Circular economy in manufacturing companies: A review of case study literature
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionJournal of Cleaner Production. 2021, 294, . 10.1016/j.jclepro.2021.126268
Manufacturing companies have played an important role in improving standards of living worldwide. However, in a linear setting, they are also linked to unsustainable production and consumption patterns. The concept of circular economy has gained traction in recent years: it aims at eventually severing this link, through keeping resources ‘in the loop’. Through a systematic literature review, this paper seeks to revisit the concept of circular economy in the manufacturing industry in order to determine whether the body of research has moved beyond concept development and into verified implementation in industry. Furthermore, we aim to analyse the important link between circular economy in manufacturing and sustainable development. The review shows that the field has indeed moved from purely conceptual work into empirical studies and research into implementation tools. However, in empirical studies, the sustainability impact of CE practices is typically adressed only through the environmental dimension, neglecting the social and economic dimensions. Further, a key finding is that the prevalence of narrow approaches to sustainability in manufacturing leads to a risk that circular economy implementation efforts will fail to provide solutions that are socially, environmentally, and economically beneficial. Holistic approaches are needed to avoid the implementation of solutions that may be framed as circular, but neglect the sustainability component.