Investigating the Circular Economy and its Impact in the UK Manufacturing Sector

  • Anisuddin Gabbur

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This PhD thesis investigates the circular economy and how it impacts UK manufacturing. The research explores the Automotive, IT firms and Government agencies – how they understand, construct, and operationalise a circular economy for achieving competitive advantage. It also assesses if the RBV’s VRIN framework is suitable for a firm participating in the circular economy.

This research employs a critical realist qualitative comparative case study method. Primary data collection included semi-structured interviews with thirty-four interviewees drawn from thirty firms across the UK automotive, IT firms and government agencies. The study used secondary data collected from firms’ sustainability reports and waste management policy documents to triangulate interviewees responses.

The key finding is that an augmented waste hierarchy is the most realistic description of a circular economy. There is a convergence between the automotive and IT industries with SMEs driving change. It also revealed theory- practice contradictions, giving rise to two types of a circular economy- a Standard Circular Economy and an Advanced Circular Economy. It draws a list of
characteristics for finding each type for helping managers make informed decisions.

The theory-practice contradictions resulted in an Intention-Practise-Outcome Model. It is about synchronising a firm’s organisational resources with circular economy strategic intent and practise. In turn, it helps firms deliver economic, environmental, and societal benefits—an avenue for future circular economy research.

This PhD thesis also contributes theoretically to the RBV theory by finding that VRIN characteristics of resources are not yet proven suitable for a circular economy business. Identifying a circular economy as a dynamic capability identifies a new competitive advantage, which provides new directions in strategic management research. This research informs urban mining, natural capital policymaking, highlighting a need for connecting waste-hierarchy,
Industry 4.0, and innovation policy.

This research study contributes to the new developing circular economy scholarship and enhances business sustainability and strategic management knowledge domains.
Date of Award2020
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorBreno Nunes (Supervisor), Nicholas O'Regan (Supervisor), Helen Borland (Supervisor) & David Bailey (Supervisor)


  • circular economy
  • waste hierarchy
  • business sustainability
  • sustainability
  • resource-based view
  • VRIN framework
  • dynamic capabilities
  • competitive advantage
  • policymaking

Cite this