Session 2

Circular Economy and the Bio-based Sector – Insights into European and German Industry
Sina Leipold
University of Freiburg, Germany

The ‘circular economy’ has recently (re)emerged as political strategy, particularly in Europe. By creating theoretically endless cycles of materials, it promises no less than moving our societies beyond the limits to growth. In the eyes of European political stakeholders, two crucial stepping stones to a circular economy are (1) a move away from fossil to renewable resources and (2) new business models and practices based on circular-economy principles. The bio-based sector plays a crucial role to realize both stepping stones. Little is known, however, to what extent political debates reach sector stakeholders, how they perceive the new strategy, and whether and how it contributes to business innovation.
This contribution provides first answers to these questions from the perspective of the European and German bio-based business community. Based on documents, participant observation of business conferences and stakeholder meetings, the results indicate that political strategies indeed promote increased uptake of circular-economy thinking in the bio-based sector. At the same time, proposed business practices for a circular economy continue to rely on established business models and (waste) management systems to a large extent. The presentation concludes with implications of the findings for research as well as political and industrial practice.