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The guide of guides to the circular economy

© Shutterstock / LI SENPost Thumbnail

There are a plethora of resources to learn about the circular economy; to help uncover what might be most effective for your business, we’ve put together a list based on a range of sectors and applications.

  • The circular economy moves away from the traditional ‘take-make-dispose’ economic model to one that maximises the value of resources while minimising the generation of waste.
  • While this shift could generate a $4.5 trillion business opportunity, it needs significant efforts from a variety of stakeholders.
  • With the huge amount of guides on circularity available,       companies can easily explore the opportunities arising from this transition and evaluate how they can be applied to their own operations. 

The circular economy moves away from the traditional ‘take-make-dispose’ economic model to one that maximises the value of resources while minimising the generation of waste. The goal is to retain as much value as possible from resources, products, parts and materials to create a system that allows for long life, optimal reuse, refurbishment, remanufacturing and recycling.

Overall it plays a critical role in a shift towards sustainability over time, and provides an alternative model to the existing paradigm. The hope is that by decoupling economic activity from the consumption and destruction of natural resources, it can help to address the interconnected crises of climate change, biodiversity and nature loss, pollution and resource scarcity.

While this shift could generate a $4.5 trillion business opportunity, it needs the implementation of alternative business models, backed by supportive policy measures, financial backing and consumers’ willingness to change their behaviour. There is an abundance of resources to help start you on the part to learning about the concept, and how to apply it to individual cases, as well as guides that taken you into more detail about the implications for your own business sector. 

101 guides

For those not yet familiar with the benefits and opportunities arising from circularity, there is a plethora of sector-agnostic guides to draw inspiration from.

  • Chasing Circular’s The Ultimate Guide to Circular Economy contains 57 facts, tips, drivers, and challenges covering the basics of the topic.
  • The Circular Economy Handbook, written by Accenture, features an analysis of 1,500 case studies – 300 of which are included in the book – to offer a practical view of how organisations can take transformative steps toward circularity and create new opportunities for competitiveness and prosperity.
  • The Circular business model design guide, developed by experts at PA Consulting and Exeter Business School, is for any company wanting to understand how they can create, deliver and capture value from circular practices. It can be used to identify new ‘greenfield’ circular business opportunities and define the business and operating models required; explore and define how existing linear businesses can become circular; and refine existing circular business concepts and pilots.
  • The World Business Council for Sustainable Development has written the CEO Guide to the Circular Economy with Accenture Strategy to help companies get started and issue a call to action to business leaders worldwide.
  • The Circular Economy: A User’s Guide, a book by Walter R. Stahel, presents the key themes for business managers and policymakers to familiarise themselves with the concept.
  • The Circular Office Guide, which came out of Business in the Community’s Circular Office Initiative, is intended to help everyone involved with offices – landlords, tenants, property managers, facilities managers, procurement teams and employees – to identify opportunities and turn them into practice.
  • Circular Economy Target-Setting, a white paper by University College London in collaboration with CEIC and Accenture, provides an in-depth analysis of Enel (BIT:ENEL) and Philips (AMS:PHIA) are implementing circularity metrics for their organisations. It intends to inform business leaders about the tools and resources that are available today to design and implement circular business models.

Built environment

There is increasing awareness in the resource-heavy construction sector that circularity is an effective solution to reduce its environmental impact. These approaches can be applied at every stage, from design to demolition.

  • The Mayor of London has published a primer to support organisations in the sector to understand how they can embed circular economy principles into their projects and design processes. Further, the London Plan Guidance Circular Economy Statements applies to the largest developments in the UK capital that are referable to the Mayor, as required by London Plan Policy 2021 SI 7, which is about reducing waste and supporting the circular economy, however boroughs are encouraged to apply the policies for smaller developments. 
  • The European Federation of Foundation Contractors’ Circular Economy Guide gives practical advice to contractors on the ways they can apply circular economy principles to their activity and reporting requirements. It is aligned with EU policy requirements, such as the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) and Taxonomy.
  • The Institution of Structural Engineers’ book, Circular economy and reuse: guidance for designers, provides actionable guidance for incorporating circular principles on engineering projects. It is intended to enable structural engineers to spur the transition by leading clients and project teams through the process.
  • The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) has developed a toolkit to accelerate the shift in the construction industry. System Enablers for a Circular Economy highlights systemic barriers and the policy and market-based solutions to enable the built environment industry to shift from a linear to a circular system, identifying eight enablers
  • The UKGBC also wrote Circular economy guidance for construction clients, intended to ensure that the construction supply chain can effectively deliver circular economy goals and that budget, project management, and timescale risks are all minimised and mitigated.
  • The Handbook to Building a Circular Economy, a book written by David Cheshire, is a call for architects, designers and built environment professionals to embed circularity in the design phase.


Cities have a key role to play in the transition to a circular economy, as they are centres of consumption and production, hubs of culture and innovation, and host the systems and policies that govern urban life. There is no one-size-fits-all process, however: depending on their local contexts, cities may take different approaches in realising their plans.

  • The Circular City Centre is a competence and resource centre within the European Investment Bank (EIB), which intends to support EU cities in their circular economy transition. Cities can receive free advice and support through the C3 circular city advisory; public project promoters can receive free advice on how to design and best position their projects to access funding, while private sector promoters working with and for cities can also benefit from such support.
  • The EIB has also written Towards European Circular Cities: A Guide for Developing a Circular City Strategy, a step-by-step guide while also looking at relevant best practices in Europe.

Consumer electronics

Applying a circular approach to digital devices has emerged as a prominent solution to the issue of e-waste and digitisation’s increasing requirements for critical minerals.

  • The Association for Progressive Communications’s guide to the circular economy of digital devices is aimed at civil society organisations wanting to transform their day-to-day use of technology, social entrepreneurs who want to make a positive impact on the world and the environment we live in, or anyone else interested in connecting, whether online or offline, in a more sustainable way.
  • Circular Consumer Electronics: An initial exploration, a study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, identifies some actions that businesses can take to begin developing more circular strategies.  


Circular business models for fashion, which allow companies to make revenue without making new clothes, represent a significant opportunity for the industry’s evolution and its road to sustainability. 


As cost of living concerns are on the rise, companies with a circular business model can provide more value to their customers while using fewer resources. This matters for investors as analysis suggests that, the more circular a company is, the lower its risk of defaulting on debt and the higher the risk-adjusted returns of its stock.

Moreover, the banking sector is actively utilising the concept of circularity in the design of a range of new corporate financing products, while regulators have a range of different levers they can pull in order to maximise the economic benefits associated with new, more transparent ways of doing business.

  • The Guidance on Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy Target Setting – Version 2, developed by the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative, is a comprehensive, step-by-step guide for banks interested in increasing the sustainable use of resources such as energy, waste, water and raw materials and building a circular economy. It takes a practical approach and includes a process for banks to define a baseline, as well as set targets in alignment with the Principles for Responsible Banking’s framework.  
  • The EIB’s Circular Economy Guide presents how the lender supports the circular economy through financing, advisory and awareness raising. It is regularly updated in response to our evolving understanding of circular economy needs and opportunities, reflecting changes in the policy framework.
  • Consultancy Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) has written An investor’s guide to the circular economy, with contributions from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and ING Bank, to demystify the circular economy for investors and financial institutions. 
  • Also from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Financing the circular economy – Capturing the opportunity lays out the opportunities for investing, banking, and insurance, and calls on the financial sector to seize the full potential by scaling the circular economy in collaboration with governments and corporations.


Manufacturing is another sector that greatly benefits from circular approaches, as it reduces operating costs and helps achieve sustainability goals.


Although change is already happening in the private sector as organisations see the benefits of implementing circularity models, change can be spurred faster by policies – as seen in the EU with the bloc’s action plan.

Product design 

Planning new products with circularity in mind is the key to ensuring that they will have a long life cycle, whether they can be reused, repurposed or easily disassembled to be recycled into new ones. This applies to all sorts of products across various sectors.

  • The Circular Design Guide, a collaboration between the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and IDEO, is a platform to help designers rethink their processes through a circular lens. It contains case studies, methods, videos, and templates for workshops with colleagues or students.
  • The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has explored the issue of plastic packaging in its Upstream Innovation guide, addressing how to rethink products and services at the design stage. For example, this can include developing new materials, product designs, or business models.
  • It has also published a report specific to Chinathe biggest manufacturer, user, and exporter of plastics in the world – highlighting the opportunities and recommendations for implementing circularity in the sector.
  • SVID’s Sustainability Guide focuses on how to use design to achieve a sustainable and circular business as well as social development. It contains various modules on circularity: for example, Circular product & service assessment is a guiding questionnaire to look at the most important design decisions that influence the impact of products and services along the life-cycle stages. 
  • Even food can be redesigned, according to The big food redesign study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. It looks at the role fast-moving consumer goods companies and food retailers can play to move us towards a food system with positive impacts, and the ways in which food products can be designed in closer collaboration with farmers, for nature.


With the vast amount of guides on circularity available – whether free or at a relatively small cost – companies of all sectors, sizes and maturity can easily explore the opportunities arising from this transition and evaluate how they can be applied to their own operations. Implementing sustainable practices will not only save them money, but also attract the favour of stakeholders and provide a competitive advantage.

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