Circular Economy and Sustainability: Concepts, Perspectives, and (Dis)Agreements

Circular Economy and Sustainability: Concepts, Perspectives, and (Dis)Agreements

Berta José Costa (CITUR, School of Tourism and Maritime Technology, Polytechnic Institute of Leiria, Portugal), Susana Rodrigues (School of Technology and Management, Polytechnic Institute of Leiria, Portugal) and Pilar Moreno (University of Seville, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9885-5.ch003


In the last decades, the concern over natural resources, sustainability, and the current linear economic model based on continuous growth is one of the great challenges of our time. The assumption that there is an unlimited supply of natural resources and that the environment has an unlimited capacity to absorb waste and pollution is no longer a current trend, and growing attention has been paid to it worldwide. This chapter represents a contribution to the continuous conceptual development of circular economy and sustainability, and it also reviews how these two concepts have evolved over the past decades. An extensive literature review was conducted, employing bibliometric analysis to scrutinise the state of the art, the perspectives, the agreements and disagreements among these concepts and their correlation.
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In this context of transition to a more sustainable future where renewable energy, biomaterials, toxic chemicals and emissions of waste (Lacy and Rutqvist, 2015) are gaining momentum, the concept of circular economy as a new approach to sustainability, is emerging and materialising as a restorative and alternative strategy in industrial economy to face environmental and economic challenges (Lacy and Rutqvist, 2015; Hobson, 2015), as well as to enhance sustainable development and a balanced society (Feng and Yang, 2007; Geng and Doberstein, 2008; Ness, 2008; Mathews and Tan, 2011; Lett, 2014).

Circular Economy strives to harmonize economy, environment, technology and social approaches (Ren et al., 2013), so as to promote a more harmonized use of natural resources as well as the implementation of a greener economy. This unique business model steps up innovative employment opportunities (EMF, 2012; Stahel, 2014, 2019) and seeks future generations’ wellbeing regarding resource access and purpose. It also represents a more effective alternative to the prevailing economic system, referred to as the “take, make, dispose” (Ness, 2008) model, which is endangering the equilibrium of the economies and the integrity of resource ecosystems that are fundamental to humanity’s existence.

This sustainable development question has echoed globally and new approaches to limit the depletion of resources, the processing of certain raw materials, and the use of less polluting and contaminating products (McDonough & Braungart, 2002) had been put on the global agenda decades ago, by the WCED 38/161 resolution, in December 1983.

Sustainability is a global challenge and the transition to a more sustainable economic system (Meadow et al., 2004; WSCSD, 2010; Seiffert, 2005; Markard, 2012) has been receiving growing attention both in the political sphere (Rio Summit, 1992; OECD, 2011; UNEP, 2011) as well as in the social-science academia level (Smith et al., 2005; Frantzeskaki and Loorbach, 2010; Grin et al., 2010).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Circular Economy: It is a holistic approach to reduce, reuse and recycle the production and consumption procedures so as to minimize energy consumption and consequently waste production.

Sustainability: It is a practice that combines economic growth and human activity in harmony with environmental preservation.

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