Circular economy ecosystems: A typology, definitions, and implications

Leena Aarikka-Stenroos, Paavo Ritala, Llewellyn D. W. Thomas

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In management literature, “ecosystems” are increasingly invoked for improvement of environmental sustainability and the circular economy (CE), but there is conceptual as well as empirical ambiguity regarding their role, composition, and nature. This chapter reviews existing ecosystem conceptualizations, distinguishes the main applications and implications of these constructs for the CE, and identifies empirical examples. We argue there are three categories of CE ecosystems each with a distinct analytical focus-the flow of material and energy, the flow of knowledge, and the flow of economic value. We position these three categories to existing ecosystem literature, propose a set of definitions for diverse CE ecosystem types, discuss the composition, agency, and outcomes of each CE ecosystem type, and provide a heuristic to assist scholars and practitioners. We also suggest implications of this typology for future research and practitioners’ efforts to improve environmental sustainability in our society. We believe that improved structured knowledge of CE ecosystems can guide practitioners, companies, and public actors (such as cities and municipalities) on organizing and reorganizing their activities, when pursuing environmental sustainability through collaboration in ecosystem settings.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearch Handbook of Sustainability Agency
EditorsSatu Teerikangas, Tiina Onkila, Katariina Koistinen, Marileena Mäkelä
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781789906035
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Publication typeA3 Book chapter

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