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Circular Economy: from Challenge to Opportunity


Disclaimer: due to the coronavirus pandemic, this course description might be subject to changes. For the latest updates regarding corona virus, please check this link.

Admission requirements

This course is an (extracurricular) Master Honours Class aimed at talented Master’s students. Admission will be based on motivation, academic background and GPA.

This course is aimed at students who are interested in learning to work in multidisciplinary groups, think outside of their own disciplines and to study independently. You are not required to have any prior knowledge on circular economy. We stimulate students from different disciplines to submit themselves for this course.
Please note: Due to the great overlap, students from Industrial Ecology and Governance of Sustainability cannot participate in this course.


In the next three to four decades, urban population is expected to double. This means that we will have to build the equivalent of all existing cities, including their infrastructure. Imagine: a new Shanghai, Beijing, New Delhi, and all other cities with tens of millions of inhabitants. In addition to this urban population growth, global GDP per capita is expected to triple, meaning an increased demand in consumer goods: cars, computers, airco’s and washing machines. Everyday products, such as mobile phones, are becoming increasingly complex, requiring more and more different kinds of materials. Also the energy transition increases the demand for specific metals, to make wind turbines, solar cells and batteries and electric motors for electric cars. All these trends - urbanisation, economic growth, increasing complexity of products and the energy transition - are putting pressure on our resources. We often hear that we should recycle to be sustainable. But is that enough? This course explores different ways of tackling this materials challenge, from redesigning products to keep them in use longer, to remanufacturing products after their end of life. A circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design and minimises negative impacts on the environment. Will this be the solution to our materials challenge?
We will approach the topic from different disciplines and will look into questions such as:

  • How does the concept of the circular economy relate to other concepts within the discourse on sustainable development?

  • What is the role of the government in a transition to a circular economy?

  • What are barriers to the circular economy within our current economic system?

Whereas the first six weeks will be mostly theoretical, after that there will be a mix of theory and group work. You will work in a multidisciplinary group as consultants for a client to give advice on how to make their organisation more circular. Through workshops and guest lectures you will become familiar with different project management techniques and professionals working in the field. In the end you will present your advice to the clients in a professional setting.

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, students will:

  • understand and be able to defend the position of their own discipline within the discourse on circular economy and recognise the importance of an interdisciplinary approach in creating solutions for complex problems;

  • understand the concept of the circular economy and explain how it is affected by laws of nature (thermodynamics, entropy);

  • have developed a constructive critical attitude towards the circular economy. They will be able to defend the necessity of the transition away from the linear economy towards a circular economy, and to identify barriers to its implementation;

  • realise the implications of the economic growth paradigm for the circular economy, and be able to redefine progress without economic growth;

  • be able to integrate knowledge from different disciplines into a holistic and sustainable solution for real-world circular economy-related problems, and present this in an attractive way to a non-academic audience;

  • have familiarised themselves with different techniques for efficient teamwork and project management, and subsequently applied them in the planning and execution of their group project;

  • have experienced what it is like to be a professional working in the field of circular economy, and have reflected on their own process.


The sessions of this class will take place on the following Wednesdays from 18.00 - 21.00.

November: 2, 9, 23, 30
December: 7, 14, 21
January: 11, 18, 25
February: 1, 8, 15, 22
March: 1, 8, 15, 22, 29
April: 5, 12


Pieter de la Court building, room 1A11


  1. Introduction into CE and interdisciplinarity
  2. Linear economy and the materials challenge
  3. Material flows, stocks and future scenarios
  4. Modelling tools
  5. CE business models and design
  6. CE as an opportunity for developing countries?
  7. Introduction into the final assignment & meeting the clients
  8. Rapid prototyping
  9. Project management
  10. CE in practice: industrial symbiosis
  11. Progress meeting project
  12. CE in practice: incentives
  13. Challenges to the CE: barriers
  14. Challenges to the CE: the current economic paradigm
  15. Progress meeting project
  16. Pitching ideas
  17. How to bring change to an existing organisation
  18. Peer review
  19. Presenting workshop
  20. Final presentations

Deadline for handing in final project: TBA

Course load

This course is worth 10 EC, which means the total course load equals 280 hours.

  • Class sessions: 20 sessions of 3 hours = 60 hours;

  • Preparation for classes: 6 hours p/week = 120 hours;

  • Assignments: 100 hours.

This course uses the flipped classroom method, meaning that most of the knowledge transfer will take place at home and during class we will focus on the integration of knowledge through active learning. The class sessions will consist of a combination of seminars, guest lectures and workshops.


  • 10% Preparation assignments and in-class participation;

  • 30% Midterm assignment;

  • 20% Final presentation;

  • 40% Final project.

For the first ten classes, you will be graded for class preparation and participation. The midterm assignment will be done in pairs. It consists of a pitch in Pitch2Peer where you assess the potential of a circular economy for a sustainable future. The final presentation will be consultancy advice for a client. The final project consists of a slide deck, also for your client.

It is not required to successfully complete all partial exams in order to pass this course. Students are allowed to compensate a ‘fail’ (grades up to and including 5.0).

Note: attendance is required.

Reading list

Session 1:

  • “Environmental sciences, sustainable development and circular economy: Alternative concepts for trans-disciplinary research” (Sauvé, Bernard & Sloan 2016)

  • “New or refurbished as CE 3.0? — Exploring controversies in the conceptualization of the circular economy through a focus on history and resource value retention options” (Reike, Vermeulen & Witjes 2017)

Session 2:

  • “Global socioeconomic material stocks rise 23-fold over the 20th century and require half of annual resource use” (Krausmann et al. 2017)

Session 3:

  • “Global material flows and resource productivity. Forty years of evidence” (Schandl et al. 2017)

Session 4:

  • “Sustainable supply chain management and the transition towards a circular economy: Evidence and some applications” (Genovese et al. 2017)

  • “How can LCA support the circular economy?” (Haupt & Zschokke 2016)

Session 5:

  • “Product design and business model strategies for a circular economy” (Bocken et al. 2016)

Session 6:

  • “Developing the circular economy in China: Challenges and opportunities for achieving ‘leapfrog development’” (Geng & Doberstein 2008)

  • “Waste biorefineries: Enabling circular economies in developing countries” (Nizami et al. 2017)

Session 10:

  • “A methodological framework for Eco-Industrial Park design and optimization” (Kuznetsova, Zio & Farel 2016)

  • “Progress Toward a Circular Economy in China: The Drivers (and Inhibitors) of Eco-industrial Initiative” (Mathews and Tan 2011)

Session 12:

  • “A Circular Economy in the Netherlands by 2050” (report)

  • “Circular economy in China – the environmental dimension of the harmonious society” (Naustdalslid 2014)

  • “Interrogating the circular economy: the moral economy of resource recovery in the EU” (Gregson et al. 2015)

Session 13:

  • “Barriers to the Circular Economy: Evidence From the European Union (EU)” (Kirchher et al. 2018)

  • “The Circular Economy: An Interdisciplinary Exploration of the Concept and Application in a Global Context” (Murray, Skene & Haynes 2015)

Session 14:

  • “Circles, spirals, pyramids and cubes: why the circular economy cannot work” (Skene 2017)

  • “A review on circular economy: the expected transition to a balanced interplay of environmental and economic systems” (Ghisellini, Cialani & Ulgiati 2015)

All reading is available online, or will be made available to students. Other possible literature will be announced in Class or via Blackboard and is different per lecturer.

Brightspace and uSis

Brightspace will be used in this course. Upon admission students will be enrolled in Brightspace by the teaching administration.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Master Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.


Submitting an application for this course is possible from Monday 12 September 2022 up to and including Sunday 25 September 2022 23:59 through the link on the Honours Academy student website.

Note: students don’t have to register for the Master Honours Classes in uSis. The registration is done centrally before the start of the class.


Dr. E.G.M. Kleijn