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What Is the Relation between Circular Economy and Sustainability? Answers from Frontrunner Companies Engaged with Circular Economy Practices

Walker, Anna M.; Opferkuch, Katelin; Roos Lindgreen, Erik; Raggi, Andrea; Simboli, Alberto; Vermeulen, Walter J.V.; Caeiro, Sandra; Salomone, Roberta


Anna M. Walker

Katelin Opferkuch

Erik Roos Lindgreen

Andrea Raggi

Alberto Simboli

Walter J.V. Vermeulen

Sandra Caeiro

Roberta Salomone


Claire Lea
Project Manager


The circular economy (CE) concept has become a major interest for companies, promising new business opportunities and a decrease in environmental impacts. Though research on circular business models has recently increased, few scholars have investigated how companies engaged with CE view the connection between CE and sustainability. To address this gap, this paper uses a semi-quantitative survey and semi-structured interviews conducted with companies based in Italy and the Netherlands. Purposive sampling was employed to target firms associated with national and international CE networks, as these companies already engage with CE practices. The survey was distributed online to over 800 firms, of which 155 provided information on their understanding of the CE concept and its relationship with sustainability. The survey results are complemented through findings from 43 interviews with a subset of the survey respondents. The survey answers show that companies view CE as one of the tools to achieve sustainable development, particularly in the environmental domain, where the focus lies on environmentally friendly resource use. Yet, the respondents are less confident whether CE increases economic and social benefits of firms. Interviews show that a majority of respondents position sustainability as the overarching concept. However, most companies advocate that the private sector should strive for both sustainability and circularity, though the distinction between the two concepts in daily business operations seems synthetic and futile to some. These findings provide an important stepping stone for better understanding how firms could apply CE practices to move towards a more sustainable society.


Walker, A. M., Opferkuch, K., Roos Lindgreen, E., Raggi, A., Simboli, A., Vermeulen, W. J., …Salomone, R. (2021). What Is the Relation between Circular Economy and Sustainability? Answers from Frontrunner Companies Engaged with Circular Economy Practices. Circular Economy and Sustainability,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 12, 2021
Online Publication Date Jun 2, 2021
Publication Date 2021
Deposit Date Jan 13, 2022
Publicly Available Date Jan 24, 2022
Journal Circular Economy and Sustainability
Print ISSN 2730-597X
Electronic ISSN 2730-5988
Publisher Springer
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords Circular economy; Sustainability; Semi-quantitative survey; Semi-structured interviews; Mixed methods; Private sector
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Published article (909 Kb)

Copyright Statement
© The Author(s) 2021.<br /> Open Access. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit

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