Business models for the circular economy: Empirical advances and future directions
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Circular economy has become a very popular topic worldwide, not only among policymakers, entrepreneurs, citizens but also academics (Fraccascia, Giannoccaro, Agarwal, & Hansen, 2019). National strategies and initiatives have been deployed in many European countries (e.g., acatech CEID and SYSTEMIQ, 2021). According to Scopus and Web of Science databases, the scholars' interest in the circular economy has grown almost exponentially in the last decade, moving from about 10 papers published in the year 2010 to over 2000 papers published in 2020.
In the last 10 years, many definitions of circular economy have been provided?readers interested to deepen such issue are referred to the review by Kirchherr et al. (2017). A mature definition of circular economy is provided by Geissdoerfer et al. (2017, 759), who defined circular economy as ?a regenerative system in which resource input and waste, emission, and energy leakage are minimised by slowing, closing, and narrowing material and energy loops. This can be achieved through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, and recycling?. Three main principles are the pillars of circular economy: (1) preserving and enhancing natural capital by controlling stocks of non-renewable resources and balancing renewable resource flows; (2) keeping products and materials in use at most in both biological and technical cycles; and (3) designing out wastes and negative environmental externalities such as pollution (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2015). These principles are inspired by previous concepts such as industrial ecology (Frosch & Gallopulos, 1989), the ?cradle-to-cradle? concept of eco-effectiveness (Braungart et al., 2007), and cleaner production (Stevenson & Evans, 2004). Given the scope from firm-level product design, via collaborations across the value chain, to the infrastructures for product take back and related consumer action, the circular economy needs system innovations.
A critical factor for supporting the circular economy transition is the development of circular business models. Circular business models are a subset of ?business models for sustainability?, that is, business models able to ?create competitive advantage through superior customer value and contribute to a sustainable development of the company and society? (Lüdeke-Freund, 2010, p. 23; see also Bocken et al., 2014; Boons & Lüdeke-Freund, 2013; Schaltegger et al., 2016; Fraccascia, Giannoccaro, & Albino, 2019). Circular business models explicitly link the business model to the product life-cycle (Hansen et al., 2009) and are a vehicle to slow and/or close (additionally also narrowing) resource cycles (Bocken et al., 2016). This requires to embrace not only upstream aspects such as product design but also downstream ?circular service operations? (Hansen & Revellio, 2020; see also Urbinati et al., 2017). Orchestrating collaboration across constituencies in the value cycle (Hansen & Schmitt, 2021) and related business model ecosystems (Konietzko et al., 2020) becomes key in this endeavor.
The research field of circular business models, while very dynamic, is still strongly characterized by conceptual advances, for instance, conceptual taxonomies or typologies (Centobelli et al., 2020; Fraccascia, Giannoccaro, Agarwal, & Hansen, 2019; Lüdeke-Freund et al., 2019)?the share of empirical studies is only increasing more recently. This special issue contributes to the academic debate collecting six empirical papers concerning the development and implementation of circular business models. Each paper tackles a specific set of opportunities?that is, how organizations can (further) develop their current business from the perspective and through adoption of