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Realising the Transition to the Circular Economy: Models, Methods and Applications

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ReTraCE (Realising the Transition to the Circular Economy: Models, Methods and Applications)

Reporting period: 2018-11-01 to 2020-10-31

​​Realising the Transition to the Circular Economy (ReTraCE) is a research project funded by Horizon 2020 EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Networks and will support the implementation of the European Commission’s Circular Economy strategy.

A Circular Economy is an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of their useful life. It aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive society-wide benefits, where products are kept in use for as long as possible, with value recovery and regeneration at the end of their useful life.

The project will bring together world-leading experts from a wide set of beneficiaries and partners to achieve breakthroughs in understanding how the transition towards a circular economy can be realised – both within existing organisations and industries as well as through innovative and sustainable business models.

This project will directly facilitate the implementation of the recently adopted ambitious Circular Economy strategy of the European Commission, which is closely linked to Sustainable Development Goals – the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.

The consortium of ten beneficiaries is led by the University of Sheffield and includes six academic and three non-academic groups: The University of Kassel (Germany), Parthenope University of Naples (Italy), Olympia Electronics S.A (Greece), Tata Steel (UK), University of Kent (UK), ABIS – Academy of Business in Society (Belgium), Dalarna University (Sweden), Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (Netherlands), and SEERC – The South-East European Research Centre (Greece).

The network will design and deliver world-class multidisciplinary training to 15 early stage researchers, offering them an extended and valuable program of international exchanges and secondments through a wide network of partner organisations – from public, private and third sector.

The multi-disciplinary project will draw upon research that will advance the current understanding of the circular economy from economic, environmental and social perspectives, providing policy insights and implications for practice.

It is envisaged that, by the end of the project, early stage researchers will be employable by research institutions, public sector bodies and within a wide range of manufacturing and service industries which will require new professional profiles for realising the transition towards the circular economy.

The main innovation proposed by the project will be the development of a holistic approach for evaluating and realising the transition towards the Circular Economy, involving knowledge and methodologies from multiple domains (including Supply Chain Management, Environmental Science, Environmental and Ecological Economics, Science and Technology Studies, Innovation Studies) and addressing economic, environmental and social issues.

The trans-national, multi-disciplinary, multi-sector, multi-stakeholder approach proposed in this project aims to bridge the main gap in research dealing with the CE paradigm, that, to date has been characterised by a “silo” approach that has undermined theoretical development and knowledge transfer to practitioners.
The project has now been in operation for two years.
15 ESRs have been hired by the beneficiary institutions. All of them have been enrolled in a PhD programme.
Three network schools have been arranged, along with a project meeting with industry; a rich seminar programme is being offered to the ESRs, involving key scholars, practitioners and policy-makers actively engaged in designing the transition towards a Circular Economy.
ESRs' progress has been solid, both in their individual projects and in collaborative work at a project level, as testified by the amount of publications which has already been produced (with more in advanced review stage) and by the project deliverables.
A rich training programme aimed at endowing ESRs with complementary and soft skills has also been implemented; such events have run in parallel to the Network Schools.
A brief synopsis of the project objectives, and of the progress against them, is offered in the next sub-sections, devoted to individual research work packages.

WP1 - Circular Supply Chains and Production Systems. Work completed so far has been concerned with the development of a framework for defining and measuring the degree of circularity of production systems, along with the definition of risk and resilience in circular supply chains. The characterisation of Circular Supply Chains, which are thought to be an essential building block for the transition towards the Circular Economy, is a clear contribution of the WP. ESRs’ progress has been solid, as testified by the large amount of journal submissions produced to date, with some papers in advanced review stage.

WP2 - Towards The Circular Economy: Assessing Environmental Efficiency. Work completed so far has been concerned with the creation of an integrated assessment framework for the evaluation of environmental profiles of production systems. Such a framework builds upon the strengths of established methods (e.g. LCA, Emergy Accounting, Life Cycle Costing, Sustainable Value Stream Mapping) allowing the analysis of products, processes and systems at different scales and across different sustainability dimensions.
The first results produced by ESRs (which employ several types of environmental assessment methods included in the integrated assessment framework) have been submitted to prestigious international journals; several papers have already been accepted, with several ones in advanced review stage. Case studies included in these papers will also inform the forthcoming project deliverables.

WP3 - Towards The Circular Economy: Assessing Economic Efficiency. This WP has been concerned with the arrangement of a structural framework for the engagement of stakeholders in Circular Economy research, and with the definition of crucial concepts for assessing economic efficiency within the CE transition. This WP is emphasising the need to reformulate how economic systems must work for the transition towards a Circular Economy. As such, work conducted so far has developed a critique of the mainstream interpretation of the Circular Economy, highlighting its eco-modernist and technocratic nature. Alternative formulations have been proposed.
ESRs have presented their work to international conferences; a paper extracted from D3.3 has been published in a prestigious international journal.

WP4 - Development Policy for The Circular Economy. ESRs have successfully completed three deliverables for this WP (D4.1 D4.2; D4.3). Such deliverables are concerned, respectively, with: a report of best-practices for the transition towards a Circular Economy (including both bottom-up and top-down policies); of a map of stakeholders for the development of regional policy concerned with the Circular Economy; a performance evaluation system for Circular Economy implementation at a regional level. ESRs’ progress has been solid, as testified by the large amount of journal submissions produced to date, with one of the papers already in advanced review stage.