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Strengthening the socio-ethical foundations of the circular economy: Lessons from responsible research and innovation

Inigo, Edurne A., Blok, Vincent
Journal of cleaner production 2019 v.233 pp. 280-291
business development, circular economy, governance, industry, issues and policy, social impact, stakeholders
The circular economy (CE) framework has captured the attention of industry and academia and received strong policy support. It is currently deemed as a powerful solution for sustainability, despite ongoing criticism on its oversimplification and lack of consideration of socio-ethical issues. In parallel, the concept of RRI has emerged strongly with a strong focus on the integration of social desirability in innovation under transparency, democracy and mutual responsiveness principles. In this paper, we critically examine the literature on the CE and RRI in order to find out how the different focus of RRI may provide an innovation governance framework to strengthen the CE framework. There are two main ways in which RRI could further the CE: first, anticipating unexpected consequences, helping to break disciplinary barriers and acknowledging systemic limits that are not currently taken into consideration; and second, the integration of socio-ethical issues in the CE, and addressing the social implications of the CE through stakeholder participation. However, future research should look at remaining blind spots of CE and RRI, such as non-technological innovation, the demand-side of innovation and the development of business models. With that objective, we suggest a research agenda for common development of the frameworks.