The European Union has recently introduced the ’circular economy’ as a high-level strategy to move our societies beyond the limits to growth. In the eyes of European policy makers, we will reach a circular economy through business innovation or the promotion of existing sustainable business models based on circular economy principles. Yet, we know next to nothing about how European businesses perceive or take up this strategy and whether it contributes to business innovation or the promotion of sustainable business models. To fill this gap, this paper analyses the business community's view on the circular economy. It focuses on the bio-based sector as one of the most resource-intensive in Europe and scrutinizes EU level debates as well as business practices in Germany. Based on a document analysis and participant observation data, the results show that business stakeholders currently relate the circular economy predominantly to established practices and to technological business models. This leaves considerable room for innovation in areas like social or organizational business models. Yet, the directions and effects of current activities remain uncertain. Connecting the debates about the circular economy and the bioeconomy could benefit the discussion of these possible directions and their effects. As our results show, exploring the relation between the circular economy and the bioeconomy highlights the need to define which cycles contribute most to a sustainable future economy. Existing guidelines and standards developed for businesses have been criticized for lacking exactly this definition. Hence, strengthening the link between circular economy and bioeconomy debates may provide a crucial step towards defining the sustainability of the circular economy, thereby setting clear priorities for sustainable business practices.
- Business models