Exploring the circular economy

Cross-cut of a tree trunk with age rings exposed - with "Time to go full circle"

Can we transition from business models addicted to linear growth, or can we find a more sustainable, more circular model?

In 2019 we saw the launch of a new research report that explores the challenges and opportunities in transitioning to a circular economy and presents a framework for the collaboration needed to drive system change. 

Living bridge - what looks like a natural bridge as all the vines and greenery is growing over it
Living bridge

What is the circular economy?

Unlike our current linear economy where a product is created, used and disposed of, the circular economy is one where products are designed to be restorative and regenerative.  

Transitioning to a circular economy will require industry, government and civil society to collaborate in new ways, crossing conventional sectors and silos. 

Taking inspiration from ‘living bridges’, where branches and roots of living trees are purposefully and intentionally woven together to shape bridges, this report looks at how partners bring different elements together.  When these partners agree on a direction of travel - and are willing to become interconnected in pursuit of achieving a goal together - the bridges they create are strong, resilient and have the potential to create system-level change.

Developing solutions requires different types of collaborations to foster new connections.

Aoife Brophy Haney,

Departmental Research Lecturer in Innovation and Enterprise at Oxford Saïd

Corss cut of an old tree exposing the age rings

The report by Dr Aoife Haney, Charmian Love and Olya Krestyaninova, which was partly funded by the Centre, was formally launched at the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact Summit in New York earlier this year. 

The research seeks to understand the barriers that industries are experiencing in these collaborations, and has created a meaningful framework, the '5Is', to guide them. The research team worked closely with the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) to get in-depth insights into the issues and create the framework. PACE’s mission is to bring together the public and private sector collaborations for the circular economy with projects on plastics, food and electronics.

The 5I framework

  • Interest: Why are you interested in the circular economy? How does it fit within your company/organisation? How will it impact your industry?
  • Intent: What transitions do you intend to achieve? Is it at a company or industry level? Is it about contributing to material flow?
  • Inputs: What are your contributions? Is this a core/affiliate project you want to lead?
  • Impact: What is the intended ‘positive’ impact (on the system)? What is the impact after a year? How is ‘negative’ impact mitigated?
  • Improve: What do you need to improve on now? What do you need to improve on in a year?