KNOWLEDGE MAP Back to overview

Circular Economy

What are related schools of thought?

Throughout history, there have been quite some schools of thought on resource efficiency, reducing waste streams and closing loops. These schools of thought, which are related to a circular economy, are shown below.

Regenerative design

The idea of regenerative design, developed by American professor John T. Lyle in the 1970s, is that processes within all systems renew or regenerate their own sources of energy and materials they consume. All needs of society are fulfilled within the limits of nature.

More information on the Regenerative Design Website

Performance Economy

Walter Stahel coined the vision of an economy in loops, including the principles of product-life extension, long-life goods, reconditioning activities and waste prevention. Selling services instead of goods is an important notion in his thinking: one pays for the performance products deliver. This resulted in the notion of ‘performance economy’.

Stahel (2010), Performance Economy, p.1-8


In the cradle-to-cradle model, developed by Michael Braungart, materials involved in industrial and commercial processes are considered to be nutrients for both technical solutions as biological reutilisations. Design is literally from cradle to cradle – in the design process, the whole lifecycle of the product and its materials are considered. Technical nutrients should not have components that harm the environment, and biological nutrients should be biodegradable.

More info on the cradle-to-cradle-website.

Industrial Ecology

Industrial Ecology is the study of material and energy flows through industrial systems. Again, waste within industrial cycles serves as an input. Production processes are shaped in such a way that they perform as close to living systems as possible.


Biomimicry is an approach by Janine Benyus, inspired by nature. Biomimicry imitates nature’s designs and processes for solutions in human society.

More info on the Biomimicry-website.

Green Economy

The Green Economy, defined by UNEP, is an economy that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.

More info on the UNEP Green Economy website

Blue Economy

The Blue Economy, initiated by Gunter Pauli, is an economic philosophy that gains knowledge from the way natural systems form, produce and consume. This knowledge is applied on challenges that we face, finding solutions for local environments with specific physical or ecological characteristics.

More info on the Blue Economy-website.

Biobased Economie

A bio-based economy is an economy that does not run on fossil fuels, but an economy that runs on biomass as a resource. In a bio-based economy, it is about using biomass for non-food applications.

More info on the Biobased Economy-website.