13 January 2020

What is needed to launch a circular disruption?

With circular economy stagnating, it is time for a circular disruption. To explore this topic, a workshop was organized with leading circular economy researchers worldwide last late December by Utrecht University researchers Julian Kirchherr and Thomas Bauwens, gathering leading circular economy scholars.

While research on the circular economy has blitzscaled, with the number of peer-reviewed articles on circular economy having increased by 66% from 2013 to 2018, the global circularity level has been stagnating, with only 9% of the materials and resources that enter the economy being reused annually.  "To change the status quo, a circular disruption may be needed", circular economy expert Julian Kirchherr said.

The workshop was a success and helped us strengthen even more the existing circular economy research within the Copernicus Institute.

Radically shifting the industry

Disruption commonly refers to the upheaval of a market in which positions are established with an unprecedented strategy. Take Facebook, Spotify or Instagram, for instance. All these disruptive start-ups have in common that they reached 1 million users in less than a year, radically shifting their industry. Similarly, in the context of a circular economy, circular disruption refers to the instant and enduring switch from linear products, organizations and systems to their circular counterparts.

What is needed to launch a circular disruption?

Copernicus researchers Julian Kirchherr and Thomas Bauwens organized a workshop on 14 December 2019 to explore this emerging and promising topic, gathering fifteen distinguished circular economy scholars coming from eight European countries. One core question was at the agenda: what is needed to launch a circular disruption? This core question was broken down into three sub-themes: 1) who are the leading actors in a circular disruption? Are they start-ups, policy-makers, social movements? 2) what are the main barriers impeding a circular disruption? And 3) which policies are needed to jumpstart a circular disruption?

A first step toward a fruitful collaboration

Based on the rich insights from all participants, the event led to thought-provoking discussions on topics such as how digitalization can facilitate circular disruption, what are the disruptive potential of different circular innovations and how multiple barriers to circular disruption can be tackled simultaneously. The event was closed by Professor Marko Hekkert, director of the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, who summarized the main outcomes of the day. “The workshop was a success and helped us strengthen even more the existing circular economy research within the Copernicus Institute”, he said. This workshop is a first step toward a fruitful scholarly collaboration to develop the promising topic of circular disruption. Kirchherr and Bauwens are organizing a special issue on this topic. Please do not hesitate to contact them if you want to be part of this.

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