The transition from a linear to a circular economy (CE) is at the center of the debate among institutions, enterprises, practitioners, and scholars. Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), with their high presence in the business environment, play a pivotal role in the successful implementation of CE principles. Therefore, this paper aims to understand the state of the CE among Italian SMEs, considering both their different sizes and sectors. This study investigates CE knowledge and application, strategic relevance, benefits from and barriers to the transition towards circular business models, and the use of CE-related performance indicators in management control and external reporting. Through an online survey carried out in cooperation with the Italian Confederation of Craft Trades and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (CNA), we collected primary data from 623 respondents. Findings revealed the existence of cultural, technological, market and financial barriers, which have hampered the adoption of circular practices among Italian SMEs. Poor understanding of CE potential, combined with difficulty in raising public and private funds to finance the transition from linear to circular, are the greatest problems. To overcome such issues, we recommend serious intervention by public institutions, trade and consumer associations, and the higher education system to develop a climate more favorable to the CE.
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