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 Peiro, Stijn van Ewijk, Walter J.V. Vermeulen, Dominik Wiedenhofer, Bing Xue

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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 opposing assessments of its potential benefits and trade-offs, 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: 1) the articulation and discussion of distinct CE narratives that are based on widely diverging worldviews; 2) the comparison of technical, managerial, socio-economic, environmental and political CE perspectives; and 3) critical assessment of opportunities and limits of CE science-policy interactions. As the industrial ecology community is one of the most vocal in CE discussions, these results are particularly relevant for scholars in this field. 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 enhance effective science communication with practitioners and policymakers.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Industrial Ecology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 11 Aug 2022


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


Dive into the research topics of 'Lessons, narratives and research directions for a sustainable circular economy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this