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The circular economy: An interdisciplinary exploration of the concept and application in a global context

Murray, Alan; Skene, Keith; Haynes, Kathryn


Alan Murray

Keith Skene

Kathryn Haynes


There have long been calls from industry for guidance in implementing strategies for sustainable development. The Circular Economy represents the most recent attempt to conceptualize the integration of economic activity and environmental wellbeing in a sustainable way. This set of ideas has been adopted by China as the basis of their economic development (included in both the 11th and the 12th ‘Five Year Plan’), escalating the concept in minds of western policymakers and NGOs. This paper traces the conceptualisations and origins of the Circular Economy, tracing its meanings, and exploring its antecedents in economics and ecology, and discusses how the Circular Economy has been operationalized in business and policy. The paper finds that while the Circular Economy places emphasis on the redesign of processes and cycling of materials, which may contribute to more sustainable business models, it also encapsulates tensions and limitations. These include an absence of the social dimension inherent in sustainable development that limits its ethical dimensions, and some unintended consequences. This leads us to propose a revised definition of the Circular Economy as “an economic model wherein planning, resourcing, procurement, production and reprocessing are designed and managed, as both process and output, to maximize ecosystem functioning and human well-being”.


Murray, A., Skene, K., & Haynes, K. (2017). The circular economy: An interdisciplinary exploration of the concept and application in a global context. Journal of Business Ethics, 140(3), 369-380.

Acceptance Date May 12, 2015
Online Publication Date May 22, 2015
Publication Date Feb 1, 2017
Deposit Date Feb 5, 2016
Publicly Available Date Feb 5, 2016
Journal Journal of business ethics
Print ISSN 0167-4544
Electronic ISSN 1573-0697
Publisher Springer Publishing Company
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 140
Issue 3
Pages 369-380
Keywords Circular economy; Closed-loop economy; Sustainability; Sustainable development
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Authors' accepted manuscript of article published in: Journal of business ethics, 2017, v.140, issue 3. The final publication is available at Springer via


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