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The Circular Economy: Towards a new business paradigm with support from public policy

Circular economy practices could lead to the end of waste, following policy and other shifts to regulate and introduce steps to adopt and move forward to adopting this kind of economy. Societal aspects must be considered as part of this shift.

Published on 18 May 2022
Download  Read the background paper / PDF / 2 MB

Lindahl, M. and Dalhammar, C. (2022). The Circular Economy: Towards a new business paradigm with support from public policy. Stockholm+50 background paper series. Stockholm Environment Institute, Stockholm.

Today, we live in a linear economy and the current situation is a product of past ideas on effective markets, legal concepts and legal culture, business models and ideas on ownership and consumer culture. For us to move to a more circular economy, we need to start questioning how we look at products, markets, ownership and resources.

As a foundation for this process, this report highlights what the circular economy is about and some key issues we need to address to move towards a circular economy. It also highlights the need to connect the business and policy developments related to the circular economy to other sustainability fields, such as climate change and chemicals, and to place it within the broader context of sustainable consumption. A circular economy is not only about taking care of our resources; we must also ensure that all humans have access to the resources they need to live a decent life. Thus, the social dimensions of the circular economy should not be neglected: it must be an economy that benefits all humans.

Key messages from the report:

  • Our language is a means for change. We must pay attention to terms we use and how they affect our thinking and actions.
  • Circular economy is a vision of an economic system based in a systemic approach to maintain a circular flow of resources, by regenerating, retaining or adding to their value, while contributing to sustainable development.
  • The circular economy principles are systems thinking, value creation, value sharing, resource availability focus, resource traceability and ecosystem resilience.
  • Nothing is 100% circular, even in a circular economy.
  • A new mindset is needed for design of circular economy solutions, and there is a need for an extended life cycle perspective.
  • We must change current perceptions on consumption and ownership; develop a standardized nomenclature and common concepts in legal frameworks, and; support circular business models through laws and public procurement.

This paper is part of a series that supports the Stockholm+50: Unlocking a better future report.

Corrections, 16 October 2023: The heading on p. 16 has been changed to “Introducing a repair norm in Sweden?” and missing text from the last sentence on p. 19 has been added: “Further, by setting progressive sustainability criteria in public procurement (discussed below), some linear products will not pass the test.”


Read the background paper / PDF / 2 MB

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