Transition to the Circular Economy: Implications to Program Management

Transition to the Circular Economy: Implications to Program Management

Ron Schipper (Municipality of Waddinxveen, The Netherlands) and Gilbert Silvius (LOI University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands)
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/IJCEWM.2021010103
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Programmes are seen as vehicles for (internal) strategy implementation. However, organisations are existing within society, and their activities effect this society. Society itself also faces ‘strategic' challenges. One of these is the transition to a circular economy which requires organisations to organize themselves along circular business models (CBM). It can be expected that organisations would apply program management to pursue these CBM. A systemic transformation approach distinguishes multiple societal levels that need to evolve jointly over time. The research question is how this would influence the program management discipline. Therefore, a conceptual mapping of the circular economy and program management was performed. The findings reveal that taking a societal view on programs would urge PgM to address this challenge at multiple levels, within multi-dimensions and a system thinking perspective. It requires to position programs between the stakeholders at the meso-level and adopt to an explicit sense-making and learning cycle benefiting from short iterative interventions.
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Our current mainstream economic system (the linear economy) is bouncing its limits and reaching planetary boundaries (Broman and Robert, 2017) resulting in various effects such as resource depletion of scare materials (Korhonen et al.,2018a), destroying the biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions beyond the capacity of earth (Rockström et al., 2009). The climate goal of the Paris Agreement in 2015 is to limit the global average temperature increase while ensuring economic development. Limiting warming to any level implies that the total amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that can ever be emitted into the atmosphere is finite. A societal transition to a circular economy addresses both the issue of resource depletion as well as limiting the amount of greenhouse gasses (Bahrens, 2016).

Organizations play an important role in societal transitions with some of them adopting a societal orientation and adopting societal goals into their business strategies (Robert et al., 2005). For example, in contributing to a circular economy it would require organisations in the value chain to organize themselves along Circular Business Models (CBM) (Bocken et al., 2014). This would require significant changes regarding their value proposition, value delivery, value creation and value capture (Lüdeke-Freund et al., 2018). While the majority of organisations are organised according to a linear economic model, we can characterize implementing a CBM as a strategic objective for organisations. In literature we can identify several implementation strategies, ranging from within the current structure operandi and approaches from a systemic change perspective. The systemic transformation change perspective distinguishes multi levels within a system view (the micro, meso and macro level) and Loorbach and Wijsman (2013) argue that business should take this systemic transformation perspective into consideration when viewing their context.

Programmes are advocated as vehicles for organisational strategy implementation and ‘corporate renewal’ (Pellegrinelli 2002, Lycett et al. 2004). It can be expected that organisations would or should apply program management to pursue a CBM as can be concluded from practitioner cases such as Anderson (2010). A program groups multiple projects together delivering needed strategic objectives (Turner and Müller, 2003) in interaction with continuously emerging agendas of different stakeholders (Nasholm and Blomquist, 2015). Programs are assumed to deliver (strategic) benefits beyond the possibilities of individually managed projects (PMI, 2000). Most publications associate program management (PgM) with internal strategic challenges and ambitions (Thiry, 2002; Martinsuo and Lehtonen, 2007) of an organisation. It is unclear how a multi-level perspective of pursuing a CBM in the context of the circular economy at the societal level would influence the mainly internal orientation the program management discipline. Therefore our main research question is how the core of PgM is influenced by a systemic CE perspective on change.

The paper is structured as follows. In section 2 we describe the background on the circular economy and circular business models and the generic concepts program management. In section 3 we describe our research method. Our findings are presented in section 4. We finish this paper in section 5 with a discussion and conclusion.

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