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Academic Symposium: Circular Economy Disruptions – Past, Present and Future

Circular Economy Disruptions – Past, Present and Future

An Academic Symposium hosted by the University of Exeter, UK 

June 17 – 19th 2018

With support from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Pioneer University Network

Arizona State University, Cranfield University, Delft University of Technology, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Bradford, University College London, University São Paulo

The University of Exeter invites you to an international academic symposium on circular economy (CE) research and practice and its potential to realign global and local economic and business practice with creating  economic, natural and social capital.

The Symposium provides a necessary forum both for current CE research and practice and as well as probing discussion of future challenges and innovation. We therefore welcome empirical and theoretical contributions that explore how the adoption of CE will help business, government and civil society organisations address 21st Century challenges. 


CE offers considerable opportunities, across all sectors of the economy, to reshape many of our established, often linear, practices, enabling the world’s diverse societies and economies to prosper in new ways. There is a growing body of literature celebrating the benefits, showcasing successful cases of CE. To build on this work, rigorous evidenced-based research is required to evaluate and test the development and implementation of CE programmes as well as in individual organisations.

 CE will provide us with disruptive business models and value chain innovations, extending product life-cycles through re-use, re-manufacturing, re-furbishing, along with new design approaches (such as system innovation, cradle-to-cradle and bio-mimetics) as we reinvent products and services. New CE business models hold the potential to align economic and social wealth creation within planetary ecosystems.

 The transition to a CE also requires a fuller and more nuanced understanding of the inter-relationships between economic, social and environmental systems at micro, meso and macro scale. This suggests that CE research and developing practice further incorporate systems approaches. To achieve the CE mission of restoring and regenerating our natural resources, we need to understand and incorporate the contribution from the full range of economic actors and system components: business, government and civil society organisations; material inputs and digital technologies; regenerative farming and globalised food systems; autochthonous species and planetary ecosystems.

Papers could explore some of the below themes (this is by no means an exhaustive list).

 A. System change, system-thinking and complex adaptive systems

  • Which skills, capabilities and ways of thinking are needed to support systemic innovation and the transition towards a CE?
  • At which scale (i.e. micro, meso or macro) are circularity transitions and transformations most effective and how are they linked? 
  • Theoretical and practical underpinnings of circular economics 
  • Changing relationships between materials, resources information, data, and finance
  • Modelling complex adaptive systems for CE 
  • The theory and practice of education and learning in the transition to a CE

B. CE innovation, product design and new business models and strategies

  • What are the best examples in disruptive technology and business models that can create and advance the CE?
  • What are the challenges and best practices in design for CE? What methodologies are needed and missing?
  • Embedding regenerative and restorative criteria into circular design and business model innovation 
  • How does CE foster profitability and broader socio-economic development?
  • Implications for implementing CE for economic development in developing countries
  • Relationship between CE and the UN SDGs?
  • Which organisational structures are more suited to implement circular strategies? 
  • Which theories at the individual, organisational and institutional levels explain the emergence of circular corporate strategies?
  • How can CE be integrated into existing measurement and reporting protocols/frameworks?

C. The design of effective CE practices, policies and governance

  • Which forms of entrepreneurship is CE triggering? How do these align with theories of innovation and entrepreneurship?
  • CE and theories of policy innovation? What policies are in place, which outcomes have they produced and what is needed?  
  • Potential implications and consequences of CE for developing countries (e.g. reshoring, global material and commodity circuits)
  • What CE practices have existed in the past, how can they be evaluated and what can we learn from these? 
  • CE governance and policy: soft, strict, or otherwise (e.g., nudge), exploring in particular the role of incentives and legislation
  • How circular value is created for diverse stakeholders, what value is created and how are differing interests accommodated?
  • Theorising the ‘consumer’ within new circular business models and ecosystems
  • What are the social and cultural dimensions of the CE, including perspectives of work and labour?
  • Varieties of political economy and comparative approaches to CE research
  • Circular cities in the 21st century, how are they defined and where is best practice?
  • What are the key framework conditions to increase circularity?
  • Distribution and access to products and services, and generating value across the system as a whole, including; issues of power, culture, legitimation, trust, ethics, otherness, justice and responsibility 

 D. Sector and material specific application

  • What enables, constrains or channels renewable energy system innovation at a local, regional, national and international level?
  • What enables, constrains or channels materials system innovation (e.g. plastics, fibres, paper, minerals) at a local, regional, national and international level?
  • What are the implications and strategic responses by industry sectors to CE disruption (e.g. automotive, high value manufacturing, extractive, aerospace, electronics, etc.)
  • What are the key drivers and barriers in a transition to a bio-based CE?
  • What is the role of regenerative agriculture in reshaping biological metabolisms and agri-food systems?
  • Do CE models of re-use, re-purpose, re-manufacture  integrate into life cycle analysis and other analytical approaches (sustainable materials management.)
  • Materials in cities, which materials should go circular first?
  • Critical materials and CE – in tension or alignment?
  • What are the enablers for collaboration across different supply chains?  

Administrative details

We invite extended abstracts (500 words, excluding references) exploring one or more of the above named themes or related ones. Abstract presentations will have 15-minute time slots and be clustered by theme into sessions. Each session will include four individual presentations and time for questions from the audience. All accepted extended abstracts will be published in subsequent conference proceedings. 

We also invite proposals for:

Workshops (500 words)
Workshops provide authors the option to organize a panel comprising three related presentations.

  • Workshops will be 90 minutes long
  • A workshop proposal should include an abstract summarizing the overall theme, as well as individual abstracts for each presentation included in the panel. Panel presentations that bring together experts for interactive discussion should describe questions that will addressed by the panel, list any underlying issues to be discussed, and include a biography for each panelist.

All abstracts should be submitted to Dr Roberta De Angelis ( by 15 March 2018. The Symposium Organising Committee will review all submissions and inform authors by the end of March 2018 as to whether their abstracts have been accepted. 

The Academic Symposium will take place at the University of Exeter, Exeter, UK on 17, 18 and 19 June 2018.

Delegates at the Symposium will be invited to extend their stay and join the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in London for a series of events, with a wider network of academics, industry and policy makers, on the CE. This will include a 1-day higher education workshop on the CE, on Wednesday 20 June 2018, and access to the Foundation’s 1-day Annual Summit, on Thursday 21 June 2018. 

Participation in these optional extra events is free (excluding travel and accommodation). Complimentary transport will be provided by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for agreed parties one way between Exeter and London on the evening of Tuesday 19 June 2018. This offer is only open to delegates attending the full Symposium.