The ISIE and the circular economy: a discussion on branding changes

Paul Hoekman

At the 2020 Annual General Meeting (AGM), a group of ISIE members brought forward the need for the ISIE to 'Position the ISIE towards synergy with the circular economy agenda'. The core of this idea was presented as follows:

The term “circular economy” (CE) has gained traction across industry, management, policy, and academia. CE is an appealing non-technical term which has successfully attracted attention from those previously disengaged with resource and environmental issues covered in Industrial Ecology (IE).
Many CE concepts are strongly grounded in industrial ecology, but with little input from ISIE, benefits of developments and research by our community are lost on major CE issues and challenges. Furthermore, the ISIE could benefit from contributions of scholars and practitioners who may be unaware of the origins of their CE work in IE.
IE, however, has generally avoided using the term officially (e.g. ‘CE’ is not mentioned once on the ISIE website, except in user-contributed content). Yet, CE is increasingly present in ISIE member CVs, JIE publications, and IE conferences, suggesting that members generally recognize the benefits of the reach and popularity of CE.
We believe that the IE community should not take a pass on the honest enthusiasm that many in government and industry currently feel towards the circular economy. The ISIE can proactively help refine and execute the CE concept through responsible and feasible science. We propose that ISIE develop a more specific role following member deliberations.

At the AGM, the membership voted in favor of this proposal and the proponents have since worked on more specific ideas to take this forward. The following document was elaborated and discussed at the last ISIE board meeting. The board approved suggestion 2 (Updated descriptions of the society) and work is currently underway to make these changes. However, suggestion 1, highlighted below, was considered to be a change that has a strong impact on the ISIE's identity, and it was therefore decided that such a change should be made after consultation with the wider membership and not just the board.

This forum topic serves as a platform to discuss these changes. I would like to invite the original proponents to elaborate a bit on this proposal and to explain the benefits. Our entire membership is invited to comment on this and to share how they feel about this proposal.


Suggestion 1: A slogan to strengthen the IE brand
A slogan can instantly clarify the relation of IE & ISIE to the CE. Based on informal conservations, we found that industrial ecologists broadly agree that IE is the provider of scientific evidence in relation to the CE. We suggest complementing the ISIE logo/name with the following slogan to reflect this.

International Society for Industrial Ecology (ISIE)

Science for a Circular Economy

The slogan may be shown separately or in a single image that captures the ISIE logo together with the slogan in appropriate styling. The latter may require the development of a consistent identity with a standard set of colours, typefaces, and versions of the logo.


In coordination with the proponents, the web team suggests the following implementation on the ISIE homepage, where this slogan is placed underneath the large logo. This would initially be the only place where this is shown (i.e. it would not be shown underneath the smaller logo that appears on interior pages of the website). Note that the link takes you to a prototype page, which is not yet visible to regular visitors.

Rupert Myers

The core aim of this initiative is to make the relevance of industrial ecology to circular economy clearer to external parties (i.e. those not affiliated with ISIE or less familiar with industrial ecology).

We feel that some internal (society) initiative is needed here since industrial ecology is often misrepresented/misunderstood (industrial ecology is often defined as industrial symbiosis, e.g. by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation), and is certainly overlooked relative to its significance for the circular economy (e.g.

How should we do this? Do we agree with a slogan?

I think at the very least we should ourselves better define industrial ecology on our website. See the key statements here (, for suggestions of what can be included.

Barbara Reck

It’s an important mission to create a stronger association between ISIE and CE and I support the proposals made in Suggestion 2. Yet, when it gets to branding I feel that the proposed slogan in Suggestion 1 ("ISIE – Science for a Circular Economy") would be too narrow since it ignores another key topic that IE deals with: climate change.

To date, most people would likely neither associate ISIE with CE nor climate change, the latter despite ISIE members’ growing publication record on the topic including authorship in IPCC reports. Alternative slogans would admittedly be less catchy but hopefully more comprehensive (e.g.,  “Industrial Ecology – The Sustainability Science that Informs Circular Economy and Climate Change Initiatives”).

Franco Donati

Dear all, 

I think it's a great and much needed proposition, however, I tend to agree with Barbara Reck. 

While it's true that much of our work is supporting circular economy, we need to be careful that we are not marginalizing research that is focusing on other aspects of sustainability. For example, there are colleagues that, in addition to climate change mitigation, are also doing work on a diverse set of SDGs in which the (intentional) CE component is perhaps weaker. 

I think being a bit more explicit about the broader sustainability appraoch could be useful:

Science for Sustainability and Circular Economy

Kind regards,


Rohit Panchal

The circular economy is a confusing term since researchers have used this term alternatively with the R-imperatives (Recycle, reuse, reduce, etc.) and with several other constructs. Rather the idea of industrial ecology is clear and well defined in comparison to the term "circular economy". But I must admit that the popularity of the term "circular economy" is more among researchers and also in the scientific literature. Therefore, from the branding point of view, including a circular economy with industrial ecology is good. 


Christoph Helbig

Dear Paul, dear proponents and supporters of the suggestions, dear members of the ISIE,

As a regular member of the society, I appreciate the initiative of the proponents and supporters on the matter of visibility of the term Circular Economy in the ISIE brand and description. I acknowledge that we, as a society, can improve in this regard. Let me explain why, after reading the arguments brought forward so far, I second suggestion 2 (updated descriptions of the society) and simultaneously cannot support suggestion 1 (rebranding the slogan).

At the occasion of 2015's ISIE conference in Surrey, Guildford, UK, Roland Clift and Angela Druckman, with the collaboration of various authors, undertook the adventure of "Taking Stock of Industrial Ecology" (published open access as an ebook in Springer, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-20571-7). Tom Graedel and Reid Lifset provided the first chapter on Industrial Ecology's First Decade. 2015's conference coincidentally was my first ISIE experience, and I got hooked right away. To my mind, Tom's and Reid's first chapter is a must-read for any student of Industrial Ecology and any scholar who wants to get familiar with our field.

The chapter by Tom and Reid, among other things, tries to summarise "what exactly [is] industrial ecology". With all necessary caution and acknowledging that definitions of fields are fluid terms, I believe their quotes and summaries are still valid. They quote Robert White (1994), stating IE is "the study of the flows of materials and energy [...]". They also mention Tom Graedel and Braden Allenby (1995) that IE is "a systems view in which one seeks to optimise the total materials cycle [...]". The goal is to be "the means by which humanity can deliberately and rationally approach and maintain sustainability, given continued economic, cultural, and technological evolution." The slogan by Tamar Makov (2014) that IE is "the science behind sustainability" is the cherry on the cake, and has been, if I recall correctly, also been used in one of the speakers in a plenary session.

Coming back to the suggestions at hand, I second the idea to use the term Circular Economy more often in the description of the society and official texts. Much of the research carried out by members in all sections identifies that "designing out waste and pollution", "keeping products and materials in use", and "regenerating natural systems" (three core principles of CE according to the EllenMcAthurFoundation) are indeed helpful to approach and maintain sustainability. And even more research by members identifies how these CE principles can be implemented or fostered using a systems view. Therefore, many of us do Circular Economy research, and we should not be afraid to use the term to describe our research.

However, I so far cannot support the suggestion to put the term "Circular Economy" into the slogan of the society. In my understanding of Industrial Ecology, the research carried out in our field builds on the study of material and energy flows, using systems view to consider various influences, with the ultimate goal to assess the sustainability impacts of industrial, consumer, and societal activities. In the vast majority, we conclude that pursuing the CE core principles is an essential element of optimising the total materials cycle. We do not per se put the Circular Economy at the forefront of our scientific goals. For me, this is important because good IE research should also question - as part of scientific rigour - when and if the CE principles are not moving humanity towards sustainability. In most cases, this exercise will ensure ourselves of the key findings that we should aim to close material cycles. Still, as IE scientists, we can't automatically take this result as given. Graedel and Allenby (1994) said: "IE seeks to optimise to total materials cycle"; they didn't write "close the materials cycle".

I'm happy to discuss this topic further. Maybe we can find additional options to increase the use of the term Circular Economy in our society. These options should be, to my mind, in addition to the update of society descriptions (which seems to be the consensus so far) and instead of extending our society name with a permanent slogan or subtitle. Maybe we can find alternative procedures that recognise the timeliness and popularity of Circular Economy research yet do risk altering the fundamentals of the IE society.

Best, Christoph

Rupert Myers

I also really like the definition from Tom & Braden, and I am keen to see this better presented on our website through the proposed revamp/updates: 

"The chapter by Tom and Reid, among other things, tries to summarise "what exactly [is] industrial ecology". With all necessary caution and acknowledging that definitions of fields are fluid terms, I believe their quotes and summaries are still valid. They quote Robert White (1994), stating IE is "the study of the flows of materials and energy [...]". They also mention Tom Graedel and Braden Allenby (1995) that IE is "a systems view in which one seeks to optimise the total materials cycle [...]". The goal is to be "the means by which humanity can deliberately and rationally approach and maintain sustainability, given continued economic, cultural, and technological evolution." The slogan by Tamar Makov (2014) that IE is "the science behind sustainability" is the cherry on the cake, and has been, if I recall correctly, also been used in one of the speakers in a plenary session."

Sergio Pacca

In my opinion, the idea of circularity encourages recycling and not the rationality of production and consumption. Companies attract more consumers simply because they recycle the bottle. Such an approach diverts the discussion on social justice and the company use their narrative to sell what benefits them. In addition, there are a myriad of environmental concerns that are tackled by IE tools and are not concerned with circularity indicators. Even if LCA midpoint indicators are limited they cover a broader range of environmental insults than circularity.

Tim Baynes

I think an association between industrial ecology and circular economy is worthwhile but I could as easily say we (industrial ecologists) should associate ourselves with delivering more broadly on the Sustainable Development Goals. A slogan that associates only with circular economy, has a risk of getting the attention of those (currently) only interested in the circular economy. The science, research and advocacy of our members for a circular economy is real but can we express that prominently and outwardly in another way? A position statement, a formal association with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation?.. what if ISIE's branding and contact details appears on the websites of other institutions more uniquely associated with CE and, in exchange, the logos of the institutions we respect and associate with industrial ecology, are recognised on our website (or other ISIE material)? I think this promotes the institutionally collaborative and richly defined ISIE that I know.

Gemma  Cervantes

I agree with  Franco Donatti's opinion, that Sustainability is greater than climate change, and includes it, and that IE tends to sustainability. In my opinion, IE is the basis of CE, wich is a way of putting IE into practice, with a special emphasis in economic and materials aspects. So, I would agree with the slogan: IE, the science of Sustainability and Circular Economy

Reid Lifset

I too like "Science for Sustainability and Circular Economy" as an effective compromise.  I think it is important that the ISIE maintain visibility in CE research and discourse and it is crucial to move decisively. I think including both sustainability and circular economy in the slogan addresses both concerns/goals expressed in this Forum.

Paul Hoekman

Many thanks to all the input that has been provided. This topic was brought up at the Annual General Meeting on May 25th, and based on the feedback in this forum the following three potential taglines have been shortlisted:

  • Science for a circular economy
  • The sustainability science that informs circular economy and climate change initiatives
  • Science for sustainability and circular economy

In order to facilitate the decision-taking process, the membership is currently being consulted on which of these tagline(s) they would support. The following link can be used to select a preferred tagline. A mass e-mail will be sent out shortly, and we will gather input for two weeks. This will hopefully make it clear what kind of support each option has with the membership.

In the meantime, if anyone has anything else they want to share on the topic, please feel free to post. I should also point you to this new forum topic, posted by ISIE President Stefanie Hellweg, where she discusses potential priority routes for the ISIE around grand sustainability challenges, and ways to address them. Circular economy is very much a part of this, so your input in that topic is also most welcome.

Roland Clift

Sustainability is about much more than climate change, and industrial ecology is about much more than a "circular eonomy".  I think it would be a big mistake to limit the scope of iSIE by linkng it too closely to either.  Sustianability has a social equity dimension, and that is too often overlooked - if youleave it out, all you have left is eco-efficiency and we are about much more than that.  Resource efficiency is about making use of the stock in the economy; focussing solely on the flows, as the circulare economy model does, misses the point.  Furthermore, a disconcertingly large proportion of the literature looks at the circular economy as a way to oncrease market share or conventional economic activity; the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has made the mistakeof going that way, and this is the reason why some of the leading figures have parted company from the Foundation. 

Sustainable development is about social and personal development, not just increased economic activity.

Let's make it clearer what ISIE is about, rather than getting sucked in to using terms that are current but constricted.  For example, how about "Science for a sustainable, equitable and resource-efficient economy".

Roland Clift

Several people have mentioned the chapter by Tom and Reid in "Taking Stock of Industrial Ecology".  That chapter talked abiut the American origims of IE.  It said very little about the developments outside the US that contributed to IE.  Angela Druckman and I said a bit about the non-US antecedents in the introduction to the book, to balance it up a bit.

Oliver Heidrich

I think we are about providing impartial and rigoruous evidence to make decisions- and i would vote for a slightly amended option 2- "The science that informs circular economy and climate change initiatives" . Happy to discuss and come to a consenous, but as we know sometimes dictatorship also works quite well. Best wishes Oliver

Christopher Mayers

I agree that (2) is really the best option, as IE does far more than just CE and focussing on CE is too narrow. In addition, IE seeks to inform CE approaches, it does not provide a scientific support or proof of CE principles put forward by CE practioners, so taglines (1) and (3) could be easily misconstrued. I would also suggest that 'Circular Economy' could be phrased 'Circularity' as a means of setting out a more general remit for IE.

Roland Clift

It still eems to me that the focus should be "resource efficiency" rathe than "circularity", which is only one of the approaches supporting resource efficiency. 

Christopher Mayers

I do very much prefer resource efficiency!

Roland Clift

So how about "Science for a sutainable, equitable and resource-efficient economy"?

Christopher Mayers

I'd vote for that one preferentially if it were an option - it seems to describe far more accurately what IE does. I am not convinced including "CE" in the tagline will make IE more relevant or more popular, and one of the reasons I choose to work with IE is that is does present an alternative and much more superior approach than CE. I worry mentioning CE, people would expect IE then to support the main immutable three principles of CE, which themselves are unscientific.

Roland Clift

I very much agree.  As I said, tying ISIE to a limited and much less developod and nuanced agenda would be a big mistake.

I have to agree with both Kieren and Roland on this. The phrase CE does have some negative connotations within some industries, and I don't think it is good to tie ourselves to a 'current' popular phrase: these have a habit of changing over time and I don't believe that ISIE would want to regularly change its 'tag line'. Resource efficiency has much wider resonance, and can cover circularity where it is appropriate to do so.

Marian Chertow

This has been an excellent discussion and highlights the purpose of having the Forum. I am one of the people who is on the committee that raised the questions including the proposal that was passed by the Annual General Meeting in 2020. I also  think some of the recent suggestions are very useful to consider.  I do want to highlight a couple of the issues that sparked this effort as follows:

1. Lack of visibility - most people have recognized that IE is not familiar or well understood in the broader community even after 30 years whereas circular economy, for example, has had a lot of presence. This lack of visibility is one of the key issues we wanted to address. Despite best efforts it is still difficult to explain succinctly what IE is all about. So the idea of a tagline was formed to try to find a way to communicate some sort of message quickly with the  understanding that the tagline need not be permanent.  As with other promotional materials we can keep our main name - ISIE - and change taglines whenever there would be a good reason to do so.  The goal has not been to say all of what IE does and is in a short tagline, but to make IE more accessible.  This would also require preparing materials that offer the introductory ideas and is on-going.

2. While it is difficult to be short and fully inclusive, we do need some updated message so we are not overlooked.  Many people felt left out if we just talked about CE and so the idea was raised to include "sustainability." That certainly covers a lot of ground.  Others who recognize benefits of CE to IE and IE to CE still may want to stay a little more distanced particularly on the word "economy" since that is not one of our greatest strengths. There is much more I could write but to keep the message short and more accessible while addressing some of the main concerns of people who have written in I would propose: Science for sustainability and circularity.

Best to all who have made IE the fascinating field it is today,

Marian Chertow


Roland Clift

There are other organisations that already brand themselves as "Sustainability Science"  so we have to say something more.  That's why I suggested "Science for a sustainable, equitable and resource-efficient economy".


Franco Donati

Dear all,

I wanted to provided some points of clarification on this issue as there seems to be quite a few misconceptions.

I will conclude with some remarks on some of the issues that have been raised.

What does Circular Economy constitute?

In the literature from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, three general principles are at the base of the circular economy:

  1. Preserve and enhance natural capital by controlling finite stocks and balancing renewable resource flows;
  2. Optimise resource yields by circulating product, components and materials in use at the highest utility at all times in both technical and biological cycles;
  3. Foster system effectiveness by revealing and designing out negative externalities.

These principles/objectives are achievable through the adoption of 6 business actions (ReSOLVE):

Regenerate - Restore and regenerate natural capital:

  • Shift to renewable energy and materials;
  • Reclaim, retain, and regenerate health ecosystems;
  • Return recovered biological resources to the biosphere.

Share - Keep product loop speed low and maximize product utilisation:

  • Share assets;
  • Reuse/second-hand;
  • Prolong life through maintenance, design for durability, upgradability, etc.

Optimise - Optimise system performance:

  • Increase performance/efficiency of products
  • Remove waste in production and supply chains;
  • Leverage big data, automation, remote sensing and steering.

Loop - Keep components and materials in closed loops and prioritise inner loops:

  • Remanufacture products or components;•Recycle materials;
  • Digest anaerobically;
  • Extract biochemical from organic waste.

Virtualise - Deliver utilities virtually:

  • Digitalisation of physical objects and services.

Exchange - Select resource input wisely:

  • Replace old with advanced non-renewable materials;
  • Apply new technologies;•Choose new product/service;
  • These initiatives are further integrated within the framework

What disciplines does CE cover?

The Circular Economy paradigm is concerned with utilizing a broad set of disciplines/tools to deliver on the sustainability of the consumption and production system. Some of these are:

  • Industrial ecology
  • Biomimicry
  • The natural step
  • Green chemistry
  • Bioeconomy
  • Blue economy
  • Sharing economy
  • Product service systems
  • and many others

What does sustainability entail?

If we follow the defition of the sustainability as indicated by the UN we have 17 goals showing multiple dimensions which include equity as well many other aspects. We could argue whether we agree or not on all of the these objectives. I am sure that we could have endless conversations on whether it is sensible to include some of the goals (e.g. economic growth). However, if we use this definition then equity is well represented.

Circular economy being Europe-Centric?

Some of our colleagues during the plenary have expressed concerns that Circular Economy is a fad driven by the policy debate in the EU.

While it is undeniable that recent popularization has come from the policy debate in the EU, I do not think it is accurate to see this as an exclusively European debate. For one, circular economy in Europe has started gaining traction after 2010 with the publication of the Ellen Mcarthur foundation report on Circular Economy, however, the People's Republic of China already had a policy in place in 2008 the Circular Economy promotion law. Secondly, while various concepts of CE as conceived today come from European scholars, Chinese scholars were already writing about Circular Economy in the beginning of 2000's. Some of these scholars publishing already in our very own Journal of Industrial Ecology too. In fact, the earliest discussions formally referring to CE were held by Chinese colleagues who were precursors on these issues.

I think the perception of CE being mostly driven by Europeans has to do with broader issues of European and North American hegemony in english speaking scientific publications rather than being something endemic to Circular Economy scholars/practitioners/policy. I believe we would be making a big mistake equating Circular Economy as a European fad. One because it erases the work brought forward by Chinese scholars; two it would negate the efforts and experience of colleagues in the global south who have established great initiatives and associations; three because if CE is a fad it is one that is taking long to die since it's been going on for at least 20 years.

Some last remarks

The debate we are holding is not about whether or not the society should have a slogan/sub-title, but rather whether we should have one that includes circular economy to ensure that our work is well included in the science-policy interface.

One question that comes to mind, which was also brough forward by Chris Helbig during the plenary in the IEday (allow me some paraphrasing) is whether there is really an issue of representation of industrial ecology in the circular economy debate. Current CE policy includes many aspects that have to do with industrial ecology (e.g. industrial symbiosis and resource effciency). If we look at the profile of people who are being hired by consultancies and institutions working on these issues, we will see that there are many of our colleagues.

However, there is really no easy way to assess whether industrial ecology is being eclipsed by CE. We can only speculate. In fear of loosing an opportunity to increase exposure of our research we are discussing whether we should more formally associate ourselves with CE. That is all. And I would argue that this is not just an issue of ensuring that Industrial Ecology is not eclipsed by CE but also that we are effective in attracting students and young scholars who are looking into carrying scientific research in the domain of Circular Economy which overlap with Industrial Ecology. Quite simply, when students are searching for sustainability research are they googling Industrial Ecology or Circular Economy? Which also related to the quesiton of "when businesses unfamiliar with sustainability are looking for experts these days are they googling industrial ecology or circular economy?".

As indicated by Marian Chertow, we are not committing for life on a slogan. We can be flexible and if we see that it doesn't work we can also adapt it as times change. For instance when this 20 year fad is over. ;)

Some of you have also indicated that we should not associate ourselves with CE because some industry actors may have a negative view of it. My answer to this, and sorry for being blunt, is that we are indepent scientists and our role and responsibility is to advise society. If some actors have issues with circular economy, these are probably actors that need to wake up a bit and jump on the sustainability transition wagon, rather than having us hold back taking stances to avoid loosing their attention. Our existence as a scientific field and our responsibility is toward the benefit of society at large.

At last, and this is more a matter of form, an effective slogan/subtitle is one that effectively conveys the points shortly in just a few words. This means that if are moving forward with this branding change, then we should have an eye on principles of effective copy writing. Clarifications can then be made on the body of text describing the association.

Roland Clift

Franco Donati is to be thanked for exposing so clearly the category confusion in this discussion.

ISIE is a “learned society”. Industrial Ecology is part of the “Enlightenment Project” to replace belief, doctrine and mere assertion with reason grounded in evidence – although the project has sadly been faltering in recent years under pressure from populist movements that rely on dogma for their appeal.

The “Circular Economy” is a movement, not an intellectual framework. Particularly in the form advocated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, it is a populist agenda, full of general doctrine and vague assertion. The list of relevant disciplines is an obvious catch-all. We all know that the difficulties in applying IE concepts lie in the details but, like most populist dogmas, the Ellen MacArthur version leaves out the difficult details – the realities of thermodynamics, mixing and contamination, for example. The Foundation announced that it does not recognise the distinction between stocks and flows when it published a major document entitled “A Wealth of Flows”. There is also a warning in the way some of the leading figures in the early days of the Foundation have now distanced themselves.

The version of the Circular Economy advocated by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation is one amongst many. Analysing the differences between different versions and assessing their validity is a legitimate activity for a learned society. Kirchherr et al. (2017) reviewed 114 definitions and concluded that “the circular economy is most frequently depicted as a combination of reduce, reuse and recycle activities…(with)…few explicit linkages…to sustainable development.” The focus is usually on economic prosperity, followed by environmental quality, rarely with any attention to social or intergenerational equity, and even more rarely to the associated systemic changes or what would drive them. CE is a limited agenda at best.

To avoid merely promoting another ill-grounded populist movement, advocates of CE (only one amongst several drivers for a more resource-efficient and equitable economy) need the deeper understanding provided by industrial ecology. At least we can agree that we should promote the intellectual agenda of IE as a necessary basis for promoting CE.

Kirchherr, J., D. Reike, and M. Hekkert. 2017. Conceptualizing the circular economy: An analysis of 114 definitions. Resources, Conservation and Recycling 127: 221-232

Franco Donati

My apologies but I really fail to see the connection with populism. Something can be popular without being populist and CE is far from being a proposition promoted by mainstream populists.

I would be very curious to see where the EMF in a Wealth of Flows (or in any other report) states that there is no distinction between stocks and flows. It would be quite a statement as the report broadly discusses both of those things separately. 

Having said that, like with any other concept, details are then substantiated by further research. The EMF may not clarify some challenges and may very well be incomplete in their description of CE but we know that many of our colleagues are certainly working on providing evidence to support detailed aspects of the circular economy (including on issues of contamination for example). I would not dismiss their efforts as feeding into populism as I believe their work is serving the purpose of giving clarity and direction to the CE field.

For example, such attempts are seeing in the very study that was mentioned.

"We defined CE within our iteratively developed coding framework as an economic system that replaces the ‘end-of-life’ concept with reducing, alternatively reusing, recycling and recovering materials in production/distribution and consumption processes. It operates at the micro level (products, companies, consumers), meso level (eco-industrial parks) and macro level (city, region, nation and beyond), with the aim to accomplish sustainable development, thus simultaneously creating environmental quality, economic prosperity and social equity, to the benefit of current and future generations. It is enabled by novel business models and responsible consumers. We hope that this CE definition can be a contribution to the scholarly CE community with this definition ideally serving as a conceptual foundation for future work on the topic." (Krichherr et al 2017).

Additionally, Ghisellini et al 2016 looked at CE origins, methods and policy options at different levels (micro-meso-macro). They found that "CE origins are mainly rooted in ecological and environmental economics and industrial ecology." and while indeed in some studies CE is erroneously reduced to the 3Rs, they show that in the literature the methods and policy options are in fact broader and far reaching across the different levels.

My personal position is that the CE is nothing more than a coordinated effort across already established fields, merely facilitating use and orchestration of conepts and methods across disciplines that were previously moving separately. That being said, CE is of course not an omnicomprehensive agenda to solve every issue which is why a clear connection to sustainability is needed. 

With regards to, "At least we can agree that we should promote the intellectual agenda of IE as a necessary basis for promoting CE. " I think this is really the whole point at the end. However, the question remains: Do we want to state that more clearly in the way we present our society?

Christopher Mayers

I fully agree with Roland. Also in response to Franco Donati, I do have very strong reservations about CE, as do many within IE for very good and well considered and researched reasons. It was IE that woke me up and opened my eyes to this. Yet I am fully also engaged in working on the transition to a more 'sustainable' way of living such as working to mitigate climate change, hazardous chemicals, and material efficiency. Now responsible for ESG within my company I need to work on equity issues and social responsibility - CE has nothing in it's ethos to aid that sustainable transition. The notion that anyone not on board with Circular Economy does support a transition to sustainability, as you put it, is itself an issue with the CE movement - an intolerance of critical debate inpite of there being well-researched reasons for caution, and a limited approach that does not recognise the importance of the broader ' field of play' on sustainability. If this is the mode of thinking we are fostering and advocating with this tagline, then also to be blunt, it risks a shift for a respected academic society to adhere to a more popular / populist agenda with a limited mindset. Forgive me if alarm bells are ringing.

Roland Clift

The very title "A Wealth of Flows" is the give-away - wealth is a stock.

Franco Donati

My opinions are of course my own and should not be seen as reflective of the whole society. I reject the notion of CE being populist and I disagree with some of your points but this is not being intollerant, it is confronting ideas and opposing views. My position may very well be marginal, and that is ok.

Christopher Mayers

Hi Franco, this is of course and open debate and encouraged to share all views, to find consensus and sticking points. ISIE has for a long time tried to engage with leaders within Circular Economy, including Dame Ellen MacArthur directly, and also the CEO of EMF at the Chicago conference (who famously told us all we need to follow the Uber model!) In all these years the doctorine of CE has not addressed or incorporated the emerging insights and knowledge from IE in spite of substantial and laudable efforts of key members.

What I particularly noticed in your initial comment was "If some actors have issues with circular economy, these are probably actors that need to wake up a bit and jump on the sustainability transition wagon, rather than having us hold back taking stances to avoid loosing their attention." This comment stands out; it is the type of attitude I've seen from CE proponents and I think somewhat useful to consider in this discussion. I recently wrote a critique of CE for Harvard Business Review, and have been surprised at some reactions such as being accused of being 'got to' by the 'linear economy lobbyists' by an established CE consultant (who are this mysterious body of lobbyists?) Also another CE consultant concluded in a feat of illogic, after reading the article - to paraphrase 'I accept the limitations of CE. However, these are actually limitations of the linear economy. Therefore, we need to accelerate implementation of CE'. Some academics have cut off from major funding because they critiqued CE. I am sure many have similar stories.

I do not believe it is sensible to pretend such seemingly illiberal aspects of the CE movement don't matter or don't exist, particularly at a time where scientific approaches have been denigrated and devalued so much. How should we react when the CEO of EMF tells a group of learned academics that the Uber model is the solution, despite the evidence and research on that which this society has in hand? Should we nod sagely at these types of proclaimation and seek to align under a notion we can better supervise it or gain relevance from the popular attention? Coming back to your comment; should we refuse to follow the CE path / tagline, should we accept the accusation then that we've not woken up to sustainability? I think ISIE has such an important role to promote and defend the application of research, and that might not be best served by adopting a tagline that makes it appear that we've signed up. Imagine "Medicine, the science behind homeopathy" being used as a way to try to ensure homeopathy practioners use more science and also that medicine benefits from the popularity of homeopathy. No. The medical community used their science to show homeopathy was a movement based on belief and not science, and not advisable if you want to be sure of treating or curing your ailments. OK it is an extreme example...

In the IE day discussion, CE was presented as an 'economic model'. However, there is no mention of money flows in the model. It is certainly a movement, more polictical in nature, and in politics presently parties of all polictical spectrums have adopted a rhetoric of reaction, no-one willing to listen to the logic of any arguments just the notion of peoples being with us or against us. We are in a an era of populism and there are elements of that apparent in the CE movement, in the green movement, in liberal as well as left and right politics. In that sense we can discuss the extent to which CE is a movement and the extent to which it adopts a populist agenda, and the consequences for science. It seems fundamentally important given the history of ISIE attempted engagement with CE / EMF. The important differences between the purpose of political movements vs scientifc instutions is of fundamental importance. A desire to discuss that and critique it does not equate to a lack of willingness to address sustainability. Why portray an opposing viewpoint in this discussion as an unwelcome intransigence by non-progressive members?

As you may know, populism is a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups, and increasingly practioners of CE 'who act as enlightened champions CE supporters with a popular message striking a chord with the masses' speak out against the perceived 'entrenched linear economy actors'. Only with IE we know that nothing is truly circular and linear, and sending things round in loops does not address the elephant in the room of unmitigated consumption. In my experience, very few at the many political or other CE meetings voices or addresses these limitations or how to resolve them - only how to implement CE as a forgone conclusion - very little focus on if or when CE approaches are effective / ineffective. Many policy makers I know on the other hand try to be pragmatic, they know the limitations, they read and study JIE and respect it deeply. When we presented to senior EU officials a few years ago, they were very hungry for the insights from ISIE and wanted more, but the society were not able to reach agreement on how to follow up.

As to Roland's point regarding CE not considering stocks, this is also well established in the IE literature, Roland and Walter Stahel wrote an article on that for the Surrey Conference, and Walter Stahel lamented that the EU implementation of CE failed to consider sufficiently the value and importance of maintaining the stock of goods and materials in use.

Franco Donati

Hi Kieren,

As you may have seen, I have responded to Roland's email on this issue but I also wanted to respond here as the points we are addressing are the same.

First of all, thank you for the thorough explanation. And let me acknoweldge that indeed, my response was loaded and despite using "probably" I understand how it comes across.
My apologies for not being more careful/diplomatic in my phrasing. I had no intention of making any of our colleagues feel excluded from participating in this discussion. Nonetheless, I take my responsibilities for not being more mindful.
I hope you understand that much of the backstory presented here that surrounds EMF and others may not be common knowledge. However, it now provides more context and clarity as to why there would be hesitation to be more formally aligned with CE. I understand the issues with EMF you have raised and I certainly have criticisms of my own of their work, and how CE is being interpreted/used in different avenues. Having said that, I believe CE has taken a shape of its own and is bigger than whatever work EMF has done.
From your description, I have the impression that CE is being seen as mostly the work of the EMF.  Although they are prominent, I don't believe that is all that CE is. My position is, instead of abandoning/ignoring CE, we'd better try to steer it to where it needs to go (as many of you have been trying) because it's now already embedded in the policy regime and in public debate. Given that IE is providing knowledge and instruments for it, I believe we should collect the benefits and repair the damages, so to speak. And I agree with your point on CE and policy makers. I remember being baffled by the first CE package in the EU but I see this changing.
On the issue of CE as an economic model. CE (well before the EMF) proposes a way to organize industries and consumption to reduce resource consumption and environmental impacts. The flow of income underlies such proposition, which is what allows scholars working with economic models to (attempt to) study the effects of arranging our industrial system in that way. Generally speaking, it is not possible to separate economic discussions from political discussions I am afraid. They are, in a sense, one and the same. And the political movement is needed if you want implementation of policies. There is nothing wrong with that. Having said that, I do acknowledge that in the processes there could be polarization. However, I think we should be cautious in labelling everything populism because of animated dissent. Just like we shouldn't be labelling someone as a sellout merely for raising doubts about an economic proposition.
Colleagues missing opportunities because they are not aligning with CE, well that is obviously an issue and I cannot speak much of this unfortunately.
I see 2 fundamental contrasting positions at the base of this discussion.
1) The political dimension of Circular Economy is seen as a potential negative influence on the scientific quality of Industrial Ecology.
2) The political dimension of Circular Economy is seen as an opportunity to increase diffusion of industrial ecology scientific knowledge.
I don't know how to resolve this but I just thought I would highlight it.
Once again let me apologize for the way I expressed my self earlier and I hope we can continue discussing these issue constructively.
Christopher Mayers

Hi Franco, thank you - there was no offence taken, thank you for the explanation. I think from a point of view of 'discussing the discussion' it provided an interesting perspective. Populism is a rheteroic of reaction and strong elements of it can be found in all political movements presently, including 'green' politics, and we should be concious of the implications of that. Recognising that is important for debate, I am not one side accusing another of being populist, but I am very interested in how the rhetoric influences us. I am highlighting the issues with aligning an area of scientific study with a movement with a strong political component and motive, which is am important distinction. I do think that EMF is a movement, and people studying CE are part of a movement trying to implement an alternative economic model. Nevetheless, CE was born out of EMF, and any evolving organisations that take different approaches can trace their principles and origins back to EMF. IE started much earlier and already moved beyond those CE approaches and principles. The discussion is a good one and has its parallels in history, the eary conservationsists and preservationists had similar concerns but entirley different premises for action. The preservationsists had the popular appeal, but the conservationsist had the science and method. They rarely agreed, were strongly opposed on many things, but were both part of forming what today is considered sustainabiliy. I would say that IE has a distinct, separate, and legitimate role to play, and that the tagline with CE embedded will paper gaps but not fill them.

Paul Hoekman

Hi everyone,

Many thanks for all the inputs and this ongoing discussion. We know there are many different opinions and ideas on this topic but sharing your thoughts and gaining a better understanding of other viewpoints is exactly why we set up this forum thread.

Please let me hereby inform everyone that the poll that we did has now closed.

Here are the numbers for each option (note: people were allowed to select multiple options):

Which of the taglines do you support?

  • International Society for Industrial Ecology - Science for sustainability and circular economy: 64 votes
  • I do not support any of these taglines: 17 votes
  • International Society for Industrial Ecology - Science for a circular economy: 14 votes
  • International Society for Industrial Ecology - The sustainability science that informs circular economy and climate change initiatives: 11 votes

Currently, the circular economy workgroup is looking into what next steps to take, based on member inputs received through the voting round, the forum thread, and the round table discussion that took place at IE Day. The proposed next steps will be discussed with the ISIE's executive team and we will report on the outcome once this is available (due to summer holidays in most of the northern hemisphere, it might take a bit of time).

Please stay tuned - and do let us know through this thread if there are any other comments or questions.

Paul Hoekman

As mentioned last month, the ISIE executive team has discussed the outcome of the voting, the forum discussion, and the panel at IE Day 2021 in order to proceed with the implementation of a tagline. ISIE President Stefanie Hellweg announced earlier today that the following tagline has been adopted:

Science for sustainability and circular economy

As she mentioned in her post, the suitability of this tagline will be reviewed periodically, and we encourage members to post any additional feedback on the tagline, as well as the process, in this forum topic. We can not please everyone all the time, but we do believe that this this new tagline has broad support within our membership, and that we have provided a number of ways for people to engage on the topic. We appreciate your feedback, and would like to thank all the people who have provided input and who contributed to the many discussions, brainstorming sessions, and procedures that underlie this decision. Special thanks to all members from the circular economy task force, who brought this up at last year's AGM and who have driven this process since that time!


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