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Sustainable Consumption Institute

Opportunities and trade-offs of circular economy for mitigating climate change

We explore the role and potential of circular economy in reducing energy use and emissions, to enhance current energy-system models and low-carbon policies.

Photograph of cooling towers with a hayfield in the foreground - courtesy of Thomas Hafeneth on Unsplash
Photograph courtesy of Thomas Hafeneth on Unsplash

Energy system models, which policy makers draw upon, are able to capture and quantify elements of sustainable consumption associated with the adoption of renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements. However, the models are not explicit about capturing low-carbon opportunities related to the adoption of the circular economy principles i.e. the opportunities related to the materials and products made by the industrial sector, once they enter into consumption. These could include reducing the demand for new materials and services, reuse, remanufacturing and to an extent recycling. 

As a result there is a shortfall in meaningful policies and measures that are able to reflect the benefits put forward by an increased circular economy across society. We therefore seek to better understand the potential of circular economy. New circular-economy business models will be explored and compared to the sustainability of current business models. We will identify sectors, materials and business models where CE could be better represented in a low-carbon future. 

This research builds on the ‘Implications of Global Warming of 1.5°C and 2°C’ work funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and on the projects funded by a large retailer and the Higher Education Innovation Fund.

Research team