Circular Economy - New Narrative

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The circular economy is a highly popular topic but the transition towards it is a bumpy road. The global circularity level is even falling over time, with the amount of reused materials and resources decreasing from 9.1% in 2018 to 8.6% in 2020 (Circle Economy, 2020, 2018). It is a narrative that needs an update.


What should be changed to the narrative to reverse the downward trend? Part of the answer may come from circular start-ups, according to research conducted at Utrecht University. This research shows that startups can accelerate the transition towards a circular economy. They develop more ambitious circularity strategies, but they also face challenges. Collaborations between circular start-ups and established firms are paramount for tackling these challenges. Corporations and other actors in start-up ecosystems can help them scale up their operations.


In order to get the transition going, Utrecht University started a collaboration with Circle Economy and ING bank. By generating cutting-edge knowledge and research on how system building of innovation ecosystems by circular start-ups can occur (and what may impede this), this consortium aims to accelerate transitions to a circular economy through circular start-ups. The next step is to set the right contextual conditions to unlock a new narrative for the circular economy.


The key insights of the research are shared through podcasts, video’s, webinars and a symposium. Information to be found on this website:

podcast employees New Narrative
From left to right: Chantal Engelen (founder Kromkommer), Michael Hajdasinski (founder Saltrex), Tiemen ter Hoeven (founder Roetz Bikes), Annette van Soest (radio journalist).

Media / food for thought


The circular economy is a popular topic amongst governments, scientists, entrepreneurs and investors. There is a lot of ‘discourse’ but unfortunately it doesn’t speed up. In this three part podcast series we will discuss what needs to be done to get things really going! What and who do we need to accelerate the transition?


  • Episode 1: macro-economic hurdles and solutions for a faster growth of the circular economy
    Listen on Spotify
    Listen on Soundcloud
  • Episode 2: solving the challenges for circular startups
    Listen on Spotify
    Listen on Soundcloud
  • Episode 3: building a circular future through imagination
    Listen on Spotify
    Listen on Soundcloud


Would you like to know more about the insights of the New Narrative consortium members? In these short videos you will learn more about that. And if you, after watching the videos, want to dive deeper into their knowledge, you can take a further read from the papers below. For an overview of all New Narrative videos, take a look at the playlist on the Geosciences YouTube channel. All videos will be live from April 2021.

New Narrative: the main reason to become more circular

In many people’s minds, resource scarcity is the main reason to become more circular. However, most resources are not scarce nowadays. Only for a limited amount of minerals, scarcity seems to be a real issue. So, if it’s not about scarcity, why should we become more circular? Speaker: Mirjam Bani, ING.

New Narrative: why to face the circular challenges

Why is it so important to discuss the barriers to the circular economy? It may feel a bit pessimistic. However, facing these challenges is actually needed to bring the circular economy further. Speaker: Mirjam Bani, ING.

New Narrative: blind spots of the circular economy

Circular business models may carry certain blind spots. What are those blind spots and how can we solve them? Speaker: Natalia Papu, Circle Economy.

New Narrative: why cooperatives can boost the circular economy

Cooperatives can be one important part to speed up the circular transition. Cooperatives are nothing new, it is a proven concept and it can help the circular economy.

Why design plays an important role in circular startups

The biggest share of start-ups in the circular economy landscape are design-based. This video will explain what that means for their business model.

Circular Economy futures: scenario 1

What will a circular economy and society look like in the future? Research of The Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development imagined different plausible scenarios that can guide society for advancing a circular economy. This video is about scenario 1: ‘Circular Modernism’.

Circular Economy futures: scenario 2

This video is about scenario 2: ‘Planned Circularity’.

Circular Economy futures: scenario 3

This video is about scenario 3: ‘Bottom-Up Sufficiency’.

Circular Economy futures: scenario 4

This video is about scenario 4: ‘Peer-to-peer Circularity’.

A philosophy guide to the circular economy part 1

In what way can philosophy help get the circular economy going? This video will explain what philosophy tells us about our personal motivation to make the circular economy happen by using the case of the Plastics Challenge.

A philosophy guide to the circular economy part 2

In what way can philosophy help get the circular economy going and meet the Plastics Challenge? This video will explain why it is so difficult to continuously act sustainable and why understanding motivational obstacles can help with drafting institutional policies.

A philosophy guide to the circular economy part 3

In what way can philosophy help, when the burdens to get to a circular economy, become heavier than anticipated? This video will explain how you can solve these problems.


On 1 June we organised an online event about the role of startups and ecosystems for the circular economy, with guests like UU professor Marko Hekkert, UU senior researcher Thomas Bauwens and ING Chief Economist Marieke Blom. Want to know more? Please watch these videos:

Welcome by Simone van Trier and Thomas Bauwens

The research project Circular Economy – New Narrative is initiated by Utrecht University, which partnered up with ING bank and Circle Economy. In this interview UU senior researcher Thomas Bauwens explains why they started this project.

Presentation by Thomas Bauwens

Utrecht University has studied the business models of over one hundred and fifty circular startups in the Netherlands and abroad. Startups are key to the circular economy, the researchers found out. But why? UU senior researcher Thomas Bauwens explains why.

Interview Bert van Son

The product-as-a-service business model is promising for the circular economy. What hurdles do they encounter and how can you make such a business into a success? Watch the interview with Mud Jeans CEO and Founder Bert van So about how he made his startup a success.

Presentation by Marvin Nusseck

What happens when an organisation is owned and controlled by the people who use the products or services that specific business produces? According to Circle Economy, a coopertive can be very beneficial for the circular economy. Let’s see what Marvin Nusseck from Circle Economy found out.

Interview with Junion Hanenberg

Circle Economy’s study case for the report on cooperatives was Intelligent Food. IntelligentFood provides an alternative for food companies that have residual food resources due to surpluses and leftovers in the production process. Founder Junion Hanenberg explains why he chose this organisational form and how its members get stronger together.

Presentation by Mirjam Bani and interview with Monique Meulemans

Financing a circular startup is different and quite challenging. Why isn’t it common good, what is holding us back? ING Economist Mirjam Bani researched why. She will share her most important findings and investment manager at Pymwymic Monique Meulemans will explain what opportunities she sees in investing in circular businesses.

Panel discussion with Marko Hekkert, Marieke Blom and Ivonne Bojoh

The road towards a circular economy is a bumpy one. What can we do in order to make the road less bumpy? This and more topics will be discussed by the panel consisting of chief Economist at ING, Marieke Blom; head of the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at Utrecht University, Marko Hekkert; head of Production at Circle Economy, Ivonne Bojoh.

    Research and papers

    The consortium has done extensive research on the circular economy to develop a new narrative. Please check the selected papers below to find out more.

    About the consortium members

    The Faculty of Geosciences at Utrecht University studies the Earth: from the Earth's core to its surface, including man's spatial and material utilisation of the Earth – always with a focus on sustainability and innovation. Please click on the link for more information on the Faculty of Geosciences.

    ING Sustainable Finance Wholesale Banking. Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our time. Innovation, change and sustainability go hand-in-hand and offer strong business opportunities in order to tackle these challenges. As a financial institution, ING can play a role by financing change, sharing knowledge and using our influence. Please click on the link for more information on ING sustainable finance.

    Circle Economy is an impact organisation that connects and empowers a global community to create the conditions for systemic transformation towards a circular economy. Please click on the link for more information on Circle Economy.


    For more information and enquiries concerning research, please contact Thomas Bauwens or Julian Kirchherr. For general enquiries, please contact Marike Schols.