What are some good resources to learn about circular economy?

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things

Compilation of existing reviews & book summary

1. Average rating on Goodreads: 4.11

“Reduce, reuse, recycle,” urge environmentalists; in other words, do more with less in order to minimize damage. But as architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart point out in this provocative, visionary book, such an approach only perpetuates the one-way, “cradle to grave” manufacturing model, dating to the Industrial Revolution, that creates such fantastic amounts of waste and pollution in the first place. Why not challenge the belief that human industry must damage the natural world? In fact, why not take nature itself as our model for making things? A tree produces thousands of blossoms in order to create another tree, yet we consider its abundance not wasteful but safe, beautiful, and highly effective.

Waste equals food.

Guided by this principle, McDonough and Braungart explain how products can be designed from the outset so that, after their useful lives, they will provide nourishment for something new. They can be conceived as “biological nutrients” that will easily reenter the water or soil without depositing synthetic materials and toxins. Or they can be “technical nutrients” that will continually circulate as pure and valuable materials within closed-loop industrial cycles, rather than being “recycled” — really, downcycled — into low-grade materials and uses. Drawing on their experience in (re)designing everything from carpeting to corporate campuses, McDonough and Braungart make an exciting and viable case for putting eco-effectiveness into practice, and show how anyone involved with making anything can begin to do as well.”

2. The Guardian – Steven Poole

“This is an updated edition of a celebrated 2002 industrial manifesto, whose authors (a chemist and architect) also take inspiration from the robustness of natural systems to recommend technological change. Instead of recycling (or, as they say, “downcycling”) products into inevitably lower-grade homogeneous material, why not design things from the start so that their valuable ingredients (copper, steel and so on) can be recuperated in pure form and used again, circulating indefinitely as “technical nutrients”? Why not design buildings to work like trees? Why not refuse to use any chemical in manufacturing that can’t safely be reabsorbed by the biosphere? Case studies of their own consulting work in designing daylit factories or non-poisonous fabrics illuminate the enjoyably tart prose throughout.

The guiding principle here too, in a way, is against “efficiency”, if that is understood as doing the same old thing but polluting less while you do it. Braungart explains pithily in his new introduction: “When you do something wrong, don’t try to improve upon it.” An example: “I was recently shown a new photocopying machine made with far better components, and which ran twice as fast on less energy consumption, but the paper still could not be composted. It could not go back into any biological cycle. Yes, it is ‘less bad’ but the optimisations are in the wrong place.” A rare example of the “inspirational” book that actually is.”

3. Amazon – 4.5

“Reduce, reuse, recycle” urge environmentalists; in other words, do more with less in order to minimize damage. But as this provocative, visionary book argues, this approach perpetuates a one-way, “cradle to grave” manufacturing model that dates to the Industrial Revolution and casts off as much as 90 percent of the materials it uses as waste, much of it toxic. Why not challenge the notion that human industry must inevitably damage the natural world?

In fact, why not take nature itself as our model? A tree produces thousands of blossoms in order to create another tree, yet we do not consider its abundance wasteful but safe, beautiful, and highly effective; hence, “waste equals food” is the first principle the book sets forth. Products might be designed so that, after their useful life, they provide nourishment for something new-either as “biological nutrients” that safely re-enter the environment or as “technical nutrients” that circulate within closed-loop industrial cycles, without being “downcycled” into low-grade uses (as most “recyclables” now are).

Elaborating their principles from experience (re)designing everything from carpeting to corporate campuses, William McDonough and Michael Braungart make an exciting and viable case for change.


Walter Stahel – Performance economy

1. Amazon

“The industrial economy is transforming from a production-based model into a more intelligent performance-based model. Yet despite the proven benefits that selling performance provides, too many managers and policy makers still focus on designing, manufacturing, and selling goods using costly economic models and production methods.

Replete with case studies, new examples, and decades of proven research, the second edition of The Performance Economy outlines the strategies needed to face tomorrow’s challenges by using science and knowledge to improve product performance, create jobs, and increase wealth and welfare. Additional topics include a description of the skills needed to produce and sell performance, details of how performance is managed over time (long-term thinking), and clear explanations that illustrate how manual and skilled jobs are created – all while reducing the consumption of non-renewable resources and contributing to a low carbon, low toxin society.

This book is essential reading for all interested in development economics, and industrial and business economics.”

2. businessperformance.org

“The book ‘The Performance Economy’ focuses on the role of entrepreneurs and other innovators and on how they change the dominating business models of the Industrial Economy towards those of the Performance Economy by:

  • exploiting SCIENCE and knowledge as drivers to uncouple revenue and wealth creation from resource throughput by focusing on smart materials, smart goods and smart solutions.
  • creating more JOBS locally by shifting the focus of optimization from the resource throughput of the industrial or ‘river economy’ to the asset management of the Lake Economy, that is, in-sourcing jobs instead of out-sourcing work.
  • applying the business models of the Functional Service Economy with an extended PERFORMANCE RESPONSIBILITY of economic actors over the full life cycle of their products to increase wealth and welfare.”

3. product-life.org

““More from less”. The book shows how, by thinking ‘smart’, companies and governments can economically profit from technological progress and at the same time contribute to sustainable development. Replete with both successful and failed examples, this useful tool for tomorrow’s functional service economy

  • introduces the business models that turn knowledge into better performance, more jobs and greater wealth,
  • describes how to improve the manufacturing process, product service sales and performance over time,
  • shows how innovations in traditional sectors can preserve embodied resources and create both manual and skilled jobs, resulting in lower unemployment, lower energy consumption, less waste and greatly reduced resource throughput – major ingredients for economic growth.
  • Introduces new decoupling metrics to measure the relation between value, jobs and resource consumption.”

4. Goodreads

“The industrial economy is turning into a functional service economy, yet too many businessmen and policymakers are still using outdated business models focused around designing and manufacturing goods for sale. This book outlines the strategies and models needed for tomorrow’s challenges: how to use technology and knowledge to improve performance, create jobs and increase income. It also shows what skills will be required to produce and sell performance, manage performance over time and how manual and skilled jobs can contribute to reduce the consumption of non-renewable resources.”


Waste to Wealth : The Circular Economy advantage – Peter Lacy & Jakob Rutqvist

1. Amazon

“Waste to Wealth proves that ‘green’ and ‘growth’ need not be binary alternatives. The book examines five new business models that provide circular growth from deploying sustainable resources to the sharing economy before setting out what business leaders need to do to implement the models successfully.”

2. Goodreads

“The circular economy may be about to drive the biggest transformation in business since the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago—$4.5 trillion in additional economic output by 2030—through a radical departure from the traditional ‘take, make, waste’ production and consumption models.

Adopting a circular approach—decoupling growth from the use of natural resources—achieves two things: first organizations protect themselves from rising and volatile commodity prices, become more resilient to supply disruptions, and reduce their environmental footprint. More importantly, by extending their core customer value chain beyond design, production and sales into product use—where most customer value is created—companies begin to rethink their customer relationships, enabling them to create unassailable competitive advantage.

Lacy and Rutqvist present disruptive strategies that help both planet and profit through the circular economy. They set out five business models that promote circular growth alongside the technologies and capabilities required to turn them into competitive advantage – from deploying sustainable resources to the sharing economy – each illustrated with case studies that examine the key challenges and suggestions to help organizations scale their efforts. They offer you the Circular Advantage.

Ultimately, the driver for adopting the circular economy isn’t scarcity. It’s opportunity. To derive more from resources and assets. And create products and services that are much more innovative, and responsive to the most important point in the circle: the customer.”


Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist – Kate Raworth

1. Amazon

“Economics is broken. It has failed to predict, let alone prevent, financial crises that have shaken the foundations of our societies. Its out-dated theories have permitted a world in which extreme poverty persists while the wealth of the super-rich grows year on year. And its blind spots have led to policies that are degrading the living world on a scale that threatens all of our futures.

Can it be fixed? in Doughnut Economics, Oxford academic Kate Raworth identifies seven critical ways in which mainstream economics has led us astray and sets out a roadmap for bringing humanity into a sweet spot that meets the needs of all within the means of the planet. En route, she deconstructs the character of ‘rational economic man’ and explains what really makes us tick. She reveals how an obsession with equilibrium has left economists helpless when facing the boom and bust of the real-world economy. She highlights the dangers of ignoring the role of energy and nature’s resources – and the far-reaching implications for economic growth when we take them into account. And in the process, she creates a new, cutting-edge economic model that is fit for the 21st century – one in which a doughnut-shaped compass points the way to human progress.

Ambitious, radical and rigorously argued, Doughnut Economics promises to reframe and redraw the future of economics for a new generation.”

2. London School of Economics

In her attempt to bring economics more up-to-date, as the subtitle of the book suggests, Raworth depicts humanity’s goals as a doughnut.

The doughnut has social foundation and human well-being in the middle, and is itself ‘the safe and just space for humanity’ and for a ‘regenerative and distributive economy’, surrounded on the outer edge by the ecological ceiling of ‘critical planetary degradation’. The overall target should be to remain within the doughnut to ensure that we neither fall into conditions of social inequality and suffer shortfalls, such as in water and food, nor allow growth to overshoot into threatening environmental collapse. In her words, this model ‘draws on diverse schools of thought, such as complexity, ecological, feminist, institutional and behavioural economics’. This multidisciplinary promise was the most appealing element of the book for me.”

3. The Guardian

We may be far from rational in our individual economic behaviours, yet – she appears to say – if only the problem is framed in the right way, the population can potentially be induced to support the sustainable and fulfilling human goals from which mainstream economics has led us so cruelly astray.

How is this to be done? Enter the doughnut – a sort of miracle diagram that is apparently going to change the world. The inner ring represents the “social foundation”, the situation in which everyone on the planet has sufficient food and social security. The outer ring represents the “ecological ceiling”, beyond which excess consumption degrades the environment beyond repair. The aim is to get humanity into the area between the rings, where everyone has enough but not too much – or, as Raworth calls it, “the doughnut’s safe and just space”.”


The Circular Economy: A user’s guide – Walter R. Stahel

1. Amazon

“A Circular Economy seeks to rebuild capital, whether this is financial, manufactured, human, social or natural, and offers opportunities and solutions for all organisations. This book, written by Walter Stahel, who is widely recognised as one of the key people who formulated the concept of the Circular Economy, is the perfect introduction for anyone wanting to quickly get up to speed with this vitally important topic for ensuring sustainable development. It sets out a new framework that refines the concept of a Circular Economy and how it can be applied at industrial levels.

This concise book presents the key themes for busy managers and policymakers and some of the newest thinking on the topic of the Circular Economy from one of the leading thinkers in the field. Practical examples and case studies with real-life data are used to elucidate the ideas presented within the book.”

2. Ellen MacArthur Foundation

“Walter R. Stahel is widely recognised as one of the key thinkers of the circular economy and the founding father of the Performance economy. His latest book, The Circular Economy – A User’s Guide, sums up more than 30 years of research in that field.

This work is both a legacy and a forward-looking exploration. It delves into themes like the Performance economy, product-as-service, policy, producers liability, and explores the circular economy under two major lenses; the era of R – Reuse, Remanufacture, Repair, etc, and the era of D – Depolymerise, De-alloy, De-vulcanise, etc, or the management of stocks of atoms and molecules.”

3. Routledge.com

“Walter, one of the ‘fathers’ of the circular economy concept, makes crystal-clear that we need a cultural shift, moving us from ownership to stewardship. This book will serve students as much as decision makers to understand the CIE concepts, its mode of operations based on nodes of industrial relations and its advantages for society.”

  • Nathalie VERCRUYSSE, Scientific Officer for Foresight, European Commission, DG Research & Innovation.

The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability-Designing for Abundance – William McDonough & Michael Braungart

1. Amazon

The Upcycle is the eagerly awaited follow-up to Cradle to Cradle, one of the most consequential ecological manifestoes of our time. Now, drawing on the green living lessons gained from 10 years of putting the Cradle to Cradle concept into practice with businesses, governments, and ordinary people, William McDonough and Michael Braungart envision the next step in the solution to our ecological crisis: We don’t just use or reuse and recycle resources with greater effectiveness, we actually improve the natural world as we live, create, and build.

For McDonough and Braungart, the questions of resource scarcity and sustainability are questions of design. They are practical-minded visionaries: They envision beneficial designs of products, buildings, and business practices―and they show us these ideas being put to use around the world as everyday objects like chairs, cars, and factories are being reimagined not just to sustain life on the planet but to grow it. It is an eye-opening, inspiring tour of our green future as it unfolds in front of us.

The Upcycle is as ambitious as such classics as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring―but its mission is very different. McDonough and Braungart want to turn on its head our very understanding of the human role on earth: Instead of protecting the planet from human impact, why not redesign our activity to improve the environment? We can have a beneficial, sustainable footprint. Abundance for all. The goal is within our reach.”


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