Circular Economy Business and Enterprise

Module description

This interdisciplinary module explores business and enterprise opportunities when “digital meets business models meets design” of goods, services and systems. It is set within the general notion of a “circular economy”. Digital gave us insights into complex systems, full of feedback and pattern and it changed the relationship between people, resources, production, use and exchange. A linear, take-make-and-dispose mindset was ignoring feedback and leaving untapped value while exporting costs to society and the environment. This module will explore an emerging feedback rich framework for thinking and its application to business while setting its economic, environmental and philosophical context.

Full module specification

Module title:Circular Economy Business and Enterprise
Module code:BEM3059
Module level:3
Academic year:2020/1
Module lecturers:
  • Mr Ken Webster - Convenor
Module credit:15
ECTS value:






Duration of module: Duration (weeks) - term 1:


Module aims

The module aims to set current circular economy business and enterprise opportunities in three main contexts and illustrate two main approaches. The intellectual context is a shift from largely mechanistic and atomistic worldview to systemic and networked in line with contemporary science of systems.

The economic and business context is changing emphasis from production throughput to asset management and adding value in an extended era of low growth, stagnant wages and materials and resources constraints.

A circular economy is often introduced as an approach to the question “how do we produce?” It is cognisant of the foregoing contexts and the changing balance of opportunities and barriers to change which result. The two main approaches illustrated relate to different aspect of the economy as a flow network: the first is the shift from selling goods to selling services or the access to assets over the ownership of them. It includes related efforts which emphasise efficiency and scale. The second is to the idea of enterprise networks, cascading materials and energy and adding value through economies of scope or diversity, emphasising that vital aspect as part of the functioning of all effective systems.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Describe and synthesise the key concepts, principles, characteristics and strategies of a circular economy
  • 2. Explain and critically explore the terms complexity and effective systems as they apply to circular economy

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Demonstrate effectiveness and competency through a circular economy business simulation exercise
  • 4. Critically compare and contrast examples of ‘how to produce’ in a circular economy versus a linear economy

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 5. Participate in group and forum activities and demonstrate effective approaches to communication, self management and communication
  • 6. Present findings and arguments about circular economy in a clear, coherent and understandable way

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Lectures 20Keynote with extended Q&A
Simulation5Circular economy group activity
Seminars10Group based discussions
Guided independent study40Pre and post session reading
Guided independent study75Assessment preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group reflections5 slide PPT and audio commentary5,6 Oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group work: team simulation (online)20Undertaking team based simulation* exercise and writing up exercise1,2,3,4,5,6Written
Essay/critique Part 1401,500 words1,2Written
Essay/critique Part 2401,500 words1,2,3,4Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay/critique part 1Written essay 40%1-2Referral/Deferral Period
Essay/critique part 2Written essay 40%1, 2, 3, 4Referral/Deferral Period
Team SimulationAccess teams’ results and give an iIndividual reflection on choices made and their consequences 20%1-6Referral/Deferral Period

Re-assessment notes

 *Sufficient  information is available post simulation to enable an individual to review a team (s) progress and write up a critique or reflection

Syllabus plan

*Each part is based around an active learning or enquiry process which uses stimulus resources to bring to the fore existing knowledge, collaboratively seek clarification; engage in a number of empirical or evidential challenges; review and draw general conclusions before revisiting existing knowledge and extending study into particular case studies or related contexts as a way of applying knowledge. 

Part 1a Understanding how digital revealed the workings of non-linear systems and the acceptance that most real world systems are nonlinear and complex and exist in a dynamic equilibrium. Basic commonalities in non-linear systems as a guide to changed perspectives

Understanding that systems without feedback are ‘dumb’ and that the economy and business is embedded in monetary, social and environmental contexts which are dynamic

Part 1b (continued. circular economy as a stock maintenance approach. c.f. ‘linear’ as based on throughput and periodic overproduction, and degradation of natural capital – its built in flaws and consequences over time. How do you make and sell all this stuff? (again and again)

Part 1c (continued) Economic history and the changing macroeconomic stories around production, consumption and the aims of government since WW2

Part 2a  Products, components and materials and the need to shift from linear to a perspective based on systems and circularity. Where shall we draw the boundaries? And look for solutions? Two materials pathways identified.

Part 2b (continued) In the technosphere, the durable products arena, a comprehensive approach to shifting from products to services, enabled by digital and suited to scale. Products to services, and extended product life as a key strategy mix. Case study extended

Part 2c (continued) Platforms and networks, more efficiency and scale opportunities to lower costs of access and ownership. Case studies of success and failure

Part 3 Biosphere, products of consumption. Is the bio economy the same as the circular economy? Issues of scale and regeneration (soil health) Case studies: Amsterdam, London and Barcelona.

Part 3b (continued) Adding value with what we have. Enterprise networks and economies of scope not scale. The role of open source materials, software, maker labs, temporary materials stores, circulating income locally and regionally. Closed and open loops contrasted

Part 3c (continued) Enterprise networks in the developing world. Amplifying the ‘exchange’ function with redesigned infrastructure, access to tools, places, digital, markets. Case study based.

Part 4 Zooming out: the circular economy includes monetary stocks, flows and feedback. What sort of economic system conditions might bring the insights about living systems, materials products and component flows into line?

Part 4  Open forum - the place of a circular economy as a business and economic opportunity in a post COVID world including need for resilience, adaptation, employment, opportunity for infrastructure investment and related economic issues such as climate change

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Lacy,P.Long, J.Spindler,W. (2020) The Circular Economy Handbook. London: Palgrave-MacMillan

Stahel, W. (2010) Performance Economy. London: Palgrave-MacMillan*

Braungart, M. McDonough, W. (2002). Cradle to Cradle. New York, NY: Farrar, Staus and Giroux

Pauli, G. A. (2010) The Blue Economy. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publications

Meadows, D. H. (2008) Thinking in Systems: A Primer.  White River Jct., VT: Chelsea Green *

Hawken, B. Lovins A. B. Lovins, H. (1999). Natural Capitalism. New York: Little, Brown and Company*

Webster, K. (2017) The Circular Economy: A Wealth of Flows. Cowes, Isle of Wight: Ellen MacArthur Foundation*

(*links to author authorised online versions/summaries are available)

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

The key element is the enquiry process which draws in, at different parts of the cycle formal knowledge, individual and collective reflection and feedback followed by reorientation and reapplication. Recorded lecture inputs will be concise and to include searchable slides, full transcript. Some guest webinars as webcasts streamed from abroad.

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Access to a circular economy online team business simulation (as an online team exercise) is a focus for practical application of learning.

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Last revision date