactive strategies lead to business model redesign and fully inte-
grate sustainability issues in their products and processes.
2.4 |Circular business model innovation
Circular business models are in general driven by the objective to rec-
oncile commercial value creation with resource efficiency strategies
(Nußholz, 2017). However, circular business model (innovation) is a
recent field of research (Bocken et al., 2019; Ferasso, Beliaeva, Kraus,
Clauss, & Ribeiro-Soriano, 2020; Lopez, Bastein, & Tukker, 2019;
Lüdeke-Freund, Gold, & Bocken, 2019; Pieroni et al., 2019) and espe-
cially in the context of agriculture, still reveals a gap in literature
(Barros et al., 2020). Circular BMI depends on the larger business eco-
system and a broad range of actors and stakeholders (Antikainen &
Valkokari, 2016; Brown & Bajada, 2018; Evans et al., 2017; Lüdeke-
Freund, 2020): Circular business model innovations are by nature
networked: they require collaboration, communication, and coordina-
tion within complex networks of interdependent but independent
actors/stakeholders. (Antikainen & Valkokari, 2016, p. 7). Therefore,
an analysis of circular BMI should be linked to an innovation system
perspective. Boons and Lüdeke-Freund (2013), by reviewing literature
on sustainable innovation, have identified three levels of analysis at
the system boundaries: (i) an organisational, focused on individual
firms and their own value adding activities; (ii) an inter-organisational,
concerning the interrelationship with other actors that co-create and
share values; and (iii) a societal, considering the wider landscape for
transition and interrelationship with other organisations to produce a
shared societal value. However, research on circular economy
has mostly been limited to one action level (Barreiro-Gen &
Lozano, 2020). Furthermore, Antikainen and Valkokari (2016) have
offered a framework for sustainable circular business model innova-
tion. In this framework, they integrateapart from the business level,
which consists of the nine business model canvas building blocks pro-
posed by Osterwalder and Pigneur (2010)the business ecosystem
level(referring to trends and drivers and to a stakeholder
DONNER AND de VRIES 3
involvement having a direct impact on the business model) and the
sustainability impact(environmental, social and business require-
ments and benefits). The idea is to come to a continuous sustainability
and circularity evaluation of the business model innovation, in order
to optimise the processes.
2.5 |Towards a theoretical framework
The considerations above about business models and their innova-
tions are summarised in a theoretical framework (Figure 1) that is used
as basis for analysing and discussing our results. It consists of two
levels, the business level itself and the wider context, that is, the
business eco-system level. At the business level, one recognises the
internal drivers for innovation (Bocken & Geradts, 2020; Foss &
Saebi, 2017) and the main features of the circular business model
innovation. The latter refer to the (i) business model itself (Massa &
Tucci, 2013), (ii) business model or canvas model elements
(Osterwalder & Pigneur, 2010), (iii) innovation types (Bocken
et al., 2014), (iv) degree of innovation (Souto, 2015) and (v) innovation
strategy (Schaltegger et al., 2012). At the business eco-system level,
the external drivers are to be considered; if adapted to the specific
bio-economy context, the Reseda (2017) methodology for analysing
by-product valorisation pathways is most relevant. Also, the
stakeholder involvement is crucial as revealed in the sustainable
circular BMI framework by Antikainen and Valkokari (2016).
3|METHODOLOGY
Our study was realised within the European H2020 project NoAW
(No Agricultural Waste), driven by a near zero-wastesociety require-
ment and aiming to develop innovative approaches for the conversion
of increasing volumes of agricultural waste and by-products into
eco-efficient bio-based products. In particular, co-products from wine,
cereals and manure were addressed. Although the focus of the project
was on technological development aspects, one working package was
dedicated to the challenge of how to design new business and mar-
keting strategies for a cross-sectoral valorisation of agricultural waste
and by-products.
For this socio-economic working package, a qualitative research
approach was defined, which is the dominant methodology for ana-
lysing business models so far, to explore them as current phenomena
in their given contexts, as well as the antecedents and consequences
of their configurations (Ehret, Kashyap, & Wirtz, 2013). The case
study method was chosen, as an empirical enquiry that investigates a
contemporary phenomenon in depth and within its real-life context,
especially when the boundaries between phenomenon and context
are not clearly evident(Yin, 2009, p. 18). This method is particularly
appropriate for developing a new theory and answering questions of
why, what and how, and it allows better understanding of the nature
and complexity of a phenomenon (Voss, Tsikriktsis, & Frohlich, 2010).
It is also suited to generate relevant knowledge for managers
(De Massis & Kotlar, 2014). In business model research, a scarcity of
case studies has been stated, making it challenging for firms to under-
stand how to innovate their business models, identify and design
alternatives, then assess and select the most adequate one(Evans
et al., 2017, p. 598).
Eight cases were studied in 20162019, four from France, two
from Germany, one from Italy and one from the Netherlands. Multiple
case study augments the external validity (Voss et al., 2010). The
cases were selected for the following reasons. First, because they
offered sufficient elements for an analysis of their innovation. The
selected cases were also representative as they consisted of different
types of business models (Donner et al., 2020), were centred on the
three different focal product chains of the research project (wine,
cereals and manure), and their agricultural waste and by-product
valorisation relied on different technologies with different product
outputs: either via a simple closing loop (e.g. bioenergy production
1
)
FIGURE 1 Theoretical framework
1
Mostly via anaerobic digestion, that is, processes by which microorganisms break down
biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen, used to produce bioenergy.
4DONNER AND de VRIES
or a cascading (diversified used of waste streams) approach implying
many actors. Another reason to investigate these business cases was
the relative availability and openness of the managers to share more
detailed information and organise site visits. As the cases were from
project-partner countries, partners could provide additional informa-
tion for the cases and their contexts. Nonetheless, we had to limit the
number of interviewees and interviews considering the realities of
(especially small and medium-sized) enterprises, characterised by lim-
ited time and resources that can be allocated for external activities
(Ünal et al., 2019).
The data collection was done through field and desk research.
The field research involved an on-site visit for each case and at least
one semi-structured interview with one or several members of the
company, with different positions, for example, CEO, R&D or market-
ing managers (Table 1). The interviews had an approximate duration
of 2 h. Key informants were also regularly contacted by e-mail for fur-
ther clarifications. The interview guide included questions about the
macro-environmental political-legal (policies, laws and regulations),
economic (markets and subsidies), social, technological and environ-
mental conditions, as well as micro-level business aspects such as his-
torical (origin, triggers and development of the initiative),
organisational (governance, partnerships and logistics), technological
(type and maturity of technologies used, examples of by-product
valorisation and outputs), marketing and financial (investments and
costbenefit structure) elements. The site visits focused on the pre-
sentation and explanations of the technologies, the observations of
the different agricultural waste and by-products used for valorisation
(from animals or crops) and the logistics (transport, storage and
weight). These visits had durations between 1 and 4 h and were
mainly guided by the interviewed persons, sometimes with support of
technical experts. The data from these field visits, mostly in form of
photos or notes, were discussed after the visits by the authors and
provided additional insights especially regarding the amounts of waste
valorised, the innovativeness and technology-readiness-levels (from
pilot-scale to full implementation). The primary data were triangulated
with secondary data from desk research, that is, academic articles if
available, online articles, videos and internet sites of the companies,
and internal documents such as reports or presentations directly
received from the companies.
Interview and secondary data were transcribed and analysed
according to the content method, which relies on an analytical inter-
pretation of data and is used to make replicable and valid inferences
from texts(Krippendorff, 2004, p. 18; Berg, 2009). A hand-coding
was done for each case (within-case analysis). This was done by the
leading author and then verified and discussed with the other author.
In a first step, general features assigned to the businesses were stud-
ied. This was done to provide first insights and illustrate major issues
for each case regarding its main actor(s), resources and transformation
TABLE 1 Research methodology characteristics
Case Country Type of business model Data collection
1 Germany Small biogas plant The biogas plant owner is a customer of a project
partner, who is consultant within the biogas domain.
Regular exchanges, one group face-to-face interview
with the plant owner and one joint field visit with
the project partner.
2 Italy Small upcycling entrepreneur The firm is a project partner. Regular exchanges, one
group interview and discussion with 3 persons, joint
field visit.
3 France Large environmental biorefinery Preliminary face-to-face and e-mail exchanges, one
telephone and two face-to-face interviews with the
director of the open innovation platform and field
visit.
4 France Large agricultural cooperative The firm is a project partner. Regular exchanges, four
interviews, two with R&D and two with marketing
manager, including field visit.
5 Netherlands Large agripark The lead firm of the park is a project partner. One
group interview with CEO and operational manager,
regular e-mail exchanges, field visit to get a general
overview of the park.
6 Germany Small agripark Two interviews (1 telephone and 1 face-to-face), one
field visit.
7 France Small support structure First exchange about their main activities followed by
in-depth interview, a field visit and several e-mail
exchanges.
8 France Medium-sized support structure One group interview with four persons (director of the
association, of the cluster of enterprises, of a waste
treatment firm, of an international firm) and joint
discussion, field visit.
DONNER AND de VRIES 5
processes, value proposition, key partners, customers and strategic
approach (Table 2). Next, data were analysed regarding the more spe-
cific innovation elements as main focus of this work. For processing
this coding, the theoretical framework (Figure 1) was used as basis.
Here, we first identified the main trends and drivers at a macro-level
and stakeholders involved. Second, the contents regarding the origin,
evolution and key milestones of the businesses over time, and in
particular their main internal drivers to start or further develop their
business, were identified. Third, the innovation of the business model
itself and its nine buildings blocks (Osterwalder & Pigneur, 2010), the
innovation types (technical, organisational and social; Bocken
et al., 2014), degree of innovation (radical and incremental;
Souto, 2015) and innovation strategies (defensive, accommodative
and proactive; Schaltegger et al., 2012) were analysed. The main
outcomes were then summarised in Table 3. The overall objective of
the data analysis was to get insights into the external and internal
drivers for innovation, stakeholders involvement as well as specific
elements of circular business model innovation per case. On the other
hand, it served to summarise generic outcomes within a single
scheme (Figure 2). Finally, it allowed to develop a new conceptual
framework for circular business model and technological innovations
(Figure 4).
4|RESULTS
This section starts with a more general presentation of the character-
istics of the eight cases studied, as described in the methodology,
including their main actor(s), resources and transformation processes,
value proposition, key partners, customers and strategic approach
(Table 2). This provides a first introduction to each case. Next, follow-
ing the theoretical framework, in section 4.1, results about the internal
drivers for innovation and innovations at the business model level are
given (Table 3). In section 4.2, insights from the business ecosystem
level including stakeholders involved and external trends and drivers
are shown.
4.1 |Internal drivers and innovations at the
business model level for the eight cases
In Table 3, the internal drivers and elements of innovations at the
business model level are presented for each case. A difference is
made between innovation of the business model itself, either as a
new creation or reconfiguration of an existing model, and of inno-
vative business model elements, for example, novel products, tech-
nologies or forms of organisation. Each case is then classified
according to its main innovation type(s), degree and innovation
strategy.
Case 1, initially a farmer, was driven by the question of how to
create economic value out of agricultural waste, in the early 2000s
when the biogas boom started in Germany. In 2004, when the biogas
plant was already in operation for years and enlarged, he noticed that
the area to spread digestate
2
and nutrients would become a limiting
factor. Therefore, he decided to dry digestate in a new special large-
scale production facility and to produce and market a pellet fertiliser
himself. This allowed him to divert nutrients from agriculture into
other sectors like viti- or horticulture and to expand his business; this
required new scale-adapted supplies, distribution and market outlets
with stakeholders. Apart from this, he delivers the (often lost) heat
from his biogas plant to the nearby (eco-)village via appropriate, new
infrastructure, thanks to a joint initiative with the local community.
Also, he is building a new partnership with a local e-car sharing com-
pany for utilising locally produced electricity.
Case 2 was created in 2013 as a university spin-off in order to
enable and facilitate a market uptake of new technologies for agricul-
tural by-product valorisation. It is actually fully operational after the
creation of a first spin-off that had to stop after one year, mainly for
financial reasons. The spin-off is well embedded in a large cooperative
providing resources, housing and local assistance, while receiving
advice on biogas production and potential new biotechnological ways
to valorise their co-products; this allows mutually benefiting from
know-how and new opportunities. The university is now intended to
fully spin-out the company. The company attracts new employees and
continues to operate within the cooperative however also as an inter-
national consultancy firm in the agricultural sector. The key techno-
logical innovation is the combined biogas and PHA productiona
biodegradable polyester which potentially may, for example, replace
fossil-based plasticsvia a new biotechnological concept exploited at
pilot-scale.
Case 3 was based on the willingness of local cooperatives to
diversify their activities in a synergistic way and to define a joint local
sustainable bio-economy development strategy. The aim of this pro-
cess of clustering was to create synergies by common technological
investments, to enter new markets via cereal and sugar cane by-
product valorisation activities, to close energy and material cycles and
increase farmers' revenues. The biorefinery can be characterised by
its high technological and organisational innovation capability. Its con-
cept is adopted by the regional government as a unique and attractive
example internationally, and fuels teaching and research activities,
even leading to the creation of an industrial chair on bio-economy,
hence providing scientific feedback to the case.
Case 4 was created in 1969 in order to ensure the existence of
the wine cooperatives in the region. In 1970, a new law obliged the
winemakers to deliver their waste from the production for distillation.
The valorisation of grape marc for distillation in one larger unit was
thus a collective response to this legal obligation. Since 1994, the
business started a diversification of new products and ingredients
towards new markets, the food and petfood industry and nutraceuti-
cal companies, hence evolving into a small biorefinerywith the inclu-
sion of novel bio- and extraction technologies. In 2007, a geographical
expansion was decided upon in order to reach critical mass of waste,
2
Digestate is the remaining part of organic matter treated by anaerobic digestion, rich in
nutrients and nitrogen, and therefore an excellent organic fertiliser. But the management of
quantities is regulated because a surplus of nitrogen and phosphate damage the
environment.
6DONNER AND de VRIES
TABLE 2 Presentation of the characteristics of 8 business cases valorising agricultural waste and by-products
Case 1 Biogas
plant
Case 2 Upcycling
entrepreneur
Case 3
Environmental
biorefinery
Case 4 Agricultural
cooperative Case 5 Agripark Case 6 Agripark
Case 7 Support
structure
Case 8 Support
structure
Main actor(s) Farmer with a
biogas plant
University spin-off Eco-industrial
cluster with
various firms
Union of wine
cooperatives
Agribusiness park
manager
Consulting and
service company
Association Local cluster of
different
stakeholders
Resources and
transformation
process
Pig manure &
vegetables;
anaerobic
digestion, new
drying system
Cow manure &
wine; anaerobic
digestion, new
extraction
methods
Focus on cereals
and sugar cane
by-products; full
range of
agricultural,
forestry and
marine residues;
different bio-
refinery
processes
Waste and by-
products from
wine; extraction
and distillery
processes
Combined heat
electricity and
water
recirculation
systems
Manure, energy
crops; anaerobic
digestion, drying
Cereal husks; new
separation (de-
hulling),quality
schemes and
treatment
procedures
Organic urban food
and agricultural
waste handling
processes,
anaerobic
digestion
Value proposition Biogas, electricity,
bio-fertiliser,
heat
Electricity,
fertilisers, PHA
for bio-materials,
pilot-scale
equipment,
consultancy
Diverse plant by-
products,
applications in
the domain of
agriculture, food,
bio-materials,
chemical
industry, energy
Compost,
ingredients for
food, pharma &
pet food
industries
Heat, electricity,
logistics
Consulting for
waste collection
& valorisation,
fertiliser, humus,
electricity & heat
Cross-sector
cooperation
between farmers
and eco-
constructors
Biogas, network
Key partners Local farmers &
community,
technology
supplier, e-car
company
Cooperative, two
other
universities,
research centres
in EU
Agrifood
enterprises,
research
Cooperatives and
research
Vegetable
producers
(greenhouses)
and traders;
private partners
in water and
energy recycling
Public partner
(county), several
companies and
research partners
Farmers, research
institutes, other
associations
Local authorities,
enterprises and
research
Customers Public suppliers,
private
households
(electricity),
wholesaler
(fertiliser)
Electricity
corporations,
operators of
biogas plants
A large variety of
enterprises for
different
products
Enterprises in
different sectors,
consumers
Data-centres using
electricity and
producing heat
for greenhouses
Grid operator,
famers, private
customers and
consumers
Architects, house
constructors
Local enterprises
Strategic
approach
Enlarge product
portfolio for
mixed market
sectors
Innovation,
upscaling, pilot-
scale
demonstration,
consultancy
New markets for
large volumes of
by-products
Innovation, mixed
market sectors
Networking,
economies of
scale
Technology
development
hub, networking
Networking Support for
networking,
niche strategy
(organic)
DONNER AND de VRIES 7
TABLE 3 Internal drivers and elements of circular business model innovation
Case 1 Case 2 Case 3 Case 4 Case 5 Case 6 Case 7 Case 8
Internal
driver(s)
Create economic
value out of
agricultural waste
Enable and
facilitate market
uptake of new
technologies for
waste conversion
Diversify activities
and define a
common
sustainable
development
strategy
Collective response
to a legal
obligation
Create multiple
benefits by
clustering actors
locally; efficient
usage of
resources
Interest in jointly
developing a
value-adding
circular economy
approach
Enable cross-sector
cooperation for
by-product
valorisation
Cluster public and
private actors for
rural sustainable
development and
circular economy
Innovation of
BM itself
Stepwise
reconfiguration
of the BM from a
farm to a modern
biogas company,
created as limited
liability company
Newly created firm
as university
spin-off,
currently
considering to
become a
consultancy
company
Originally sugar
factory and
distillery,
stepwise
reconfiguration
to an agro-
industrial and
biorefinery park
Originally distillery
cooperative,
evolvement to a
specialized
enterprise for
wine waste and
by-product
valorisation
Reconfiguration:
from selling
ground and
logistics to an
innovative eco
/agribusiness
park
Development from
a farm with
biogas and herb
drying company
to an integrated
food-energy park
Association
founded to
create cross-
sector synergies
among local
actors for cereal
by-product
valorisation, role
of intermediator,
facilitator
Creation of a
cooperative
platform for local
sustainable and
agricultural
development via
a circular
economy
approach
Innovative
BM
elements
Product: dried bio-
fertilizer via
special
production
facility
Partners: e-car
sharing company
(electricity),
technology
supplier, local
community for
heat
infrastructure
Customer: citizens
in bio-village
(heat)
Value proposition:
combined biogas
& PHA
production with a
new bio-
technological
concept,
consultancy;
shared
infrastructure
between farm
and spin-off
Technological
innovation
platform
Partners: ongoing
governance
formalisation,
integration of
various members
around different
types of
synergies (water,
energy, products,
R&D)
Value proposition:
Product
diversification to
a large portfolio
going from low to
high added value
via new
technologies
Partners: Cross-
sector
cooperation for
energy and water
efficiency,
interchange
between Data-
centres that use
electricity from
greenhouses and
produce heat
them
New channel:
tourist excursions
Value proposition:
technology
development
hub, creating
modulesto be
marketed (e.g.
algae and humus
projects)
Partners: public-
private
cooperation with
partly shared
infrastructure
Value proposition:
Husks valorised
for new value-
added products:
eco-insulation
and decoration
(former use:
heating or animal
litter)
Partners: cross-
sector
cooperation
Value proposition:
thematic
workshops and
meetings on
circular economy,
eco-conception,
waste prevention
and valorisation,
industrial ecology
Public-private
partnership
Main
innovation
type and
degree
Technological and
organisational
(incremental),
social (radical)
Technological
(radical but pilot
scale),
Organisational
(incremental)
Technological
(radical mixed
industrial and
laboratory scale),
Organisational
(radical)
Technological
(incremental and
radical but some
at laboratory
scale)
Organisational
(radical)
Technological
(radical but still
pilot scale),
organisational
(radical)
Organisational
(radical),
technological
(incremental)
Social (incremental),
organisational
(incremental)
Main
innovation
strategy
type
Accommodative Proactive Accommodative,
partly pro-active
as cluster
initiative
Accommodative Proactive Accommodative,
partly pro-active
as cluster
initiative
Proactive Accommodative
8DONNER AND de VRIES
changing logistic supply and demand chains substantially. This case
serves as example for national reports on valorising by-products from
wineries, receives support from the region and provides input to vari-
ous teaching courses, overall making it a private-public partnership
focused case.
In Case 5, the key trigger in 2002 was to cluster local companies
that could benefit from joint waste management, natural resources
use and logistics. The objective was to create synergies between
agrifood-related companies on a large-scale business park. At the
beginning, the focus was on logistics. During the planning process,
efficient usage of energy and water became more and more impor-
tant. Today, cross-sector cooperation and interaction exists between
big data-centres that use the electricity produced by greenhouses and
deliver their heat for greenhouses. The park is even organising tourist
excursion for promotional and educational reasons. The case has
shown to transform barren land into a fully operational business park
with only private means, hence serves internationally as an exemplary
case within the presentations about agriparks.
In Case 6, three people met with sought complementary skills and
with a common objective to implement a circular economy with new
technological developments around an existing biogas plant, in order
to keep it profitable. The entrepreneurs were thus discussing about
closing loops, circular economy, individual and common companies'
demands and supplies, and how to create and use synergies. The joint
business was founded in 2016 with the ambition to attract investors
and partners like the public utility for electricity and for the drying of
herbs via locally produced heat. The ambition was to create modules
to be marketed such as algae and humus mainly via a technology
development hub, followed by the production of fruit, vegetables and
fish locally in a CO
2
neutral manner by the use of biological
nutrient cycles.
The aim in Case 7 was to bring people from different sectors
together and inform them about value-adding valorisation opportuni-
ties for cereal by-products. In 2015, the actual joint association was
created collecting by-products of various cereals for different applica-
tions of hulled grain such as rice, spelt, buckwheat and barley in a new
sector, in particular the building sector. This association has become a
catalyst attracting many individual actors because it has developed
quality schemes, a portfolio of technical characteristics, treatments
and construction procedures, and networks of actors; in addition, the
know-how is continuously updated thanks to cooperation with nearby
research centres. It is thus working as an intermediate between two
usually separate sectors, namely, agriculture and construction.
Case 8 is the only public initiative with the objective to cluster
different public and private actors for sustainable development and
circular economy practices in a rural area. It was initially based on a
local cluster of small organic food enterprises. With the increasing
demands for sustainability and circular economy, including the
valorisation of urban food waste and agricultural by-products, the
cluster was reoriented and expanded. It now covers also biogas pro-
duction and waste treatment, benefiting from financial support of
local public, commercial and environmental bodies. The initiative is
original in the sense that it brings various actors with different orien-
tations together under the circular economy header.
From these cases, it can be concluded that circular BMI can be
triggered by diverse case-specific reasons, either by economic, envi-
ronmental and/or social objectives or a combination of those, or
because of legal obligations. But all cases have in common that they
FIGURE 2 Summary of the main findings
DONNER AND de VRIES 9
aim to convert agricultural waste into value added products
(bio-materials, food, fertilisers, feed and bio-energy) and to efficiently
use all resources from the agricultural production (by-products, water
and energy). Very often, this is done by bringing together complemen-
tary knowledge, resources, novel (bio-)technological know-how and in
particular also actors. Innovative cross-sector and/or public-private
cooperation as well as local clustering of actors have been evolving
allowing jointly co-creating circular economy concepts.
4.2 |The business ecosystem: An overall view on
stakeholders involved and external drivers
Regarding the types of stakeholders directly involved or concerned by
initiatives turning agricultural waste into value, the case studies show
that their variety and scope is rather broad. They encompass direct
local actors such as farmers that deliver agricultural residues or buy
bio-fertilisers, associated processing companies, various types of sup-
pliers, grid operators, consumers, wholesalers, members of an associa-
tion or cooperative, public actors, local residents, employees, financial
partners or investors and research institutes. External stakeholders
are in several cases (Cases 2, 3, 4 and 5) also international public and
private interest groups willing to learn via cooperation or consulting
from the European businesses. Challenges (regarding stakeholders)
concern above all awareness and education campaigns, particularly
towards local residents often being against biogas or biorefinery
installations due to odour and noise emissions or fear of health risks
(Cases 1, 3, 4 and 6). In order to convince and/or involve suppliers,
members, wholesalers, consumers and residents, reliability, product
quality and a good and transparent communication are expected and
important. Also, local benefits and participatory actions with residents
may overcome these barriers.
Results from the business ecosystem level analysis including gen-
eral trends and drivers are described at a political, legal, economic,
social, technological and environmental level.
The political level in terms of public national bio- or circular econ-
omy strategies and policies plays a crucial role for developing and
maintaining agricultural waste valorisation activities. In particular,
biogas production is strongly depending on incentives and subsidies,
for example, in form of feed-in tariffs (Germany, e.g. Case 1)being
limited to 20 years and constantly decreasing, or co-financing for the
construction of biogas plants (France, Case 8) or moving from subsi-
dies for agricultural waste to urban waste (Italy, topic in discussion,
e.g. Case 2). Closely related to the political level are legal conditions
that define the rules and boundary conditions for agricultural waste
recovery, management and valorisation pathways. For example, the
removal of the obligation to deliver wine by-products to a distillery in
France in 2014 has an impact on the waste quantities to be collected
(e.g. Case 4), or in Italy, it is legally not allowed to mix agricultural
waste with food waste. In Germany, the Renewable Energy Sources
Act in 2012 has impacted the biogas production, as the use of maize
as feedstock for anaerobic digestion has been limited to 60%. At an
economic level, the demand and general performance of markets for
the existing or potentially entering materials, products or services,
competitiveness in terms of quantities and prices, long-term invest-
ments in technological facilities (e.g. Case 3) or an agri-logistic
network (Case 5) are determining conditions. Here, actors in all coun-
tries indicate that is it not only necessary to analyse existing market
trends but also estimate future developments (e.g. market opportuni-
ties, environmental restrictions and social perceptions). The social
level concerns, for example, the implication of the civil society and
awareness raising for bio-based products and services, something
which is only in its infancy stage. First examples are the (bio-)energy
villages (Case 1) and the co-construction of houses with biomaterials
(Case 7, France). In contrast, technological conditions for agricultural
waste conversion into biogas are in general rather well developed and
mature technologies are available on the markets, but continuous
improvement and learning by users (e.g. for biogas installations) is
needed (e.g. Cases 1, 6 and 8). The technological conditions for agri-
cultural waste conversion in a cascading manner for multiple and
diversified end-products are less well developed; at laboratory or pilot
scale, first potential technological concepts are elaborated (Cases 2, 3,
4 and 6). However, mature technologies at appropriate scales and
targeted at a wide range of functional properties of products are still
to be researched and explored (authors, 2020). At the environmental
level, agricultural waste and by-products partly suffer from a high
sensitivity towards climate change and extreme weather conditions
like elevated temperatures, periodic flooding and extended periods of
dryness (e.g. wine by-products and livestockmanure). Also, soil con-
ditions are impacting the agricultural waste conversion strategy or
valorisation pathways like for organic production (Case 8).
Figure 2 summarises the main findings: external trends and
drivers, stakeholders involved, internal drivers for innovation and
innovations at the business model level.
5|DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS
Here, the results and their conceptual and management implications
are discussed while coming back to the three questions from the
introduction.
(i) With regard to the first question What types of circular
business model innovations exist in the agricultural sector?, results
indicate that business model innovation for a circular economy in this
sector depends on various case-specific drivers (Figure 2), wherein
the business ecosystem plays a crucial role, as earlier highlighted by
Antikainen and Valkokari (2016). These drivers lead to different types
of innovations for adding value to agricultural waste at the business
level, concerning either the overall business model or single business
model elements. Table 3 has shown that there are two ways of inno-
vating the overall business model. The first are entirely new start-ups in
the form of limited liability companies or an association, with proac-
tive strategies and directly focusing on agricultural waste and
by-product valorisation (Cases 2, 5 and 7); they all have already either
a simple network structure itself or are embedded in a network. The
second are business reconfigurations and evolutions from rather
10 DONNER AND de VRIES
classical farm or food processing activities to specialised companies
and integrated business parks choosing for circular economy
approaches (Cases 1, 3, 4, 6 and 8). The latter follow mainly accommo-
dative strategies, as they change and improve the business model by
addressing environmental and/or social objectives. However, Cases
3 and 6 can also partly be considered as proactive as they create new
circular economy clusters. Concerning single business model elements,
innovations were found in the form of new or higher value-added
products, applications, materials or ingredients, all based on the
principle to turn agricultural waste into new value propositions (Perey,
Benn, Agarwal, & Edwards, 2018; Zucchella & Previtali, 2019). But
there are also combined new value propositions (product, service
and/or technology (platforms), via co-creating new partnerships and
(publicprivate) cooperation with joint investments and for a better
resource efficiency, new customers or distribution channels. Overall,
technological often precede organisational and social innovations, but
a combination is also increasingly appearing. The degrees of innova-
tion for the cases are four times radical and three times incremental
for both technological and organisational innovations, whereas there
is only one radical social innovation. This is not surprising as within
the domain of agricultural waste valorisation, technological develop-
ments at least for high-value adding conversion pathways are still
ongoing and often not yet in mature stages or asking for scaling-up.
However, also organisational innovation types are imperative to
realise opportunities for agricultural waste valorisation since the
complexities and diversities in resources, products, technologies and
markets for individual companies are too substantial (Cases 1, 2, 3, 5,
6, 7 and 8). These then require follow-up joint technological (or even
logistical and social) innovations to remain competitive in economic
terms because social and environmental values are generally not
compensating economic value today.
(ii) These observations lead us to a new conceptual framework
(Figure 4) for discussing our second question: Is agribusiness model
innovation for a circular bio-economy different from the linear econ-
omy?This framework partly fills in the gap in circular BMI literature
in the context of agriculture as mentioned by Barros et al. (2020).
A traditional linear agribusiness model can be positioned within
three circles (Figure 3). The first and tiniest circle is the circle of con-
trolin which the individual business is able to manage and steer its
business strategy and operations. The second, somewhat larger circle,
is the circle of influence in which the key customers, clients and
consumers are situated. It is entitled circle of influencedue to the
mutual exchanges and adaptations of actions. The largest circle is the
circle of appreciationof the wider ecosystem and contextual macro-
environment; here, the wider social and economic trends and global
agricultural and trade policies and laws are to be appreciated and
accepted as the framework conditions for business operations.
Our findings indicate that new circular business models,
corresponding to sustainable and circular bio-economy strategies, are
changing the representation of the three circles (Figure 4). First,
results suggest that the rather simple representation of the control cir-
cle should be adapted as many individual business models are to be
integrally considered with complementary new key resources (agricul-
tural waste, biotechnologies and complementary skills). Next, an addi-
tional second circle is now emerging in which joint activities and
synergies with partners in a cluster are taken into account, leading to
new value propositions (all cases). This means that the sharingof
business activities is now becoming the dominant circle of a circular
business system, still incorporating many tiny small circles rep-
resenting the individual business controlunits; this zone we entitle
co-creation zone. The results show that co-creation is observed in
joint, efficient handling of key resources, cascading processes for mul-
tiple resources and products (Cases 2, 3, 4 and 6), shared logistics and
infrastructure (Cases 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6), common value propositions and
agreements (all cases), new cross-sector partners and networks (Cases
2, 3, 5, 6, 7 and 8), joint (training) events, matching complementary
knowledge and know-how (Cases 2, 3, 6, 7 and 8). The third circle
called influencealso changes due to (i) a wider zone of influence of
a cluster towards other multiple customers, channels and segments or
clusters and markets as well as (ii) a joint responsibility for interac-
tively reaching solutions for a circular and sustainable bio-economy. It
is here where new value propositions connect to new opportunities,
providing a kind of continuum between co-creation and influence. We
therefore have made visible in Figure 4 that partners in a cluster,
which are directly involved in the circular business model, and stake-
holders, which are indirectly involved but still influence the business,
mutually interact. This well aligns new value propositions and new,
sustainable, opportunities.
Finally, the fourth and largest circle is in its overall meaning not
modified. The wider political, legal, environmental and social context
(the business eco-system) remains to be appreciated; however, it
should be interpreted in a more sustainable way to foster both
FIGURE 3 Simplified scheme for (agri)
business in a linear chain
Source: own design, inspired by Shell Scenarios -
an explorer's guide(2008; www.shell.com/
scenarios)
DONNER AND de VRIES 11
economic development and preserving natural resources. For exam-
ple, the limits or uncertainties about biogas subsidies are an external
driver for innovation, which seems to be appreciated (accepted) by
firms (Cases 1 and 2), innovating their business model towards new
greenproducts (e.g. targeted fertilisers), new markets and/or a new
intermediateorganisational type (e.g. consultancy and pilot-scale
offerings). However, this institutional-legal driver can also be consid-
ered as an opportunity to adapt, by heading towards a new clustered
circular business model with organisational-technological innovations
locally (Case 6, 8 and Case 3, at a larger scale). Environmental drivers
can have a similar effect, leading to new collaborations and synergies
between different local actors (Case 5). Also a sharing or co-creation
by naturebusiness model such as a cooperative (Case 4) can be
driven by changing environmental conditions, like periods of extreme
droughts negatively impacting production yields, or the need to stay
competitive and resilient in case of insufficient available local
resources. Giving just responses to environmental and social chal-
lenges is not given for granted and may need time to mature; eco-
nomic robustness is not yet always reached (Cases 7 and 8). Hence,
business model adaption and/or innovation for more circularity
because of external changes is far from trivial due to many more
uncertainties and options in products, markets, regulations and actors
as compared with changing linear chains.
Figure 4 shows the new conceptual framework for circular busi-
ness model innovations connected to bio-technological innovations in
the agrifood sector, in which the co-creation zone is emerging. The
main findings (cf. Figure 2) are here integrated.
The proposed new circular business model conceptual framework
reflects well the results of our case studies on circular business model
innovation in the agricultural sector, in particular for an efficient usage
of new resources. It helps in clarifying insights from former studies on
circular economy and sustainable business model innovation,
highlighting the increased importance of the wider ecosystem and the
more complex interactions between the macro- and micro-level
(Antikainen & Valkokari, 2016), but also the meso-level of cooperation
and partnerships (e.g. Boons & Lüdeke-Freund, 2013). On the other
hand, it becomes evident that the implementation of circular bio-
economy at the business model level is often still immature, although
various businesses show the need and/or willingness to jointly adapt
and innovate in order to switch the linear to a circular logic. The
described cases are relatively recent evolutions; hence, circular BMI
can indeed be considered as recent field of research (Ferasso
et al., 2020).
(iii) Our third question What would be needed for more radical
innovations in the agrifood domain leading to more circularity?is also
challenging and very much depending on local playing grounds, regu-
lations, incentives, actors, resources, products and local-to-global mar-
kets. Even more, it asks for dynamic capabilityto cope with major
external environment changes as outlined by Zott et al. (2011) and
Teece (2018). For local circularity in the agrifood domain, downsizing
of technologies for in-field application, capability of handling agricul-
tural resources variability and mixed scales (in volumes and in poten-
tial market values), new entrepreneurship and interventions of
intermediates, new public-private cooperation models and in some
FIGURE 4 New conceptual framework for Circular Business Model Innovation in the agrifood domain
Source: own design
12 DONNER AND de VRIES
cases connections with local or nearby communities seem important
(Cases 2, 6, 7 and 8). Consequently, as compared with linear chains
focusing on a straightforward main product or value proposition, here,
both the organisational and the technological complexity are substan-
tially enlarged. In order to avoid chaos and well steer business, leader-
ship is asked next to shared ambitions and a well-organised
management process for changing or developing a new business
model. More diverse market-focused, flexible, eco-friendly technologi-
cal innovations as compared with technologies for high throughput,
high volume, single resource orientations are looked for (Cases 1, 2,
3 and 4). This also asks for social and organisational innovationsas
well as product and technology innovationsthat are redesigned such
that applicability could be maintained and handled after first, second,
third and so forth usages; even suppliers become clients and vice
versa, hence the underlined interactivity (double arrow) between
these in Figure 4. This is fully in line with the circular economy defined
by EMF (2015) as an industrial system that is restorative or regenera-
tive by intention and design. New organisational networks and
technology innovations are needed for large-scale re-usage of energy
and water, however, need to go together with logistic innovations
(Cases 3 and 5). The social innovation dimension is less visible but
may require involvement of citizens at local level. We summarise the
main management recommendations and potential implications in the
following Table 4.
6|CONCLUSION
In this article, eight different European business cases, contributing
to the transition to a circular and sustainable bio-economy via
agricultural waste and by-product valorisation, have been
studied regarding their drivers and elements of business model
innovation.
Insights from the case studies highlight that business model inno-
vations for a circular bio-economy in the agrifood sector are
depending on various drivers and elements. They have to appreciate
the (i) macro-environmental institutional and legal conditions and mar-
ket trends, (ii) are driven by economic, environmental or social objec-
tives or a combination of those, but are especially strongly linked to
(iii) other actors often from different sectors seeking synergies and
(iv) value co-creation via combined organisational and technological
innovations (Figure 4). These links between different action levels
(Barreiro-Gen & Lozano, 2020) and between business model and
technological innovations (Ferasso et al., 2020) have not been clearly
shown before in literature on circular economy business models,
possibly due to the new area of research (Pieroni et al., 2019).
Our results also indicate that business models in the agrifood
domain are obliged to innovate themselves towards new
configurations in order to close material loops and switch to a cir-
cular economy. These new configurations should incorporate both
organisational and technological innovations in order to handle the
increased complexity of dealing with diverse resources and sustain-
able needs. Radical innovations are thus needed addressing con-
comitantly economic, environmental and social challenges, but also
to handle the complexities. Until now, radical technological and
organisational innovations in the agrifood sector are still rare; they
have often difficulties reaching marketable scales and becoming
economically viable. Fully closing cycles for agri-resources and cre-
ating value for (new) markets via cascading pathways for all main
and co-products is far from easy. Hence, business model innova-
tion should concern innovations of the business concept itself,
including both radical technological and organisational innovations
in which the relations between new technology developments,
business change and new ways of cooperation arise.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon
2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement
no. 688338. The authors especially thank the colleagues from WP5
who contributed to the data collection and the enterprises for the
interviews.
TABLE 4 Management recommendations and implications, in
particular for the agrifood sector
No. Recommendations
Potential management
implications
1 Investing in and learning
from circular BMI case
studies in different
external settings/areas,
both in agrifood and other
sectors related to the
wider bio-economy
(Tables 1, 2 and 3)
Putting in place management
processes that analyse
how business models
evolve under various
external & internal factors,
in particular also
considering seasonality,
heterogeneity of
agricultural resources,
quality decay and so forth.
2 Exploiting case studies with
other stakeholders in the
bio-economy, either
directly involved or
impacted by valorising co-
products and waste, for
getting insights while
utilising a common
framework (Figures 1 and
2)
Motivating stakeholders to
be involved in reaching
appropriate circular BMI in
the bio-economy via a
generic approach and a
common framework.
3 Exploiting the conceptual
framework (Figure 4) to
consistently explore and
optimise sustainable bio-
economy system
approaches as compared
with linear chains
(Figure 3)
A continuous monitoring of
outcomes for guiding and
optimising next actions to
most efficiently utilise
natural resources.
4 Creating a European-wide or
even global platform for
sharing best practices in
circular business model
innovations in the bio-
economy
Creating a management
learning network across
Europe for circular BMI
and how to avoid wasting
natural resources.
DONNER AND de VRIES 13
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