The 'need for speed': Towards circular disruption-What it is, how to make it happen and how to know it's happening

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The environmental, social and economic limits and shortcomings of the current linear model of production and consumption highlight the necessity of a rapid transition towards a sustainable paradigm. The concept of a circular economy has recently gained traction among scholars, policy-makers and businesses as a promising alternative. Yet our understanding of how to speed up the systemic transition from a linear economy paradigm towards a circular economy paradigm is lacking. In this paper, we address this research gap by introducing the concept of ‘circular disruption’ and by describing how such a disruption may unfold. To do so, we build on S-curve thinking and the concept of panarchy. Based on the resulting synthesis, we propose three phases that constitute the core of the disruption process: (1) the release phase, (2) the reorganisation phase and (3) the eruption phase. We then operationalise these three phases for different enabling innovation system functions and illustrate our observations with examples for the textile and fashion sector. We discuss how each of the three disruption phases can be accelerated to quickly create an opening for the new circular paradigm. The proposed circular disruption framework offers novel insights on socio-technical transitions and changes and contributes to strengthening a systemic and theoretically grounded approach to circular economy research. Scholars and practitioners alike may take advantage of this work to focus circular economy efforts on speed and scale—an urgently needed focus to start tackling the sustainability challenges humankind is currently facing.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBusiness Strategy and the Environment
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)1010-1031
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 03.2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was partially funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) via the research programme DBM II (file number: 438.17.904). Open Access funding enabled and organized by Projekt DEAL.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Business Strategy and The Environment published by ERP Environment and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

    Research areas

  • circular economy, disruption, system innovation, sustainability transition, Technological Innovation Systems, urgency