To understand the circular economy is necessary to pass from an individual to a systemic and ecosystemic approach to tackle problems and discover opportunities to create circular innovation. This chapter will provide the elements needed to comprehend and apply this different approach.
The chapter starts with an overview of the current linear scenario to understand the critical problems of our century, the urgent need for a change to the cultural and economic model. Last, the section highlights the available tools that can facilitate targeted actions while transitioning (economic models and cultural).
Afterwards, it presents the concept of ecosystem and how it has been transposed from the biology ‘ecological ecosystem’ to the economic field, building the roots to numerous concepts such as the business, entrepreneurial, and innovation ecosystems heavily defined in the literature by many scholars.
A part of the chapter is dedicated to the existing possibilities in applying the approach, identifying the underlining elements, the features, and the visualization methods. This part will further enhance the ability of the readers to conclude on a final definition of the ecosystem, including the multiple and heterogeneous actors involved within a geographically defined context, linked with interconnections of interdependencies, where each actor has a fundamental role for the ecosystem governance and behavior mechanism.
The readers will be taught how to map the actors and visualize the relationship with the different flows among them (material, knowledge, economic value flow). This extensive background is necessary to understand the deep connections between the ecosystem approach and the circular economy and apply it.
Discovering the relationships among the different actors can help develop circular innovation by implementing alternative business models of the Circular Economy within a redefined circular economy ecosystem. Finally, the chapter offers two examples to illustrate the concept closer to the actual situation and conditions that practitioners face every day. The first one is explicitly applied to the textile sector, and the second is broader to the industrial sector.
The chapter also focuses on the journey this shift requires, including a change at the systems level and a new value creation mindset being coupe of the most crucial lessons readers will learn.
It also emphasizes the required cross collaborations among actors and sectors, the fusion of domains, and the different competencies to design alternative business models that encapsulate the Circular Economy.
The ecosystem approach is in line with the sustainable development goals (SDGs) in particular, goal 17 on Partnerships for the goals aimed at strengthening the local actors for local, sustainable development. It is also linked to SDG 9 on industry, innovation, and infrastructure, given this approach helps build more resilient processes and foster circular innovation. Moreover, it is also in line with SDG 12 on responsible consumption and production because effective ecosystems can facilitate sustainable production patterns with a broader scope.