KNOWLEDGE MAP Back to overview

Circular Economy

How does circularity relate to sustainability?

Circularity contributes to a more sustainable world, but not all sustainability initiatives contribute to circularity. Circularity focuses on resource cycles, while sustainability is more broadly related to people, the planet and the economy. Circularity and sustainability stand in a long tradition of related visions, models and theories. Here are some examples. In addition, we briefly explain how circularity fits in with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations.

Regenerative design

The idea behind restorative design, developed by American professor John T. Lyle in the 1970s, is that processes within all systems can reuse their own energy and materials. Demand from society is also met within the limits of nature.

More information on the Regenerative Design website.

Performance Economy

Walter Stahel developed the vision of a closed-circle economy, including the principles of life extension, product repair and waste prevention. Selling services instead of products is an important part of his thinking: everyone pays for the performance of a product. This leads to the concept of the performance economy.

More information in the article of Stahel (2010)


In the cradle-to-cradle model, developed by Michael Braungart, materials in industrial and commercial processes are considered as raw materials for technological and biological reuse. Design is literally from cradle to cradle – in the design process the entire life cycle of the product and the raw materials used are considered. Technical raw materials do not contain any components that are harmful to the environment; biological raw materials are completely biodegradable.

More information on the Cradle-to-Cradle website.

Industrial Ecology

Industrial ecology is the science of material and energy flows, where waste within industrial cycles serves as a raw material for a subsequent process. Production processes are designed in such a way that they resemble ecological processes.

More information on the Journal of Industrial Ecology website.


Biomimicry is an approach, developed by Janine Benyus, in which inspiration comes from nature. Biomimicry imitates designs from nature and applies these to solutions in human society.

More information on the Biomimicry-website.

Green Economy

The Green Economy, defined by the United Nations Environmental Platform (UNEP), is an economy that results in increased well-being and increased social equality, while at the same time greatly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcity.

More information on the UNEP Green Economy website

Blue Economy

The Blue Economy, developed by Günter Pauli, is an economic philosophy that derives its knowledge from the way in which natural systems form, produce and consume. This knowledge is applied to the challenges we face, and is converted into solutions for local environments with specific physical and ecological properties.

More information on the Blue Economy-website.

Bio-based Economie

A bio-based economy is an economy that does not run on fossil fuels, but an economy that runs on biomass as a raw material. In a biobased economy it is about the use of biomass for non-food applications.

More information on the Biobased Economy-website.

The donut economy

The donut economy, developed by Oxford economist Kate Raworth, is a model for measuring the earth’s prosperity, based on the Sustainable Development Goals and the planetary boundaries. Many of the planetary boundaries relate directly to ‘unlocked’ cycles, such as those of greenhouse gases, toxic substances, eutrophication, fresh water, aerosols and oxygen radicals.

More information on the Donut economy-website.

The circular economy and the Sustainable Development Goals

Circular economics is also a way of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In particular, there is a strong relationship with SDG 6 (clean water), SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG 8 (work and economic growth), SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) and SDG 15 (life on land). Aspects of the circular economy, such as recycling of household waste, e-waste and waste water, provide a ‘toolbox’ to comply with the SDGs (Schroeder, Anggraeni, and Weber, 2018).