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The future of the circular economy and the circular economy of the future

Ricardo Weigend Rodríguez (Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh, UK)
Francesco Pomponi (Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh, UK)
Ken Webster (Exeter Centre for the Circular Economy, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK)
Bernardino D'Amico (Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh, UK)

Built Environment Project and Asset Management

ISSN: 2044-124X

Article publication date: 15 June 2020

Issue publication date: 4 September 2020




The circular economy (CE) has gained momentum in recent years as a new economic paradigm. While the CE sets a very defined vision for a sustainable future, it still operates in the present. As such, existing guidance on and research into the CE lack a necessary understanding of how to go from the present to the future. What if the future is different from what the CE expects? The CE cannot answer this question adequately and therefore is not capable of developing this understanding alone. To address this shortcoming, this paper proposes futures studies (FS) as a complementary discipline because it offers exactly what CE lacks: methods to explore alternative futures.


To understand the level of interdisciplinary research in the built environment between CE and FS, a systematic literature review is carried out using a bibliometric review and a snowballing technique. This manuscript reviews seminal literature in both fields and their theoretical background.


This paper demonstrates the lack of collaboration between CE and FS and highlights a systemic failure within CE, which is to consider the future as unknowable. It further provides an initial understanding of where the synergy sits, recommendations on where to start and introduces some of the FS chief methods that could be used by CE in the built environment.

Research limitations/implications

The authors’ bibliometric review and snowballing approach might have missed out on some literature that still falls within the scope. Such limitations are due, on one hand, to the authors’ bibliometric review approach by selecting publications based on matching keywords. On the other hand, the snowballing approach is affected by the authors’ subjective judgements on which of the publications are worth to explore based mainly just on the title and abstract of the paper.

Practical implications

The inclusion of Futures Studies will allow a stronger focus on approaching possible futures to be integrated overtly into existing work, research and action within the CE community.

Social implications

It is more reasonable to expect that by cooperatively creating and implementing constructed futures with FS methods and CE principles, a better future for the built environment be reached. This is why it is so relevant for humanity that these two communities start to interact as soon as possible and maintain and open and productive collaboration in transitioning towards a sustainable society.


To the authors’ knowledge, this research is the first of its kind by considering FS into the CE debate.



Grateful thanks to Ruth Saint and Leo Woods for proofreading the final version of the manuscript. The first author acknowledges PhD scholarship by CONACYT‐ Alianza FiiDEM.


Weigend Rodríguez, R., Pomponi, F., Webster, K. and D'Amico, B. (2020), "The future of the circular economy and the circular economy of the future", Built Environment Project and Asset Management, Vol. 10 No. 4, pp. 529-546.



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