An analysis of the transition to the circular economy reveals different development methods


Growth and development don’t always follow the same path. Granted, some steps on the path might be the same, but the final destination (of which there is often more than one) is reached from different starting points and paths. This is still true today. To understand the situation more clearly, just think of the different forms that Industry 4.0 takes. The same goes for the transition of existing business to the circular economy.

The complexity of the various possible pathways is considered by Sabine Urban in ‘The Transition of Existing Businesses Towards the Circular Economy: Circular Corporate Entrepreneurship’, her research contribution to the recently published book Circular Entrepreneurship.

The basic premise of her research is simple. The transition of businesses towards the circular economy does not take place according to one single type of process. Everything depends on the range of specific conditions in individual businesses. As Sabine Urban writes, to really understand what is going on, you have to ‘discover the real economy,’ seeking out models that underpin efficient and effective development solutions.

The real value of the research therefore lies in the limitation of the theory and the extensiveness of the practice. The first part is dedicated to the large multinationals SUEZ and Saint-Gobain, described as precursors of the circular economy on the basis of their differing development paths. SUEZ has promoted a radical ‘revolution in resources.’ Saint-Gobain, founded in 1665, is choosing process innovation as its path to a circular economy.  The second part of the research focuses on two successful, family-run businesses, the Hager Group and Soprema. They achieve the same goal by setting out from similar conditions and traditions, but with strong, specific characteristics based on the histories of the families and businesses. The third part examines organisational problems for very large companies (like ENGIE) and smaller and more agile companies (like EIM).

Reading the work of Sabine Urban is useful not only for the individual business cases that she examines but also in order to better understand the role that different production cultures play in meeting the new challenges of the economy.


‘The Transition of Existing Businesses Towards the Circular Economy: Circular Corporate Entrepreneurship’

Sabine Urban

in Circular Entrepreneurship, various authors, Springer, 2019