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Special Issue "Circular Economy for Sustainable Development"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Economic and Business Aspects of Sustainability".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 April 2022) | Viewed by 10802

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Marina De Pádua Pieroni
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Planning / Sustainable Design & Transition, Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark
Interests: circular economy; sustainability; business model innovation; product-service innovation
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals
Dr. Mariia Kravchenko
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Independent Researcher, Copenhagen, Denmark
Interests: circular economy; sustainability assessment; performance indicators; sustainability strategy; environmental management system
Prof. Daniela C. A. Pigosso
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Technical University of Denmark, Kongens Lyngby, Denmark
Interests: circular economy; sustainable design; eco-design; eco-innovation; innovation processes; product–service systems (PSS); change management and business process management; rebound effects
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals
Prof. Dr. Tim C. McAloone
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Technical University of Denmark, Kongens Lyngby, Denmark
Interests: product–service systems (PSS); eco-design; sustainable development; eco-innovation; circular economy; product development; design and innovation
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The circular economy is considered a promising approach toward sustainable development and is increasingly attracting a significant amount of attention from governments and companies. In the European Union, for example, The Circular Economy Action Plan is one of the main pillars of the European Green Deal. In companies, diverse circular economy programs have emerged to drive sustainability visions, for example, Novo Nordisk’s Circular for Zero strategy.

The enhanced commitment to circular economy within sustainability agendas is definitely a positive sign. However, if not properly planned and executed, a circular economy might not lead to more sustainable solutions.  Many variables and trade-offs need to be analyzed to achieve a suitable balance among economic, environmental and social aspects. Moreover, it is important to manage rebound effects that might appear as unintended consequences of proposed actions. On top of this, better alignment of approaches and tools is required to help industry and regions to understand how to influence and drive the development and implementation of circular economy solutions that contribute positively to sustainable development.

This Special Issue calls for a more critical discussion about how circular economy can contribute to sustainable development. The aim is to create a collection of rigorous research articles that explore, examine, and make proposals of which conditions and mechanisms can push the circular economy to play in favor of sustainable development. We invite articles integrating a system perspective (i.e., economic, environmental, and social interconnectedness) and addressing topics from the conceptualization to execution of a sustainable circular economy in industrial systems and regions. Both reviews and prescriptive and experimental research demonstrating sustainable circular economy in industry and regions are welcome.

Authors are welcome to contribute on the following topics:

  • Conceptualizing a sustainable circular economy;
  • Circular economy and sustainability frameworks, including links and comparison;
  • Circular economy contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs);
  • Metrics, indicators, and assessment approaches for sustainable circular economy;
  • Trade-offs between sustainability and circular economy;
  • Rebound effects of circular economy and mitigation strategies;
  • Social sustainability of circular economy;
  • Scenarios and pathways for sustainable circular economy across industrial sectors and regions;
  • Methods and tools for sustainable circular economy transition (e.g., business modeling, product design, circular supply chains, closing the loop);
  • Policies and incentives for sustainable circular economy.

Dr. Marina De Pádua Pieroni
Dr. Mariia Kravchenko
Prof. Daniela C. A. Pigosso
Prof. Dr. Tim C. McAloone
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • sustainable circular economy
  • sustainability frameworks
  • Sustainable Development Goals
  • metrics, indicators, and assessment approaches
  • social sustainability
  • scenarios and pathways
  • methods and tools for sustainable circular economy
  • policies and incentives for sustainable circular economy

Published Papers (10 papers)

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Research

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Article
Simulation of Sustainable Manufacturing Solutions: Tools for Enabling Circular Economy
Sustainability 2022, 14(15), 9796; https://doi.org/10.3390/su14159796 - 08 Aug 2022
Viewed by 396
Abstract
At the current worrisome rate of global consumption, the linear economy model of producing goods, using them, and then disposing of them with no thought of the environmental, social, or economic consequences, is unsustainable and points to a deeply flawed manufacturing framework. Circular [...] Read more.
At the current worrisome rate of global consumption, the linear economy model of producing goods, using them, and then disposing of them with no thought of the environmental, social, or economic consequences, is unsustainable and points to a deeply flawed manufacturing framework. Circular economy (CE) is presented as an alternative framework to address the management of emissions, scarcity of resources, and economic sustainability such that the resources are kept ‘in the loop’. In the context of manufacturing supply chains (SCs), the 6R’s of rethink, refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, and recycle have been proposed in line with the achievement of targeted net-zero emissions. In order to bring that about, the required changes in the framework for assessing the state of manufacturing SCs with regard to sustainability are indispensable. Verifiable and empirical model-based approaches such as modeling and simulation (M&S) techniques find pronounced use in realizing the ideal of CE. The simulation models find extensive use across various aspects of SCs, including analysis of the impacts, and support for optimal re-design and operation. Using the PRISMA framework to sift through published research, as gathered from SCOPUS, this review is based on 202 research papers spanning from 2015 to the present. This review provides an overview of the simulation tools being put to use in the context of sustainability in the manufacturing SCs, such that various aspects and contours of the collected research articles spanning from 2015 to the present, are highlighted. This article focuses on the three major simulation techniques in the literature, namely, Discrete Event Simulation (DES), Agent-Based Simulation (ABS), and System Dynamics (SD). With regards to their application in manufacturing SCs, each modeling technique has its pros and its cons which are evinced in case of data requirement, model magnification, model resolution, and environment interaction, among others. These limitations are remedied through use of hybrids wherein two or more than two modeling techniques are applied for the desired results. The article also indicates various open-source software solutions that are being employed in research and the industry. This article, in essence, has three objectives. First to present to the prospective researchers, the current state of research, the concerns that have been presented in the field of sustainability modeling, and how they have been resolved. Secondly, it serves as a comprehensive bibliography of peer-reviewed research published from 2015–2022 and, finally, indicating the limitations of the techniques with regards to sustainability assessment. The article also indicates the necessity of a new M&S framework and its prerequisites. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Circular Economy for Sustainable Development)
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Article
Structuring Circular Objectives and Design Strategies for the Circular Economy: A Multi-Hierarchical Theoretical Framework
Sustainability 2022, 14(15), 9298; https://doi.org/10.3390/su14159298 - 29 Jul 2022
Viewed by 319
Abstract
Most frameworks for dealing with the complexity of designing for the circular economy have limitations in terms of correlating different domains of knowledge, correlating highly complex design strategies, and facilitating the process of design strategies’ discovery and development. This paper discusses how managers [...] Read more.
Most frameworks for dealing with the complexity of designing for the circular economy have limitations in terms of correlating different domains of knowledge, correlating highly complex design strategies, and facilitating the process of design strategies’ discovery and development. This paper discusses how managers and designers can create products that can be circulated for several life cycles by considering five different circular objectives (i.e., maintenance/longevity, reuse, refurbishment, remanufacture and/or recycling). To achieve one or more of these objectives, multiple design strategies can be used at various phases of each product life cycle and throughout the product’s lifetime. A literature review is used in this article to evaluate how circular objectives and design strategies are classified in terms of relevance, product life cycle phases, and product life cycles. The three classifications are merged to create a novel conceptual framework, which is then tested through the use of four circular case studies to map out life cycles, circular objectives, and design strategies. The framework may help managers and designers better understand how their businesses and products interact along the supply chain, allowing them to establish more effective product lifetime plans. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Circular Economy for Sustainable Development)
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Article
Regional Implications of the Circular Economy and Food Greentech Companies
Sustainability 2022, 14(15), 9004; https://doi.org/10.3390/su14159004 - 22 Jul 2022
Viewed by 287
Abstract
Important advances have been made in food waste recycling and the circular economy. Many organizations are developing new technologies and innovative products that use food waste and food byproducts. This paper explores some of these greentech companies and social enterprises in Europe and [...] Read more.
Important advances have been made in food waste recycling and the circular economy. Many organizations are developing new technologies and innovative products that use food waste and food byproducts. This paper explores some of these greentech companies and social enterprises in Europe and discusses the regional implications of greentech with a specific focus on Southern Europe. Two examples from the region of Sicily (Italy) were studied. This research involved comparative and qualitative research methods, with semi-structured interviews. It includes an analysis of the regional implications for Sicily and a community impact analysis (CIA). The results show the current and potential regional implications, specifically focusing on the social, cultural, economic and environmental impacts that they have. Furthermore, the results show the pecuniary and non-pecuniary impacts on the local community for the short, medium and long term. This research represents a starting point for future research and highlights the value of investment in greentech. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Circular Economy for Sustainable Development)
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Article
Sustainable Circular Economy for the Integration of Disadvantaged People: A Preliminary Study on the Reuse of Lithium-Ion Batteries
Sustainability 2022, 14(13), 8158; https://doi.org/10.3390/su14138158 - 04 Jul 2022
Viewed by 443
Abstract
The circular economy is attracting the attention of governments and companies who recognize the importance of promoting a sustainable approach toward social and industrial development. The European Union requires EU State members to support a sustainable approach to improving the production and consumption [...] Read more.
The circular economy is attracting the attention of governments and companies who recognize the importance of promoting a sustainable approach toward social and industrial development. The European Union requires EU State members to support a sustainable approach to improving the production and consumption of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE). This paper supports the conceptualization of a sustainable circular economy model, proposing the reuse of lithium-ion batteries from WEEE. The aim is to define a circular economy-based production model for the reuse of waste lithium-ion batteries and support the inclusion of disadvantaged people in the recovery process, breaking the barriers of social discrimination. The activities introduced in this paper are part of a circular economy project for the social integration of disadvantaged people. In this paper, the preliminary results of the project are introduced, proposing a methodology for the disassembly of waste lithium-ion batteries. The disassembly line balancing proposed in this paper focuses on the need to include workers with physical, psychological, sensory, or intellectual limitations, as well as people experiencing communication difficulties. Future steps of the project will focus on the design of the assembly line to produce battery packs for pedal-assisted bicycles from the recovered lithium-ion cells. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Circular Economy for Sustainable Development)
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Article
Designing Value Chains for Industry 4.0 and a Circular Economy: A Review of the Literature
Sustainability 2022, 14(12), 7084; https://doi.org/10.3390/su14127084 - 09 Jun 2022
Viewed by 793
Abstract
The growth of emerging digital technologies has led to premature and inconsistent conclusions about the relationship between circular economy and value chain activities. A structured, systematic review approach was used to examine the titles and abstracts of 912 papers from the circular economy [...] Read more.
The growth of emerging digital technologies has led to premature and inconsistent conclusions about the relationship between circular economy and value chain activities. A structured, systematic review approach was used to examine the titles and abstracts of 912 papers from the circular economy and digital transformation, strategic management, and operations management literature. We looked at a relevant selection of 79 articles to develop a research agenda. The literature review helped identify strategic initiatives impacting the firm value chain’s redesign involving logistics capabilities, marketing, sales, and service. Outcomes of this study make significant contributions to the field. First, firms must reorganize their business models that align with their value chain activities. Second, the literature review in this study adds to a growing understanding of the field of research by showing that engaging with Industry 4.0 and the circular economy is desirable and necessary for internalizing knowledge flows across different value chain actors. Third, this study is a first step in the right direction in developing and understanding the critical role of value chains and evolving business models in a global economy with calls for more sustainable development. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Circular Economy for Sustainable Development)
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Article
Sustainable Circular Economy Strategies: An Analysis of Brazilian Corporate Sustainability Reporting
Sustainability 2022, 14(10), 5808; https://doi.org/10.3390/su14105808 - 11 May 2022
Viewed by 489
Abstract
Corporate Sustainability Reporting provides essential data for academic and empirical research on sustainability and the still-growing adoption of the circular economy by companies. Despite the wide attention that the circular economy receives from the academy, a systematization and hierarchy of the strategies that [...] Read more.
Corporate Sustainability Reporting provides essential data for academic and empirical research on sustainability and the still-growing adoption of the circular economy by companies. Despite the wide attention that the circular economy receives from the academy, a systematization and hierarchy of the strategies that embrace the sustainable circular economy are still necessary. In addition, there is a limitation of research on the analysis of Corporate Sustainability Reporting in emerging economies. In this study, fifty sustainable circular economy strategies emerged from a systematic literature review, arranged among nine categories. The differential of the identified strategies is the expansion of strategies for a sustainable circular economy vision. Then, 51 Corporate Sustainability Reporting from 17 multinational companies operating in Brazil in 2016, 2018 and 2020 were analyzed to identify companies’ adoption of these strategies. The Corporate Sustainability Reporting analysis results suggest that companies operating in Brazil are directing significant efforts toward a sustainable circular economy. Based on these two results and the theory of business process management, we proposed the Business Process for Sustainable Circular Economy framework. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Circular Economy for Sustainable Development)
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Article
Transition to a Sustainable Circular Plastics Economy in The Netherlands: Discourse and Policy Analysis
Sustainability 2022, 14(1), 190; https://doi.org/10.3390/su14010190 - 24 Dec 2021
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 2219
Abstract
The circular economy (CE) has become a key sustainability discourse in the last decade. The Netherlands seeks to become fully circular by 2050 and the EU has set ambitious circularity targets in its CE Action Plan of 2015. The plastics sector, in particular, [...] Read more.
The circular economy (CE) has become a key sustainability discourse in the last decade. The Netherlands seeks to become fully circular by 2050 and the EU has set ambitious circularity targets in its CE Action Plan of 2015. The plastics sector, in particular, has gained a lot of attention as it is a priority area of both the EU and Dutch CE policies. However, there has been little research on the different and often contested discourses, governance processes and policy mechanisms guiding the transition to a circular economy and society. This paper aims to fill these gaps by asking what circular discourses and policies are being promoted in the Netherlands and what sustainability implications and recommendations can be drawn from it. It does so through a mix of media analysis, policy analysis, semi-structured interviews, and surveys using Q-methodology. Results indicate a dominance of technocentric imaginaries, and a general lack of discussion on holistic, and transformative visions, which integrate the full social, political, and ecological implication of a circular future. To address those challenges, this research brings key policy insights and recommendations which can help both academics and practitioners better understand and implement the transition towards a sustainable circular plastics economy. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Circular Economy for Sustainable Development)
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Article
Circular Economy at the Firm Level: A New Tool for Assessing Maturity and Circularity
Sustainability 2021, 13(9), 5288; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13095288 - 09 May 2021
Cited by 10 | Viewed by 1628
Abstract
Although the circular economy (CE) concept is gaining traction and methods to assess companies’ CE-related aspects exist, there is no established CE assessment tool. In many cases, it is not clear how metrics or indicators included in extant CE assessment methods have been [...] Read more.
Although the circular economy (CE) concept is gaining traction and methods to assess companies’ CE-related aspects exist, there is no established CE assessment tool. In many cases, it is not clear how metrics or indicators included in extant CE assessment methods have been selected. To fill this gap, this paper presents a new instrument named Circularity and Maturity Firm-Level Assessment tool (CM-FLAT). The CM-FLAT has been developed starting from a transparent scientific basis, i.e., a recent systematic literature review and comprehensive collection of CE metrics. In addition, it targets the separate assessment of CE maturity, i.e., the presence of documented activities and practices laying the foundations for CE introduction, and circularity, i.e., attained CE-related performances. The development of the CM-FLAT has foreseen its formal evaluation by experts in the field of CE and sustainability, and its testing by a pilot group of companies from South Tyrol, Italy. The multiple verification activities have confirmed its usefulness and usability. Therefore, companies can now benefit from a tool capable of providing a comprehensive framework of factors and organizational areas affecting the introduction of the CE. This will be fostered by a computer-supported tool implementing the CM-FLAT, which represents the authors’ future work. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Circular Economy for Sustainable Development)
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Review

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Review
Life Cycle Assessments of Circular Economy in the Built Environment—A Scoping Review
Sustainability 2022, 14(11), 6887; https://doi.org/10.3390/su14116887 - 05 Jun 2022
Viewed by 887
Abstract
The Circular Economy (CE) is gaining traction throughout all industries and nations globally. However, despite several attempts, no one-off solutions for assessing the benefits and pitfalls of CE have been established, and neither have any measures with which to determine decisions. In line [...] Read more.
The Circular Economy (CE) is gaining traction throughout all industries and nations globally. However, despite several attempts, no one-off solutions for assessing the benefits and pitfalls of CE have been established, and neither have any measures with which to determine decisions. In line with this general observation, the Built Environment (BE) is no different. A tendency is observed in which, for the assessment of the environmental impacts of CE, a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) has been deemed suitable. This paper presents a scoping review, using the PRISMA statement extension for scoping reviews, documenting how LCA has been applied for assessment of CE in the BE. The review covers a broad scope of literature, scoping the landscape, and delimits it into publications where CE strategy has been defined explicitly and described as a CE investigation. Among the LCAs applied, the dominant system boundary choice is the attributional approach. The authors open the discussion on whether this is actually suitable for answering the questions posed in the CE paradigm. From the review, and the discussion, the conclusion suggests that there is no dominant procedure in applying LCA of CE in the BE, even despite commonly developed LCA standards for the BE. Few studies also present the consideration to reconsider the applied LCA, as CE puts new questions (and thereby a potentially greater system boundary, as CE may imply greater societal consequences) that do not necessarily fit into the linear LCA framework currently applied in the BE. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Circular Economy for Sustainable Development)
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Review
Sustainable Development as Freedom: Trends and Opportunities for the Circular Economy in the Human Development Literature
Sustainability 2021, 13(23), 13407; https://doi.org/10.3390/su132313407 - 03 Dec 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 746
Abstract
This paper identifies, through a literature review, how 53 circular economy (CE) practices are related to the capability approach (CA) proposed by Sen. The main goal was to identify how a virtuous cycle between CE and CA can be developed. Five instrumental freedoms [...] Read more.
This paper identifies, through a literature review, how 53 circular economy (CE) practices are related to the capability approach (CA) proposed by Sen. The main goal was to identify how a virtuous cycle between CE and CA can be developed. Five instrumental freedoms (IF) were analysed: economic facilities, social opportunities, protective security, political freedoms, and transparency guarantees. These relationships were analysed in three flows: CE practices positively impacting IF, CE practices negatively impacting IF, and the feedback influence of IF on CE practices. The results show that 32 of the 53 practices previously mentioned have not yet been studied from the CA context, which indicates that there are several research opportunities. From the practices considered, 72 articles were analysed in the final sample. The results suggest that several CE practices are aligned with the CA, considering that all five IF were identified as positive outcomes of CE practices. However, in some contexts, certain practices can have negative outcomes, which indicates that CE, at least in some cases, may not be considered as sustainable, as it decreases IF and, therefore, the social aspect of sustainability. The results also highlight that there is a feedback from IF to CE, in such a way that investing in the expansion of IF can facilitate the development of CE practices. Therefore, this study concludes that CE is indeed a way to fully operationalize sustainable development. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Circular Economy for Sustainable Development)
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