Special Issue: Exploring the Circular Economy

7 March, 2016


Call for Papers:

Special Issue of the Journal of Industrial Ecology

Exploring the Circular Economy

Deadline EXTENDED to March 7, 2016

Even with an industrial ecosystem approach in place, decisions about how best to allocate resources will not always be easy. Careful analysis of the consequences by ‘industrial ecologists’ will be required to answer such questions.

 -          Frosch and Gallopoulos, “Strategies for Manufacturing,” 1989.

  The Journal of Industrial Ecology invites you to submit articles for a special issue, Exploring the Circular Economy, by March 7, 2016.[1]

The circular economy is gaining increasing currency as a strategy in the pursuit of global sustainability.  China enacted a law for the promotion of the circular economy in 2008, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has played a pivotal role in engaging the business community, and the European Union is formulating a circular economy strategy as a socio-economically promising means to achieve resource efficiency. 

In contrast to the take-use-dispose paradigm in a traditional linear economy, in a circular economy, resources are kept in use for as long as possible, extracting their maximum value. Products and materials are recovered and renewed, leveraging business models designed to support this regenerative activity.  In closing materials loops or cycling resources, the circular economy looks to natural systems—or more precisely, nature as represented in ecosystem ecology—as an inspiration for resource efficiency in anthropogenic systems.

Because of the development of industrial ecology and its focus on closing and slowing resource cycles, some view industrial ecology as the science of the circular economy. The concept of the circular economy has many variants and a rich set of historical antecedents.  In “Strategies for Manufacturing,” the seminal article in 1989 that is often identified as marking the beginning of industrial ecology as a research field, Robert Frosch and Nicholas Gallopolous (1989) analogized industrial ecosystems to biological ecosystems.  The set of ideas based on a biological analogy in varying degrees and forms has been examined, elaborated and increasingly adopted in many guises. These include Boulding’s essay on “The Economics of the coming spaceship earth” (1966), Commoner’s “Four Laws of Ecology” (1971), notions of closing and slowing loops (Stahel and Reday-Mulvey 1981), industrial and socio-economic metabolism (Ayres 1994; Fischer-Kowalski and Hüttler 1998), biomimicry (Benyus 1997) and biomimetics (Bhushan 2009), and cradle to cradle (McDonough and Braungart 2002). This prompts the question of how the circular economy can learn from the methods and findings of industrial ecology, and what new ideas the circular economy is bringing to industrial ecology.


As the circular economy concept gains traction and as iteration continues between vision and implementation, a wide variety of questions need careful exploration.  In some arenas, the focus is on when and how circular economy approaches produce desirable environmental outcomes—and when they don’t.  In others, the interest lies in the further development of tools and strategies, e.g., how is circularity measured in businesses and economies? And in still others, the central concern is the diffusion and adoption of circular economies approaches by business, governments and society at large.

Nancy Bocken, Delft University of Technology and University of Cambridge, Jonathan Cullen, University of Cambridge, Elsa Olivetti, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and José Potting, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency will serve as co-editors of the special issue.

The Journal of Industrial Ecology is an international peer-reviewed bimonthly, owned by Yale University, headquartered at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and published by Wiley-Blackwell. It is the official journal of the International Society for Industrial Ecology.


Suggested Topics for the Special Issue

It is the ambition of this special issue to probe diverse dimensions of the concept, methodologies, performance and history (intellectual and practical) of the circular economy.  This includes the examination of the environmental, economic, resource, engineering, managerial, design, and policy implications of the circular economy.  Analysis can employ well known tools in industrial ecology including life cycle assessment (LCA), material flow analysis (MFA), techno-economic analysis, and input-output analysis as well approaches from other fields and disciplines such as social science, public policy, design, engineering and business.  Detailed and well documented case studies are welcome especially if they speak to key questions related to the circular economy.

Appropriate topics include:

  • Analysis of the concept, elements, and mechanisms of the circular economy:  How does it differ from earlier concepts? How is circularity measured? How are the business models and other elements and strategies prioritized, especially in quantitative terms?  Is it productive to view industrial ecology as the science of the circular economy?
  • Assessment of the resource dimensions of the circular economy:  How can a circular economy be achieved in a growing economy where the generation of secondary materials is lower than what is needed as inputs to infrastructure and production?
  • Assessment of the environmental dimensions of the circular economy:  When do circular economy strategies generate desirable results and when do they not?  In a strategy that is primarily focused on material resources, how are perverse effects with respect to climate change, energy, water, toxics, and pollution avoided?
  • Management and economics: What business models are most appropriate to a circular economy? What is the potential for company profit and for national socio-economic development? How can the rebound effect be managed? To what extent do the benefits to business and to the economy align with the environmental outcomes of circular economy approaches?
  • Policy and politics: How have circular economy policies been formulated and how have they performed to date?  How do existing circular economy policies differ from those currently proposed by circular economy advocates?  How does strategy based on resource efficiency and conservation succeed politically when resources prices decline?
  • Implementation: How is the circular economy achieved?  How are diverse stakeholders engaged and how are differing interests accommodated? How can business models friendly to a circular economy be fostered?  How are public and private procurement best used to advance the circular economy?  At what scale(s) are the circular economy best pursued—product, firm, supply chain, life cycle, urban, regional, national, etc.?

Ancillary data relevant to articles can be posted on the journal's web site in the form of supporting information. Reviews of relevant recent books and reports, including policy studies, are also sought to enrich the special issue. Reviews of web sites and electronic services will be considered. The special issue is intended to be relevant to diverse audiences—academics, policymakers, business people and environmental advocates—and submissions should be written with that in mind.  Articles from technical specialists should make the implications of their research accessible to non-specialists.  Non-academic authors must meet the requirements for scientific publishing.[2]  Please contact the editors with any questions about the fit of a contribution for this issue.

How to Submit

Manuscripts should be original, previously unpublished, in English, and between 3,500 and 6,000 words in length excluding references and tables. Submission implies that the manuscript has not been submitted for publication elsewhere and that it will not be submitted elsewhere while the review process is underway. Papers should be submitted electronically via ScholarOne Manuscripts (formerly Manuscript Central) at <http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/jie>, indicating that they are intended for the special issue on “Exploring the Circular Economy.” Details about the preparation of the manuscript can be obtained from <http://jie.yale.edu/author_resources> or from the editor.  All submissions will be peer-reviewed in a single blind process using at least two reviewers.


Ayres, R. U. 1994. Industrial metabolism: Theory and Practice. In Industrial Metabolism: Restructuring for Sustainable Development, edited by R. U. Ayres and U. E. Simonis. New York and Tokyo: United Nations University Press.

Benyus, J. M. 1997. Biomimicry : innovation inspired by nature. New York: Perennial.

Bhushan, B. 2009. Biomimetics: Lessons from Nature - an overview. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 367(1893): 1445-1486.

Boulding, K. E. 1966. The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth. In nvironmental Quality in a Growing Economy: Essays from the Sixth RFF Forum, edited by H. Jarrett. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.

Commoner, B. 1971. The closing circle: Nature, man, and technology. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 

Fischer-Kowalski, M. and W. Hüttler. 1998. Society's metabolism: The intellectual history of materials flow analysis, part II: 1970-1998. Journal of Industrial Ecology 2(4): 107-136.

Frosch, R. and N. Gallopoulos. 1989. Strategies for Manufacturing. Scientific American 261(3): 94-102.

McDonough, W. and M. Braungart. 2002. Cradle to cradle : remaking the way we make things. 1st ed. New York: North Point Press.

Stahel, W. R. and G. Reday-Mulvey. 1981. Jobs for Tomorrow: The Potential for Substituting Manpower for Energy. New York: Vantage Press.


[1] Papers completing the review process prior to the release of the special issue will be posted online as soon as they are accepted for publication and typeset.