Pathways towards sustainable circular business models

Utrecht University and the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO) are collaborating on circular business model implementation. This project supports firms in their transition to more circular business models, not by defining circularity, but by exploring the question of how we get there.

The global crises of pollution, climate change, and biodiversity loss are the result of unsustainable modes of production and consumption. The transition to a circular economy is widely regarded as a solution to address these externalities in our current economic system. In a circular system, the ‘end-of-life’ concept is replaced with reducing, reusing, recycling, and recovering materials in production, distribution, and consumption processes. It aims to achieve sustainable development –environmental quality, economic prosperity, and social equity, all at the same time.

Implementing circular business models

Innovation by economic actors in the ways they do business is seen as crucial for upscaling circular modes of production and consumption. Novel business models and responsible consumerism are regarded as critical in accomplishing the transition to a circular economy.

Project team of “Pathways Towards Sustainable Circular Business Models”
PhD kick-off in May 2022: VITO supervisors Saskia Manshoven and Wim Van Opstal visited Utrecht University. L-R: Saskia Manshoven, Andreea Beznea, Christina Bidmon, Wim Van Opstal, Marko Hekkert, and Julian Kirchherr

Most research, as well as wider societal discussions about circular business models (CBMs), have focused on the design of CBMs as opposed to their implementation. However, for advancing research on the pathways towards sustainable CBMs, insights into the implementation of CBMs are needed.

The project “Pathways Towards Sustainable Circular Business Models” will gather empirical evidence on the dynamic process of CBM implementation and its effects at micro (firm-centric) and meso (system-focused) levels. Such evidence can support firms in their transition to more circular value propositions, not by defining circularity, but rather by exploring the question: “how to get there?”

UU-VITO collaboration

This exciting four-year PhD project joins the research capabilities and networks of Utrecht University and the Flemish Institute for Technological Research, VITO. VITO’s mission is to accelerate the transition to a sustainable world, de-risking technological innovation for businesses, and transferring critical knowledge across the world. It works across themes such as sustainable chemicals, health, energy, as well as sustainable materials.

logo of VITO

Circular Business Model Monitor

The PhD project addresses the need for more empirical evidence on CBM implementation and its impacts, which can be used by businesses to support their transition to a circular economy. Drawing on data collected at firm level, we aim to present an overview of the landscape and state-of-play of CBMs. We hope to capture and highlight trends on CBM adoption and implementation in Europe, which can be published in a Circular Business Model Monitor. Work is underway to develop the methodological underpinnings of this report – stay tuned for updates!

The project’s findings will also add to VITO’s existing repository of dissemination material, which includes web-based tools, games, and online courses such as The Circulator, Risk&Race, ecoCEO, and a sustainable materials management course on Coursera.

Contacting the team

If you have any questions or information to share with the project team, please reach out! You can find our contact information below.