Lessons, narratives, and research directions for a sustainable circular economy

Sina Leipold*, Anna Petit-Boix, Anran Luo, Hanna Helander, Machteld Simoens, Weslynne S. Ashton, Callie W. Babbitt, Alba Bala, Catharina R. Bening, Morten Birkved, Fenna Blomsma, Casper Boks, Alessio Boldrin, Pauline Deutz, Teresa Domenech, Navarro Ferronato, Alejandro Gallego-Schmid, Damien Giurco, Kersty Hobson, Roope HusgafvelCynthia Isenhour, Mait Kriipsalu, Donato Masi, Joan Manuel F. Mendoza, Leonidas Milios, Monia Niero, Deepak Pant, Keshav Parajuly, Stefan Pauliuk, Marina P.P. Pieroni, Jessika Luth Richter, Michael Saidani, Marzena Smol, Laura Talens Peiró, Stijn van Ewijk, Walter J.V. Vermeulen, Dominik Wiedenhofer, Bing Xue

*Corresponding author for this work

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The current enthusiasm for the circular economy (CE) offers a unique opportunity to advance the impact of research on sustainability transitions. Diverse interpretations of CE by scholars, however, produce partly opposing assessments of its potential benefits, which can hinder progress. Here, we synthesize policy-relevant lessons and research directions for a sustainable CE and identify three narratives—optimist, reformist, and skeptical—that underpin the ambiguity in CE assessments. Based on 54 key CE scholars’ insights, we identify three research needs: the articulation and discussion of ontologically distinct CE narratives; bridging of technical, managerial, socio-economic, environmental, and political CE perspectives; and critical assessment of opportunities and limits of CE science–policy interactions. Our findings offer practical guidance for scholars to engage reflexively with the rapid expansion of CE knowledge, identify and pursue high-impact research directions, and communicate more effectively with practitioners and policymakers.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Industrial Ecology
Publication statusAccepted in press - 2022


  • industrial ecology
  • narratives
  • policy relevance
  • research agenda
  • science policy
  • sustainability


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