Knowledge architecture for the circular economy


Frameworks are essential tools for knowledge management and sharing, and can be used in a myriad of ways.

We use the frameworks on this page in our own research:
  • to structure and prioritise circular interventions;
  • in our online tools, to categorise case studies and guide new learners through the concept of a circular economy;
  • in workshops, to facilitate stakeholder participation and collaborative ideation; and in daily communications, to ensure we have a shared language in discussion with our stakeholders.
We invite you to explore these frameworks and put them into practice in your own work. Have you used or developed other frameworks in the past? We also invite you to share them with us through our contact form.

A circular economy is a means to an end. We believe that a considered implementation of a circular economy can bring about an economy that operates within the boundaries of the planet, whilst providing safe social conditions for all. This page contains both circular economy frameworks, and impact frameworks.

impact frameworks

The following three frameworks provide a structure around which we can analyse whether a circular economy activity is having a desired effect on people and planet.

Planetary Boundaries Framework

The planetary boundaries concept presents a set of nine planetary boundaries within which humanity can continue to develop and thrive for generations to come, developed by the Stockholm Resilience Center, and used as a means to evaluate the effectiveness of circular strategies at scale.

Sustainable development goals and indicators

The 17 SDGs alongside over 200 indicators, are part of a blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future, shared by all countries. Some SDGs relate more closely to the circular economy, for instance SDG12 about responsible consumption and production, but all are related.

Doughnut Economics

Doughnut economics adds a social dimension to the planetary boundaries, and characterises the space where both social needs are met and the environment respected, as a place where humanity can thrive. The doughnut can be used as a means to evaluate the effectiveness of circular strategies at scale.

Circular Economy Frameworks

These frameworks help to explain the concept of the circular economy, as well as to aid application of the concept in specific domains.
The Key Elements of the Circular Economy Framework
The Key Elements framework is a conceptual framework of eight circularity elements - three core and five enabling  - that can be considered in a variety of contexts, such as nations, regions, industries, companies, businesses or products.
The DISRUPT framework
A comprehensive list of circular strategies for products with over 80 tangible strategies, organised by the Key Elements framework that provide guidance and inspiration for you to render your product circular.
4 Flow Strategies Framework
This is a framework of strategies to guide designers and business strategists to slow, close and narrow resource loops in the move from a linear to a circular economy, published in the Journal of Industrial and Production Engineering.
Circular City Actions Framework
The Circular City Actions Framework can be used by local governments and city-based circular economy practitioners at any stage of their city’s transition to advance systemic approaches toward a circular economy. Created and used by Ellen Macarthur Foundation, Circle Economy Foundation, ICLEI and Metabolic.
The Urban Policy Framework
A framework of the policy instruments for a more circular economy to support policy- and decision-making.
The National Policy Instrument Framework
A framework of policy instruments that can be used to support the transition to a circular economy at the national level.
The Value Hill Framework
This is a framework that explains the circular economy in terms of potential value as a product moves through its lifecycle.
Circular Sectors Classification
This framework categorizes sectors of the economy (under the ISIC classification) in to core, enabling or indirectly circular by aligning sectoral activities with the Key Elements framework.

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