What works?

Business barriers to circular economy approaches

What works?

Policymakers, businesses and researchers are increasingly recognising the opportunities – and need – to move towards a Circular Economy (CE), whereby disposable products are designed out of the market and brought back in as redesigned/reusable products. This kind of economic transformation needs business innovation and behaviour change.

This project focuses on gaining a better understanding of the characteristics of businesses and business actors, their barriers to innovation and what may help them shift towards adopting CE behaviours and business models.

Key activities

To understand business barriers from different perspectives we:

  1. Developed and ran stakeholder interviews.
  2. Conducted a rapid evidence review to identify best practice around the world.
  3. Ran an evidence-based circular workshop series (using "Circular Strategies") to test the effectiveness of collaborative strategies.

In this video, research stream leader, Dr Alexander Saeri gives a short summary of the research and provides answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the trials.

Process and insights

In conducting this research, we followed The BehaviourWorks Method to gather evidence on the behaviour change approach(es) most likely to work. (See a brief visual summary of the BehaviourWorks Method or a more extensive explanation.)

A step-by-step guide of how we followed The BehaviourWorks Method

Step 1 - Rapid Review


As business innovation is necessary for transforming our current 'linear economy system' (a take, make, and waste system) into a Circular Economy (CE), we explored research, policies and practices (evidence) around the world to understand the potential barriers of business adoption of CE and interventions that may help its uptake.

Alongside, we conducted a series of interviews with Australian policy-makers and industry stakeholders to better understand these barriers and potential interventions in the Australian context.

Key findings

In reviewing the evidence on business adoption of CE practices, we found that 'soft' cultural barriers (i.e. perceived demand, organisational inertia and lack of collaborative capacity) were greater barriers for Australian businesses to adopt CE practices than regulation or technology ('hard barriers).

We also found that effective adoption of CE practices first requires a significant change in an industry's ecosystem, so focussing on individual organisations as the unit of behaviour change is insufficient to achieve a transition to CE.

Download the Rapid Review

For readers wanting a quick overview of the evidence review (5 minute read):

2 page summary of the review

For readers writing a brief, a policy submission or wanting a summary of practical insights:

Policy highlights of the review

For readers needing all the technical detail, including the full methodology:

Full report of the review

Step 2 - Trials

Trial summary

Firstly, we found an evidence-informed approach for fostering business innovation from the Netherlands. Called 'Circular Strategies' (created by a team of researchers from Delft University of Technology) it addresses several of the 'soft' cultural barriers explained above.

To understand how we can help businesses in Australia adopt CE practices, we adapted and tested this approach with groups of stakeholders from one industry in Australia to allow us to investigate if fostering collaboration between stakeholders can promote CE adoption in Australia.

To better understand Circular Strategies and the research conducted by Delft University of Technology, click HERE.


Our initial workshops conducted with the textile, clothing and footwear ecosystem provided positive outcomes in the uptake of business circularity by encouraging collaboration.  These included:

  • an established foundation of skills, knowledge and networks to develop a circular economy within their sector
  • increased trust between the various stakeholders and industries within their sector
  • the development of initial discussions and ideas progressing the sector towards a circular economy.

Nonetheless, we found that an attempt for scale-up and dissemination of the full facilitated workshops series may not be effective for every organisation. Thus, we suggest future research for business innovation consider train-the-trainer and knowledge translation activities as more viable for large-scale dissemination.

Business barriers trial initial report
Business barriers trial infographic

Learn about and use an online version of the Circularity Deck

As part of our workshop process, attendees used an adapted version of the Circularity Deck, developed by Circular Strategies.

The Circularity Deck is a deck of cards that introduce principles of the circular economy and help people within an organisation, or potential collaborators from across an industry / sector ecosystem, to learn about the circular economy, identify shared circular challenges, and explore future innovations on which they could collaborate.

Each card includes:

  1. an innovation or change to a product, business model, or ecosystem;
  2. that is linked to principles of circular economy: slowing, closing, narrowing, regenerating, and informing material and energy loops; and
  3. a specific example of where a group or business experimented with that innovation

The Circularity Deck is based on published research (Konietzko et al., 2020), and recently, the Circular Strategies team has released a freely-available online version of the Deck for anyone to use.

Access the deck and watch a detailed tutorial at circularitydeck.com