Circular Economy

Circular Economy

Our current economic model is dominated by a linear approach to consumption and production, where materials are grown or extracted, then made into goods which are used and then disposed of. Whilst the circular economy – where resources are recovered at their highest quality and kept in circulation for as long as possible – is not a new concept, it has become increasingly popular in recent years as more businesses seek an alternative to our current ‘take, make, dispose’ economic model.

A more circular approach seeks to decouple economic growth from resource consumption. This could help overcome pressures on resources arising from the estimated growth of the global middle class. Moving to this model could create new economic and employment opportunities and provide environmental benefits through improved resource use.

The circular economy is complex and there’s a lot of technical and theoretical information about it already in existence.  What’s been missing is the practical framework to help guide organizations to simplify and identify what is relevant to them.

Developing BS 8001 - a world first

British Standard Institute  have already developed a number of standards that support waste prevention, resource efficiency, eco-design and remanufacturing, but recognize that there is no one standard focused entirely on the concept of the circular economy and resource management.

The committee’s first decision was to develop a framework standard for ‘implementing the principles of the circular economy in organizations’. The broad scope, underlying principles and direction were agreed during 2015 and a smaller drafting panel was formed in November of that year to develop the actual standard within an 18-month period.

Why all the interest in the circular economy?

Global demand for products and services is set to increase as the world’s population grows and development increases income levels. The bad news for organizations looking to meet that demand is that trend also increases the pressure on already constrained natural resources.

A circular economy aims for a global economic system that can thrive in the long-term by decoupling economic growth from resource use and environmental impacts. It has the potential to give rise to much more resilient economies with more abundant resources and a healthier environment.

By applying the principles of a circular economy to how they approach their processes, products, services and business models, organizations can more effectively manage their resources. This enables them to capitalize on cost savings; unlock new revenue streams; and make themselves more resilient to external shocks and disruption.

This is the first practical framework and guidance of its kind for organizations to implement the principles of the circular economy. Whilst this is a British Standard, it is intended to be used by organizations irrespective of where they are located and regardless of size, sector or type. It is useful to those with varying levels of knowledge and understanding of the circular economy so readers don’t need to be sustainability or circularity specialists to benefit. It provides practical ways to secure smaller ‘quick-wins’, right through to helping organizations re-think holistically how their resources are managed to create financial, environmental and social benefits.

BS 8001 is a voluntary guidance standard like ISO 26000, not a requirements standard like ISO 9001 or ISO 14001. This means that it is not intended nor suitable for certification purposes, i.e. you cannot be certified for compliance.

It has been developed by capturing the latest thinking and practice amongst experts in the circular economy and draws on the experiences and lessons learned from a range of organizations, both large and small, who are already attempting

It sets out two things:

  1. What the circular economy is and why moving towards a more circular mode of operation might be beneficial and relevant to an organization – both now and in the future.
  2. How to implement the principles of the circular economy within an organization to create value through process, product, service or business model innovation.

Whether your organization is taking its first steps or is looking to advance its circularity, this practical guidance includes handy watch-outs to avoid the pitfalls that hinder organizations on their journey to becoming more circular.

Six Principles of Circular Economy


How does circularity relate to sustainability?

Circularity contributes to a more sustainable world, but not all sustainability initiatives contribute to circularity. Circularity focuses on resource cycles, while sustainability is more broadly related to people, the planet and the economy. Circularity and sustainability stand in a long tradition of related visions, models and theories. Here are some examples. In addition, we briefly explain how circularity fits in with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations.

The idea behind restorative design, developed by American professor John T. Lyle in the 1970s, is that processes within all systems can reuse their own energy and materials. Demand from society is also met within the limits of nature.

More information on the Regenerative Design website.

Walter Stahel developed the vision of a closed-circle economy, including the principles of life extension, product repair and waste prevention. Selling services instead of products is an important part of his thinking: everyone pays for the performance of a product. This leads to the concept of the performance economy.

More information in the article of Stahel (2010)

In the cradle-to-cradle model, developed by Michael Braungart, materials in industrial and commercial processes are considered as raw materials for technological and biological reuse. Design is literally from cradle to cradle – in the design process the entire life cycle of the product and the raw materials used are considered. Technical raw materials do not contain any components that are harmful to the environment; biological raw materials are completely biodegradable.

More information on the Cradle-to-Cradle website.


Cradle to Cradle certification


Cradle to Cradle Certified® is a globally recognized measure of safer, more sustainable products made for the circular economy.

Product designers, manufacturers and brands around the world rely on the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard as a transformative pathway for designing and making products with a positive impact on people and planet. From fragrances to flooring, t-shirts and jeans to water bottles and window treatments, thousands of products are Cradle to Cradle Certified. What’s more, a growing number of brands, organizations and standards also recognize Cradle to Cradle Certified as a preferred product standard for responsible purchasing decisions.

To receive certification, products are assessed for environmental and social performance across five critical sustainability categories: material health, material reuse, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness. A product is assigned an achievement level (Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum) for each category. A product’s lowest category achievement also represents its overall certification level. The standard encourages continuous improvement over time by awarding certification on the basis of ascending levels of achievement and requiring certification renewal every two years.

Industrial ecology is the science of material and energy flows, where waste within industrial cycles serves as a raw material for a subsequent process. Production processes are designed in such a way that they resemble ecological processes.

More information on the Journal of Industrial Ecology website.

Biomimicry is an approach, developed by Janine Benyus, in which inspiration comes from nature. Biomimicry imitates designs from nature and applies these to solutions in human society.

More information on the Biomimicry-website.

The Green Economy, defined by the United Nations Environmental Platform (UNEP), is an economy that results in increased well-being and increased social equality, while at the same time greatly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcity.

More information on the UNEP Green Economy website

The Blue Economy, developed by Günter Pauli, is an economic philosophy that derives its knowledge from the way in which natural systems form, produce and consume. This knowledge is applied to the challenges we face, and is converted into solutions for local environments with specific physical and ecological properties.

More information on the Blue Economy-website.

A bio-based economy is an economy that does not run on fossil fuels, but an economy that runs on biomass as a raw material. In a biobased economy it is about the use of biomass for non-food applications.

More information on the Biobased Economy-website.

The donut economy, developed by Oxford economist Kate Raworth, is a model for measuring the earth’s prosperity, based on the Sustainable Development Goals and the planetary boundaries. Many of the planetary boundaries relate directly to ‘unlocked’ cycles, such as those of greenhouse gases, toxic substances, eutrophication, fresh water, aerosols and oxygen radicals.

More information on the Donut economy-website.

The circular economy and the Sustainable Development Goals

Circular economics is also a way of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In particular, there is a strong relationship with SDG 6 (clean water), SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG 8 (work and economic growth), SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) and SDG 15 (life on land). Aspects of the circular economy, such as recycling of household waste, e-waste and waste water, provide a ‘toolbox’ to comply with the SDGs (Schroeder, Anggraeni, and Weber, 2018).