Climate Action

Living Edition
| Editors: Walter Leal Filho, Anabela Marisa Azul, Luciana Brandli, Pinar Gökcin Özuyar, Tony Wall

Aligning Circular Economy and Climate Policy in Europe

  • Xira Ruiz-CampilloEmail author
Living reference work entry


In the last years, the concept of circular economy has gained interest among researchers and policy makers. At a time when the scarcity of natural resources is becoming increasingly evident, the concept of “circular economy” has emerged in contrast to “linear economy.” The need to move into a more sustainable economic system has prompted policy makers and academics to find alternatives to the current “take-make-dispose” or linear economy, defined as an economy that turns natural resources into waste, via production; and that type of production leads to the deterioration of the environment through the removal of resources from the environment and creating pollution from waste (Murray et al. 2017).

Although the definition of circular economy has been widely contested and there are dozens of definitions (Kirchherr et al. 2018; Korhonen et al. 2018; Skene 2018), it can be described as an:

Economic system that is based on business models which replace the ‘end-of-life’ concept with reducing, alternatively reusing, recycling and recovering materials in production/distribution and consumption processes, thus operating at the micro level (products, companies, consumers), meso level (eco-industrial parks) and macro level (city, region, nation and beyond), with the aim to accomplish sustainable development, which implies creating environmental quality, economic prosperity and social equity, to the benefit of current and future generations. (Kirchherr et al. 2017)

The philosophy of circular economy is to contribute to a more sustainable economy and, as a consequence, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, emitted in all stages of the product life cycle: extraction, production, consumption, and waste management (Behrens 2016). For this reason, this type of economy is as an optimal tool to fight climate change and to pave the way to a more sustainable development model. As Jawahir and Bradley (2016) point out, circular economy is not an option but an inevitable economic model for continued economic prosperity and ecological balance and to maintain equilibrium between human life and economic growth.


In 2015, the United Nations Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which contains 17 goals countries must make efforts to achieve by 2030. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) try to focus international action in the most acute problems for the planet, going from poverty and hunger to sustainable cities or peace and justice in global partnership. Each goal has specific targets that seek to build on the Millennium Development Goals—eight goals adopted in 2000 to be attained by 2015—and complete what they did not achieve (United Nations 2015). The 17 SDGs and its 169 targets pave the way to a more prosperous and sustainable planet in which developed and developing countries strive together for a better world.

Contrary to what occurred with the Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs are much more sensitive and focused on environmental issues: clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), responsible consumption and production (SDG 12), climate action (SDG 13), life below water (SDG 14), and life on land (SDG 15). Another goal of interest for this chapter is SDG 8: decent work and economic growth. This gives a clear idea of the context we are in the second decade of the twenty-first century: the international community wants its economy to continue growing but respecting the planet boundaries; because unless climate change is taken seriously, the goals could be overtaken by climate chaos (Madeley 2015).

With respect to Goal 13, “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts,” it is envisaged to translate international agreements into national policies and into developing countries. This goal in no way substitutes all the major treaties and protocols states have adhered to, like the United Nations Framework to Combat Climate Change (UNFCCC 1992), the Kyoto Protocol (1997), or the Paris Agreement (2015); it is instead an additional instrument the international community adopts to step up global action in the fight against climate change. Goal 13 has three targets and two sub-targets attached, among them, the integration of climate change measures into national policies, strategies, and planning or the improvement of institutional capacity on climate change mitigation and adaptation (United Nations 2015).

On its side, the European Union is considered a leader in climate action (Zito 2005; Falkner 2007; Afionis and Stringer 2012); it has adopted a vast number of legislation on the protection of the environment, fostered investments in renewable energy, and promoted a new economic model that promotes economic growth while there is a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). The EU is doing a remarkable effort in decoupling GHG emissions from the economy, in a way that it would reduce its emissions at the same time that the economy keeps growing. This chapter will analyze what is the circular economy and how it could help the EU in meeting its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and, as a consequence, in achieving SDG 13 but also SDG 8 or 12.

The Fight Against Climate Change in the European Union

The European Union has lead climate negotiations since 1992, and it was ahead of the international efforts that led to the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015. Internally, the EU has progressively adopted a number of binding goals and has proposed a number of initiatives to fight climate change. Back in 2007 the EU Member States adopted binding targets for the reduction of emissions and for the development of renewable energy (European Council 2007). A year later, the EU Commission published the document 20 20 by 2020, where it stressed the need to make the European economy a model for sustainable development in the twenty-first century and the importance of transforming Europe into a low-carbon and high-energy-efficiency economy (European Commission 2010). To do this, the EU adopted the so-called 2020 and 2030 targets, and it proposed the transformation of the energy market and the economic model with the aim of placing European states in the path toward a low-carbon Europe.

The 2020 and 2030 Targets and the Road to 2050

In 2007, the European Union started an ambitious plan to reduce the impact of greenhouse gases on the environment and to increase the production of renewable energy as a way of showing international leadership in the fight against climate change and of keeping up with its international commitments within the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, under which the European Union had a binding target of reducing by 8% the emissions of the industry sector. Part of the European Union’s leadership relies on acting by example (Zito 2005; Afionis and Stringer 2012), and since the EU wants to be a leader in the environmental arena, going ahead of international action with the adoption of binding targets and the achievement of those becomes pivotal for that leadership. An example of this is that in the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2008–2012), the EU managed to reduce 11.7% its emissions (compared to levels of 1990), going beyond the 8% initially compromised.

The agreement reached by EU Member States in March 2007 set binding legislation that committed European countries (1) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% in the so-called diffuse sectors (those emissions not covered by Kyoto, such as residential, commercial, transport, agriculture, livestock, etc.), (2) to increase the consumption of renewable energy by 20%, and (3) to increase the energy efficiency in another 20%, all of them to be reached by year 2020. In order to meet these targets, the Commission proposed in 2008, in the document 20 20 by 2020, a set of regulations known as the “EU Climate and Energy Package” (European Commission 2018) to show its commitment to fighting climate change ahead of the Copenhagen climate conference that would be held in 2009. The proposals were enacted in legislation in 2009 and included two of the EU directives that would help the EU to reach these goals: the Effort Sharing Decision 406/2009/EC (ESD) that entered into force in 2009 and established a binding GHG emission target for the period 2013–2020 in the diffuse sector and Directive 2009/28/EC that set binding goals to increase renewable energies in Member States, ranging from the highest 49% increase for Sweden to the lowest 11% for Luxemburg.

These objectives, some of which have already been achieved, have been complemented by a new push from the European Commission: the strategic framework on climate and energy 2030, adopted in 2014 (European Commission 2014a), that updates the 2020 targets and clearly situates the EU in the road to a low-carbon development model. Within the 2030 framework, the EU adopted the objective of reducing GHG emissions by 40% in 2030 compared to 1990 levels, to increase by 27% the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency by 2030. The EU has showed that the reduction of emissions and the increase of renewable energy are paths of no return, and, as a result, along 2018 the European Council went further and adopted new binding targets: a 32% in renewable energy and an energy efficiency target of at least 32.5% by year 2030. These targets not only show eagerness for leadership in climate negotiations but also a genuine determination to protect the environment.

All the above targets have the final aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in European territory and to turn the EU into a low-carbon area by 2050. Altogether, these targets will make the European energy system more sustainable, will boost growth and jobs, and will reduce pollution while improving our environment. Already in 2007, European Member States agreed that developed countries should reduce their emissions by 60–80% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels (European Council 2007), and those 2050 goals were updated in the European Council of February 2011 with the objective of reducing emissions by 80–95% by 2050 in the context of necessary reductions according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) by developed countries. To meet the 2030 targets and to reduce emissions by 80–95% by 2050, the EU will need to radically transform the energy and economic system, buildings, transport, land, and agriculture sector and to modernize European industrial fabric and cities (European Commission 2018). The next section exposes how circular economy can help the EU to reach those greenhouse gas reduction targets.

A Circular Economy to Reduce Emissions

Policies for resource efficiency, incorporating elements of circular economy, can be traced back to the 1980s and 1990s in German and Japanese strategic decision-making (Milios 2018). In the last 15 years, Japan and China and the European Union have devoted great attention to this type of economy as a way of having a more sustainable development.

Legislation developed by the EU to promote this new economic model will have a clear impact on the industry, on the consumer, and on the environment, so that the famous pillars of sustainable development (social, economy, and the environment) could materialize. Thus, this type of economy should not be analyzed in isolation from social and environmental issues, since it is understood that the global aim of sustainable development should be to spread economic progress as much as possible, to eliminate extreme poverty, to strengthen communities, and to protect the environment from human-induced degradation (Sachs 2015). The ultimate objective of promoting a circular economy in the EU would be to decouple the economic growth from environmental degradation, as well as build an environmentally friendly and resource-saving society (Liu et al. 2009) as a means of having a more sustainable Europe and, by extension, a more sustainable world.

The concept of circular economy is interesting because contrary to what linear economy does, it takes into account the environmental impact of resource consumption and the generation of waste at the end of a product’s life cycle (Sauvé et al. 2015). In fact, the essence of the circular economy is that raw materials remain within the life cycle as long as possible and, when a product or raw material cannot be reused or recycled anymore, that waste is as little harmful as possible to the environment. This is what authors Michael Braungart and William McDonough (2005) called the “from cradle to cradle” process, in which the production model would resemble the life cycles of nature and in which there is no waste because everything has a purpose in the circle of nature. The concept of circular economy combines old and well-established notions of resource efficiency while making explicit the economic aspect of saving resources and the potential gains it accrues (Milios 2018).

Murray et al. (2017) state that the circular economy represents the most recent attempt to conceptualize the integration of economic activity and environmental well-being in a sustainable way. In this way, circular economy supposes a true change in the process of production and consumption at European level, but to materialize it must have the support of both the industry sector—responsible for integrating into their creative processes the ideas that are behind the circular economy— and the society, who must consume responsibly and contribute to products being in the economic circuit for as long as possible (Ruiz 2018) either through opting for repairing instead of buying a new asset or through recycling or even consuming in a more responsible manner.

As stated above, there are dozens of definitions of circular economy that come with different depictions of the phases or stages that circular economy has. While Jawahir and Bradley (2016) propose six activities for a sustainable manufacturing within circular economy (material extraction, material processing, manufacturing, use, retirement, and treatment and disposal) and four life cycle stages (pre-manufacturing, manufacturing, use, and post-use), others adopt a 4R approach: reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover (Hu et al. 2011); while the European Union bases its documents on a diagram with six stages for circular economy. Fewer or more stages, what it is behind the circular economic model is the idea of extending the life of materials to produce as little damage to the environment as possible.

Each of the phases in the diagram (Fig. 1) (design, production/remanufacturing, distribution, consumption/use/reuse/repair, collection, recycling) is interdependent, and in each of them, there are opportunities in terms of reducing costs and dependence of natural resources, boosting growth and jobs, as well as limiting waste and GHG emissions to the environment (European Commission 2014b). Therefore, promoting a circular economy must be seen as one of the many strategies the European Union is implementing to achieve its climate reduction targets.
Fig. 1

Steps of circular economy. (Source: Prepared by the author based on information from European Parliament 2015)

Design and Innovation

No matter the number of stages diagrams proposed, circular economy always begins with the design of products, which have to be conceived as durable and sustainable, taking into account from the beginning the possibilities of future reuse and recycling. Therefore, products must be designed taking into account all possible uses throughout the different life cycles and their environmental impact at the end of their use. For instance, the Commission specifically mentions the importance of a design done taking into account that products are durable, repairable, upgradable, and recyclable (European Commission 2015). If products can be recycled or repaired, it means that a waste will not be generated, having a positive impact in the environment; and if products can be recovered by producers, then it means that all the valuable materials and components they are made of can be recovered and used (at least partially) in the elaboration of new products, which can save precious resources to industries, businesses, and the environment. The EU has already forecasted that it will increase its resource productivity by 15% between 2014 and 2030 under a business-as-usual scenario, but in a context of a more circular economy, it could double that rate (European Commission 2015). All this requires not only a large investment in technology and design but also a commitment to create new types of jobs focused on the recovery of materials for subsequent reuse (plastics, appliances, packaging, textiles, etc.).

Another of the main objectives in this stage of a circular economy is to promote an efficient use of resources from the designing of products in order to reduce costs of materials and energy, which are two of the main expenses for companies. It is estimated that resource efficiency improvements through all the stages of circular economy could reduce material input needs by 17–24% by 2030 (Meyer et al. 2011) and a better use of resources could lead to savings of €630 billion per year for European industry (Greenovate Europe 2012) and a potential boost of EU gross domestic product up to 3.9% by creating new markets and new products (Ellen MacArthur 2015).

In order to promote a more resource-efficient production, the Commission is working on broadening the scope of the Ecodesign Directive (2009)—approved with the main objective of improving the efficiency and environmental performance of energy-related products— so that it also addresses issues related to reparability, upgradeability, durability, design for disassembly, and recyclability of products (European Commission 2017).

In addition to the savings for the industry, a circular economy will have a positive impact for the environment with a calculated reduction of GHG between 2% and 4% (Amec et al. 2013). This type of economy therefore could greatly contribute to achieving the EU’s 2020 and 2030 climate targets.

One of the possible setbacks identified in this first phase of the circular economy by the European Commission is the companies’ lack of information and capacity to move to circular economy solutions as well as the difficulties to access investments for efficiency improvements since they are perceived as riskier (European Commission 2014b). To counterbalance this, the European Commission’s approach is to develop an enabling framework for the circular economy combining smart regulation, incentives, information exchange, market-based instruments, and research and innovation programs (European Commission 2014b, 2015).

Production and Distribution

A more circular production would be one that endeavors to find lower costs of production through a more productive use of inputs (Ellen MacArthur 2015) and to remove waste both in the production and the supply chain. In a world with a growing population, it is critical that resources are used in the most efficient way. With this rationale behind, circular economy promotes the efficient use of primary raw materials, including renewable materials, due to its environmental and social impacts of their production, both inside and outside the European Union (European Commission 2015). As a way of promoting a sustainable use of raw materials globally, the European Commission is fostering policy dialogues and partnerships, as the Memorandum of Understanding on Circular Economy signed in July 2018 between the EU and China or the high-level political and business meetings organized by the Directorate-General for the Environment of the European Commission with the aim of promoting sustainable and resource-efficient policies within third countries, NGOs, and companies.

Additionally, to achieve a better use of resources, the Commission is promoting innovative industrial processes and supporting funds for research on resource efficiency through programs such as Horizon 2020 or through the Cohesion Policy funds.

Consumption, Use, Reuse, and Repair

Consumers are key in the success of a circular economy, and thus they should be empowered to make informed choices through the availability of better information on the sustainability of products in the market, for example, through information on the resources contained in products or how they can be repaired or recycled (European Commission 2014b). To better help consumers on the most sustainable products on the market, the European Commission is working on an improved labelling system for the environmental performance of household appliances and on how to improve reparability and reusability of products. Awareness campaigns to inform consumers on more sustainable options and innovative forms of consumption such as the collaborative economy or the consumption of services instead of products are lines of concern the European Commission is also working on (European Commission 2015). All these practices will help achieving not only SDG 13, centered on how to reduce GHG emission, but mainly SDG 12, “ensuring responsible consumption and production” within European territory.

When it comes to consumption, it is worth reminding that a large proportion of European consumption comes from public procurement (European Commission 2017); that is why the EU is promoting the “green public procurement” (GPP), a (still) voluntary set of criteria that public administrations can use when contracting a wide arrange of products going from cleaning services and computers to electricity, road construction, or gardening services. As pointed out by Milios (2018), coordinated purchases in the government sector would be a powerful tool to influence the design and configuration of products and services since a circular design would be preferred by public administrations; and on the same token, resource efficiency demands through GPP that might include repair and/or reused equipment would have a direct effect on material and product circulation in the economy.

The possibility to repair, remanufacture, or recycle a product and its components and materials depends to a large extend on the initial design of the product (European Commission 2016). Extending the durability of products and repairing them are possibly two of the main complex actions when promoting circular economy. On one side, there are companies producing under what it is known as planned obsolescence, a policy of designing a product with a limited life of use from which industries profit and against which policy makers and administrations should regulate. On the other hand, when a consumer wants to repair a product, they very often find that the spare parts and reparation costs together are more expensive than a new product. Among the challenges that seem to arise within the circular economy model then is how to access spare parts at a reasonable cost and how to facilitate repair activities either by the product users or by a third party (Milios 2018). In this line, the European Commission is exploring how to overcome some of these setbacks assessing how to extend minimum lifetime of products or critical components; how to make spare parts and repair manuals available; how to make disassembly easier; or how to make recycling of products easier (European Commission 2016).

Developed countries, with about 20% of the world population, are responsible for almost 80% of the life cycle impacts of consumption, and current consumption volumes are one of the main drivers of GHG emissions to the extent that consumerist lifestyles typically offset the gains that accrue through technological improvements (Alfredsson et al. 2018). Both things show how important it is that consumers in developed countries (but increasingly also those in developing countries) change their current high consumption patterns, and although it is a fact that green consumers and green businesses can do a lot to foster changes toward a more sustainable consumption and production, this bottom-up and market-based action can only have long-lasting effects if backed up by top-down support coming from policy makers (Moore 2015; Tukker et al. 2017).

Collection and Recycling

One of the priorities should the circular economy model succeed is how to ensure that less waste is generated in the first place, and here both policy makers and consumers play an essential role.

The EU has made its greatest efforts to promote the circular economy in the areas of recovery, recycling, and waste reduction. The aim is to turn what traditionally have been considered a “waste” (e.g., a bottle of plastic) into new raw materials (e.g., thread made from plastic), and to achieve this, the EU has undertaken an ambitious waste policy to drive innovation and to make the EU more competitive while at the same time it reduces the impact on the environment. In parallel, the European Union has adopted additional waste prevention programs and initiatives to reduce marine litter (Marine Strategy Framework Directive, 2008/56/EC), to reduce construction and demolition waste (Commission’s Communication on Resource Efficiency Opportunities in the Building Sector 2014c), and to reduce food waste (EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste), hazardous waste (Directive 2008/98/EC on waste), or plastic waste (European Commissions’ Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy 2018a).

As part of this comprehensive policy, a waste package consisting on upgraded legally binding targets for recycling was adopted by European Member States in May 2018. Among them, Directive 2008/98/EC on waste was amended by Directive 2018/851 on 30 May 2018, incorporating the clear objective of managing waste to contribute to the principles of circular economy. It is important to point out that recovering waste is deemed important to reduce GHG emissions but also to reduce the Union’s dependence on the import of raw materials and facilitate the transition to a more sustainable material management. In order to move to a more circular economy, European states have also committed to increase to a minimum of 65% by weight the reuse and the recycling of municipal waste by 2035 and to set up separate collection at least for paper, metal, plastic, and glass by 2021 and for textiles by 2025. In addition, states will ensure that by 2023, biowaste is either collected separately or recycled at source (e.g., home composting). Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste, by its part, establishes specific targets for recycling 70% of all packaging by 2030, and through Directive 2018/850 on the landfill of waste, Member States have agreed to reduce to 10% or less the total amount of municipal waste generated by 2035.

A better legislation on waste and recycling is expected to satisfy between 10% and 40% of the demand for raw materials of the European Union. As per jobs generation, the European Commission assesses that should Member States eliminate landfill by 2030 more than 180,000 direct jobs could be created, in addition to the estimated 400,000 jobs that will be created by the implementation of the waste legislation in force and that will contribute to reducing GHG emissions by 40% by 2030 (European Commission 2014b).

Is Circular Economy a Definite Tool to Combat Climate Change?

Climate change is probably the most intricate challenge the international community has to face in the twenty-first century. There is not one single tool that will definitely help us facing it, but there are many options that states, industry, businesses, researchers, and consumers can adopt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Energy and transport are the sectors that emit the highest amount of emissions, but there are others like agriculture or waste management that also need attention from policy makers (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2

Greenhouse gas emissions by source sector in the EU-28 in 2016. (Source: Prepared by the author based on information from Eurostat (2018))

As seen above, energy and transport are the two areas in which developed countries have to do the greatest efforts to curb emissions. All human and industrial processes play a role in these two areas, from driving our cars every day to taking a shower or charging our mobile phone battery. This means that individual choices are key in how we face climate change as a collectivity, but industries and businesses have to offer more sustainable products and produce in a low-carbon and low-resource way; and governments have to legislate so that it is easier for consumers to choose the most environmentally friendly products and it is more difficult (and expensive) for the industry and the business sector to offer non-sustainable products. Circular economy is one way of setting European states toward a low-carbon and sustainable future, but the transition will be far from easy let alone unexpensive.

As observed in sections above, the European Union is taking bold steps to promote environmentally sound practices within European territory and to increase the consumption of renewable energy. A perfect circular economy would be one working mainly with renewable energy, something that seems far away from our current mode of production but not something completely impossible to reach if the international community works together and with a clear goal on low-carbon economies. In the short term, however, a 100% circular economy seems unfeasible for a number of reasons. Milios (2018) points to three of them: on the one side, it is the fact that 100% recyclability is not possible, and on the other, endless reuse and recycling is not feasible either since a range of materials lose their properties over time. A third factor is that global population is rapidly increasing, and this reflects the need for equal focus on production and consumption policies. Although EU-28 population is foreseen to stay relatively stable throughout the twenty-first century, with only a slight increase to 510 million by 2030 (from current 505 million) (EEA 2016), current consumption patterns and the increasing access to better standards of living will put increasing pressure on natural resources.

Notwithstanding the small increase in population, reports from the European Environment Agency show that consumption in Europe is putting greater pressure on the environment despite the promotion of more sustainable production patterns. Thus, although the population growth is relatively stable, energy consumption has increased since 2015 as a result of higher economic growth, lifestyle changes (more dwellings and more appliances per dwelling), and colder winters in the last years (EEA 2018). Reducing environmental pressure from consumption can be reached through several ways: greening production and products, shifting demand to low-impact consumption categories, and lowering material demands (Tukker et al. 2017), and all those are at different levels incorporated into the circular economy philosophy. Through a circular economy, the European Union promotes a greener way of production that has as a result more environmentally friendly products. Through different policies, the EU is regulating the use of resources, as with the Commission’s adoption in early 2018 of a comprehensive plastics strategy to contribute to avoiding marine litter and oceans pollution and to turn the EU more sustainable and circular.

As seen in sections above, the EU has focused its legislation and recommendations mainly on the areas of design and waste management. However, there are gaps in some areas (e.g., distribution or consumption) that should be fulfilled in order to maximize the potential of circular economy in promoting a more sustainable and low-carbon economy. Areas such as consumption, reuse, or repair can be difficult to address since it depends to a great extent on individual choices. Although the EU can contribute regulating so that producers give more information as to make better informed choices when buying a product or forcing to sell spare parts, awareness and education are two of the most powerful tools when fostering circular economy.

Final Remarks

Circular economy could have an impact on lowering energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in Europe. Since 2007 the European Union has adopted binding targets to reduce GHG emissions and to increase renewable energy and has promoted stronger legislation to reach those targets. If anything, climate change will only be managed if a vast number of initiatives coming from developed and developing countries are in place. A low-carbon economy, promoting more sustainable patterns of production and of consumption, is only one more step to palliate the already felt consequences of climate change, possibly the most difficult challenge to be faced in the twenty-first century. The promotion of a more sustainable and circular economy within the EU shows other states how they can rethink their economy and their production patterns. The success of these more environmentally friendly policies, however, cannot depend on what a single actor does; if a true success is wanted in the fight against climate change, other countries, whether they are developed or developing economies, have to go in the same direction, either through the promotion of a circular economy or through the adoption of models like the green economy (UNEP 2011), the blue economy (Pauli 2010), or the degrowth economy (Latouche 2010), all of them in line with a more sustainable development model.

Circular economy is seen as a low-emission and climate-resilient economy that will help the EU in achieving its targets on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy production but, above all, is seen as a way of promoting a better development model in a world in increased need of more responsible leaders, producers, and consumers. Because what it seems clear is that without robust regulation coming from institutions and governments, more responsible businesses and industry, continuous support to research on new materials and technology, and more awareness among consumers, a sustainable economy whether it is called circular, blue, or green will not be but only a pipe dream.



  1. Afionis S, Stringer L (2012) European Union leadership in biofuels regulation: Europe as a normative power? J Clean Prod 32:114–123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alfredsson E, Bengtsson M et al (2018) Why achieving the Paris agreement requires reduced overall consumption and production. Sustain Sci Pract Policy 14(1):1–5Google Scholar
  3. Amec et al (2013) The opportunities to business of improving resource efficiency. Final Report. European Commission. Accessed 22 Jan 2019
  4. Behrens A (2016) Time to connect the dots: what is the link between climate change policy and the circular economy? CEPS Policy Brief N 337. Accessed 22 Jan 2019
  5. Braungart M, McDonough W (2005) Cradle to cradle. McGraw-Hill, SpainGoogle Scholar
  6. Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2015) Towards the circular economy: economic and business rationale for an accelerated transition. Accessed 22 Jan 2019
  7. European Commission (2008) 2020 by 2020. Europe’s climate change opportunity. Communication from the Commission 23 January 2008. Accessed 22 Jan 2019
  8. European Commission (2010) Europe 2020. A European strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Communication from the Commission. Accessed 22 Jan 2019
  9. European Commission (2014a) A policy framework for climate and energy in the period from 2020 to 2030. Communication from the Commission. Accessed 22 Jan 2019
  10. European Commission (2014b) Towards a circular economy: a zero waste programme for Europe. Communication from the Commission. Accessed 22 Jan 2019
  11. European Commission (2014c) On resource efficiency opportunities in the building sector. Communication from the Commission. Accessed 24 Jan 2019
  12. European Commission (2015) Closing the loop—an EU action plan for the circular economy. Accessed 22 Jan 2019
  13. European Commission (2016) Ecodesign working plan 2016–2019. Communication from the Commission. Accessed 22 Jan 2019
  14. European Commission (2017) On the implementation of the circular economy action plan. Report from the Commission. Accessed 22 Jan 2019
  15. European Commission (2018) A clean planet for all. A European strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate neutral economy. Communication from the commission. Accessed 22 Jan 2019
  16. European Commission (2018a) A European strategy for plastics in a circular economy. Accessed 24 Jan 2019
  17. European Council (2007) Presidency conclusions 8/9 March 2007. Brussels. Accessed 22 Jan 2019
  18. European Environment Agency (EEA) (2016) Population trends 1950–2100: globally and within Europe. Accessed 22 Jan 2019
  19. European Environmental Agency (EEA) (2018) Environmental indicator report 2018. In support to the monitoring of the Seventh Environment Action Programme. https://wwweeaeuropaeu/publications/environmental-indicator-report-2018. Accessed 22 Jan 2019
  20. European Parliament (2015) Circular economy: definition, importance and benefits, 2 Dec 2015. Accessed 16 Jan 2019
  21. Eurostat (2018) Greenhouse gas emission statistics – emission inventories. Statistics explained. Accessed 22 Jan 2019
  22. Falkner R (2007) The political economy of ‘normative power’ Europe: EU environmental leadership in international biotechnology regulation. J Eur Publ Policy 14:4CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Greenovate! Europe (2012) Guide to resource efficiency in manufacturing: experiences from improving resource efficiency in manufacturing companies. Greenovate! Europe. Accessed 22 Jan 2019
  24. Hu X, Xaio Z et al (2011) Ecological utilization of leather tannery waste in circular economy model. J Clean Prod 19:221–228CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Jawahir I, Bradley R (2016) Technological elements of circular economy and the principles of 6R-based closed-loop material flow in sustainable manufacturing. 13th Global Conference on Sustainable Manufacturing – Decoupling Growth form Resource UseGoogle Scholar
  26. Kirchherr J et al (2017) Conceptualizing the circular economy: an analysis of 114 definitions. Resour Conserv Recycl 127:221–232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kirchherr J et al (2018) Barriers to the circular economy: evidence from the European Union. Ecol Econ 150:264–272CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Korhonen J et al (2018) Circular economy: the concept and its limitations. Ecol Econ 143:37–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Latouche S (2010) Farewell to growth. Polity, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  30. Liu Q, Li H, Zuo X et al (2009) A survey and analysis on public awareness and performance for promoting circular economy in China: a case study from Tianjin. J Clean Prod 17:265–270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Madeley J (2015) Sustainable development goals. Appropr Technol 42(4):32–33Google Scholar
  32. Meyer B et al (2011) Macroeconomic modelling of sustainable development and the links between the economy and the environment. Study for the European Commission (DG Environment). GWSGoogle Scholar
  33. Milios L (2018) Advancing to a circular economy: three essential ingredients for a comprehensive policy mix. Sustain Sci 13:861–878CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Moore H (2015) Global prosperity and sustainable development goals. J Int Dev 27:801–815CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Murray A, Skene K, Haynes K (2017) The circular economy: an interdisciplinary exploration of the concept and application in a global context. J Bus Ethics 140(3):369–380CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Pauli G (2010) The blue economy. 10 years. 100 innovations. 100 million jobs. Paradigm PubnsGoogle Scholar
  37. Ruiz X (2018) La apuesta de la Unión Europea por el desarrollo sostenible: de la economía circular al Acuerdo de París. In Juste J, Bou V, Pereira F. Desarrollo Sostenible y Derecho InternacionalGoogle Scholar
  38. Sachs J (2015) La era del desarrollo sostenible. DeustoGoogle Scholar
  39. Sauvé S et al (2015) Environmental sciences, sustainable development and circular economy: alternative concepts for trans-disciplinary research. Environ Dev 17:48–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Skene K (2018) Circles, spirals, pyramids and cubes: why the circular economy cannot work. Sustain Sci 13:479–492CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Tukker A, Emmert S et al (2017) Fostering change to sustainable consumption and production: an evidence based view. J Clean Prod 16:1218–1225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. UNEP (2011) Towards a green economy. Pathways to sustainable development and poverty eradication – a synthesis for policy makers. Accessed 22 Jan 2019
  43. United Nations (2015) Transforming our world: the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. A/RES/70/1. Accessed 22 Jan 2019
  44. Zito A (2005) The European Union as an environmental leader in a global environment. Globalizations 2(3):363–375CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Political Sciences and Sociology, Department of International Relations and Global HistoryComplutense University of MadridMadridSpain

Section editors and affiliations

  • Anabela Marisa Azul
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Neuroscience and Cell BiologyUniversity of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal