How can we create a truly circular economy?

Applied research

This challenge calls for a solution and it is aimed at attempting to solve a problem.


Waste does not exist in nature. Every single substance is recycled. Energy from sunlight is converted into chemicals that in turn deliver the energy needed by nature for growth and development. The economy can learn a great deal from ecology in this regard.

We will need to carry out a vast amount of research if we are to transform our linear society into an economy based on closed-loop recycling and waste utilisation – a circular economy.

Looking beyond the current take-make-waste extractive industrial model, a circular economy aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive society-wide benefits. It entails gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources, and designing waste out of the system. Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, the circular model builds economic, natural, and social capital.

Research is needed into processes, e.g. new methods, tendering procedures, materials logistics, new value chains and business models based on life cycle cost estimation, or building with nature. Besides that, research should, for example, also investigate the use of robotics and automation or alternatives to scarce raw materials.



The main goal to this challenge is to investigate how we can make a truly circular economy.

Perspectives and possible directions

Other challenges involve designing effective incentives, inducements to changing behavior, and rules for the circular economy. One key part of this challenge is therefore to identify the best scale for closed-loop recycling. In the same context, we must also reconsider our focus on economic growth and on measuring prosperity in terms of growth. Are there other ways to measure prosperity and success? Is it possible to develop models that do more justice to sustainability and social prosperity?
And there are other challenges: How do we make the transition to a circular economy? How should we organise the transition to 100% green energy? How do we continue feeding a growing world population without damaging the Earth? How do we design a circular economy in which ecology and economy are mutually reinforcing? What do policy initiatives imply for innovation and competitiveness? How can bottom-up forces in society be encouraged for example to implement and support changes towards sustainability?
Students may also look into the “minimal footprint” society and how the recyclability of products and waste streams can be managed and measured, and whose responsibility this ought to be.