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University of Exeter Business School

Circular Economy Business and Enterprise

Module titleCircular Economy Business and Enterprise
Module codeBEM3059
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Tausif Bordoloi (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This interdisciplinary module will enable you to explore business and enterprise opportunities within the general notion of a “circular economy”. The latter is discussed through the central theme of systems thinking. The module is intended to help you gain insights into the different facets of systems thinking, including the circular-digital nexus, circular business models, and their socio-economic and environmental implications. These insights are generated through discussions on, for example, a linear, take-make-waste economic model, and business, community and policy involvements in circular initiatives. Overall, this module will help you appreciate and understand circular economy as an important framework to develop business and enterprise solutions to address global sustainability challenges such as waste and pollution.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module aims to set current circular economy business and enterprise opportunities in three main contexts and illustrate two main approaches.

Context 1: The intellectual context is a shift from largely mechanistic and atomistic worldview to systemic and networked in line with contemporary science of systems.

Context 2: 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.

Context 3: A circular economy is then 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 aspects of the economy as a flow network:

- The first is the shift from selling goods to selling services or the access to assets over 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 all effective systems.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Describe and synthesise the key concepts, principles, characteristics and strategies of a circular economy
  • 2. Explain and critically explore the central theme of systems thinking in the context of circular economy

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. Critically identify the environmental, social and economic interrelationships between systems thinking and circularity as they apply to business and enterprise
  • 4. Apply interdisciplinary knowledge essential for advancing circular business and enterprise solutions in real-world contexts

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Conduct research, derive insights and offer actionable recommendations
  • 6. Present findings and arguments in a clear, coherent, comprehensive and compelling way

Syllabus plan

Part 1 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.

Part 2 Products, components and materials and the need to shift from linear to a perspective based on systems and circularity. 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? Where shall we draw the boundaries? And look for solutions? Products to services, extended product life and strategies such as reduce, reuse and recycle, often enabled by digital and suited to scope. 

Part 3 Adding value with what we have. Enterprise networks and economies of scope, not scale.  technological convergence and its role, data and digital fabrication, maker labs, temporary materials stores, fab cities and circular cities, circulating income locally and regionally. Case study based.

Part 4
 Biosphere, products of consumption. Is the bio economy the same as the circular economy? Issues of scale, scope and regeneration (e.g., soil health and microbes).

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
Scheduled learning and teaching activity10Lectures (10x1 hour)
Scheduled learning and teaching activity12A series of seminars to support the core lectures (10 X 1 hour) Assessment clinics to build step-by-step towards the assignments (2 X 1 hour)
Guided independent study128Reading, research and preparation for lectures, seminars and assignments

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
In-class interactive exercises1-3 exercises per class1-6Verbal
In-class presentations 10 minutes per class1-6Verbal

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
Individual circular economy essay302000 words1-6Written
Individual business & enterprise report 703000 words1-6Written

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Individual circular economy essayIndividual circular economy essay (30%)1-6Referral/deferral period
Individual business and enterprise reportIndividual business and enterprise report (70%)1-6Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you have been deferred for any assessment you will be expected to submit the relevant assessment. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be expected to submit the relevant assessment. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 40%

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

  • Bartekova, E. & Borkey, P. 2022. Digitalisation for the transition to a resource efficient and circular economy. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
  • Corvellec, H., Stowell, A. F., & Johansson, N. 2022. Critiques of the circular economy. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 26(2), 421-432.
  • Ekins, P., Domenech, T., Drummond, P., Bleischwitz, R., Hughes, N., & Lotti, L. 2019. The Circular Economy: What, Why, How and Where. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
  • Geissdoerfer, M., Pieroni, M., Pigosso, D., & Soufani, K. 2020. Circular business models: A review. Journal of Cleaner Production. 277, 123741.
  • Ghisellini, P., Cialani, C., & Ulgiati, S. 2016. A review on circular economy: the expected transition to a balanced interplay of environmental and economic systems. Journal of Cleaner Production. 114, 11-32.
  • Meadows, D. H. 2008. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. London: Earthscan.
  • Muscat, A., M. de Olde, E., Ripoll-Bosch, R., H. E. Van Zanten, H., A. P. Metze, T., J. A. M. Termeer, C., K. van Ittersum, M., & J. M. de Boer, I. 2021. Principles, drivers and opportunities of a circular bioeconomy. Nature Food. 561-566.
  • Robinson, S. 2021. A systems thinking perspective for the circular economy. In: Stefanakis, A. & Nikolaou, I. (eds.) Circular Economy and Sustainability Volume 1: Management and Policy. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Key words search

Circular Economy, Systems Thinking, Digital, Sustainability.

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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NQF level (module)


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Last revision date