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.
Bibliographical noteCopyright © 2022 The Authors. Journal of Industrial Ecology published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of International Society for Industrial Ecology.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/], which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.
Acknowledgements & Funding: The authors would like to thank all experts participating in the initial survey. They authors also express their gratitude for the financial support of this research by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, research group ‘Circulus – Opportunities and challenges of transition to a sustainable circular bio-economy’ [031B0018], the European Research Council Horizon 2020 programme (MAT_STOCKS, grant agreement No 741950), and the Horizon Europe programme (CircEUlar, grant agreement No 101056810).
- science policy
- policy relevance
- research agenda
- industrial ecology