Critical Literature Review of Quantitative Sustainability Assessment Methods for the Circular Economy

Research output: NRELPresentation


The circular economy (CE) has been proposed to be an operational framework for sustainable development that decouples economic growth from resource consumption. The CE ambition is to maximize the retention of value in products, materials, and resources in the economy over time with the help of CE strategies such as selling a service rather than a product, reusing and repairing products or their components, and recycling. The social, economic, and environmental performances of CE strategies need to be measured against their linear counterparts to avoid strategies that increase circularity but have other unintended externalities. However, there is currently no tool specifically designed to compare circular to linear systems and, thus, various methods from different fields have been applied. This session aims at reviewing, contrasting, and critiquing different methods that have been applied to assess the CE until now, along with an up to date state of the science in this field. Methods from the industrial ecology field have most often been applied to study the CE. However, the transition to CE involves both technological improvements as well as social changes. New business models such as collaborative consumption models (e.g., Uber or Airbnb) are examples of the new patterns of production and consumption of the CE, which may be difficult to analyze from a purely industrial ecology perspective. Methods from complexity science and humanities could therefore complement the industrial ecology perspective to extend the scope of the analysis. Such an approach could also answer a longstanding criticism of the CE which, in contrast with sustainability, solely focuses on the environment and the economy. Moreover, the hybridization of two or more existing methods can yield additional capabilities, which may enable the exploration of additional CE-related research questions. The 90 minutes session will have several presentations and conclude with a moderated, interactive panel discussion on how methods from different fields could be combined to harness their relative strengths.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages13
StatePublished - 2020

Publication series

NamePresented at ACLCA 2020: The American Center for Life Cycle Assessment (ACLCA) Conference, 22-24 September 2020

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-6A20-77828


  • circular economy
  • complex systems science
  • industrial ecology
  • methodology review


Dive into the research topics of 'Critical Literature Review of Quantitative Sustainability Assessment Methods for the Circular Economy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this