Climbing up the circularity ladder? – A mixed-methods analysis of circular economy in business practice
2021, Stumpf , Schöggl & Baumgartner
The adoption of a circular economy is considered one possible means of transition towards a more sustainable economic system. While the number of circular economy concepts, frameworks, and single case studies is increasing rapidly, empirical evidence on its practical implementation is still scarce. Thus, this paper attempts to understand how circular economy theory is translated into organizational practice and what barriers companies face in their efforts towards more circularity. The study entailed a mixed methods approach using content analysis and correspondence analysis in a case survey with 131 CE projects as well as semi-structured interviews with five company representatives. This provides a new methodological perspective on the application of circular economy by clustering implementation principles, enablers and barriers, and by identifying sectoral differences, based on a large sample size. Results show that three circular economy implementation clusters can be distinguished: one focused on design, one on take-back management, and one on recycling, the latter being the most frequent. With respect to application of circular economy principles, sector-related differences were found between (i) manufacturing companies and slow-moving consumer goods, (ii) fast-moving goods, and (iii) classical b2b sectors. Barriers include important regulatory barriers, such as a lack of standardization, lack of governmental enforcement and cooperation, and lack of harmonization of EU legislation. The potential for policy leverage, diversification of circular economy implementation, and future research is also described.