Circularity & 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. Together with referencing some examples, the fit of circularity with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations is briefly presented.

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 (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 (Cradle-to-Cradle).

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 (Journal of Industrial Ecology).


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 (Biomimicry).

Green Economy

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. Biobased economy is about the use of biomass for non-food applications (Biobased Economy).

The circular economy and 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).