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Circular Economy

… in technology and innovation?

The circular economy necessitates the development of radical new products, technologies and materials. At the same time this development may go too slow and too fast.

Too slow: the innovation challenge

For the transition to the circular economy it is critical that new breakthroughs in materials science labs and product design studios rapidly find their way into the mass market. To optimize global supply chains, smart infrastructure and tracking technology will need to spread across the emerging economies and other developing countries.

Information-sharing along the supply chain and with other companies can raise questions about information security and competitiveness. In a world with sustained, high resource prices, the management of resource flows is likely to increase the importance of protecting intellectual property related to resource efficiency. In addition, practical arrangements will be needed for the shared intellectual property arising from multi-partner activities.

Preston, 2012, p15.

Too fast: innovation in extended product life cycles

One of the reasons customers desire new products is that they incorporate improved technologies and designs. Even if a product, such as a washing machine, is designed to be updated with new sensors and software in the foreseeable future, major technological advances are rarely foreseeable.

We cannot ignore or control the technological clock speed that makes older products less attractive. Locking in product lifecycles would restrict the introduction of substantially improved, disruptive technologies and decrease the competitive market forces that drive their development.

Quite a few products we use now may be replaced by distinctly different solutions long before their specially designed, extended-life versions are meant to be recycled. (Will smart phones or tablets still be necessary five years from now?)

Agrawal, Atasu, and Van Wassenhove. 2016

Learning from nature (ecomimicry)

Nature has known a closed, well-functioning system for millions of years. What can we learn from natural cycles, co-dependency, and processes such as growth and decay?

Het Groene Brein, 2015


The barriers in design technology are:

  1. The limited attention for end-of-life-phase in current product designs;
  2. Limited availability and quality of recycling material;
  3. New challenges to separate the bio- from the techno cycle;
  4. Linear technologies are deeply rooted.

Kok, Wurpel, & Ten Wolde. 2013, p44-45.

Knowledge management

Obstacles for a transition to a circular economy lie in fragmented knowledge management: the lack of an information exchange system, the lack of coherent training and skill development and the lack of knowledge within businesses, and the poor dissemination of that knowledge between stakeholders. Also, there is limited information and know-how to stimulate an increase in co-operation in the supply chain.

Kok, Wurpel, & Ten Wolde. 2013, p63-65; European Commission, 2014, p11-14;Kok, Wurpel, & Ten Wolde. 2013, p42-43.