Bridging circular economy technologies and business models

Shifting to a circular economy—in which resources are kept in use longer through strategies like reuse, recycling and remanufacturing—can help alleviate the wicked problems of over-extraction and waste. To reach a circular economy, we will need collaboration across disciplines, from material science and mechanical engineering to product design and business management.
Disassembled circuit board with pliers
The Dilemmas of Disassembly workshop

How can researchers from different disciplines collaborate more effectively to tackle the circular economy challenge? The Aalto seed-funded workshop series “Bridging circular economy technologies and business models” explored this question with a multidisciplinary team from the Schools of Business and Engineering.

The three workshops developed for the series were:

1.    Business Hooks for Closing Loops
2.    The Dilemmas of Disassembly
3.    Building Circular Economy Language Skills

The workshops were held multiple times throughout 2019 on Aalto’s Otaniemi campus and provided a forum for researchers from different disciplines to exchange knowledge, practices and ideas related to circular economy study.

To share the learnings with the broader Aalto research community, the slides for all three workshops are available below.

Questions? Email [email protected]

Business Hooks for Closing Loops workshop
Business Hooks for Closing Loops workshop
Business Hooks for Closing Loops

Workshop 1: Business Hooks for Closing Loops

The series’ first workshop was an exploration of the business case for the circular economy. Innovative technical and technological circular economy solutions require a solid business rationale to be attractive for research and academic funding. This hands-on workshop was designed to help participants, especially from the engineering field, to better understand what a business model is and how a product’s value chain may be made circular.

What attendees said they appreciated and learned:

  • A new business model canvas that was designed particularly for circular economy, which helps to generate, organize ideas and understand the business impacts
  • A forum that participants were able to meet, team up and improve communication with people from different disciplines
  • Different specific examples of circular economy

Workshop slides:

Dilemmas of Disassembly workshop
The Dilemmas of Disassembly workshop
The Dilemmas of Disassembly

Workshop 2: The Dilemmas of Disassembly

The aim of the second workshop was to familiarize researchers with the challenges related to device disassembly through dismantling an electronic device and learning to sort materials into different streams. The workshop was primarily targeted at participants from the business field to help them get a better understanding of the limits and possibilities of circular business models, and to expand their capabilities to communicate with technologically minded experts in companies and in academia. 

What attendees said they appreciated and learned:

  • Recycling is difficult, energy-intensive and expensive, since most products are not built for recycling
  • Economics associated with the recycling, value of the materials and the legislative challenges
  • Recycling clearly should be a last resort, almost all of the value of the product or material is lost during the process
  • It was interesting to dismantle products in the laboratory, which helped better understand engineers

Workshop slides:

Building Circular Economy Language Skills workshop
Building Circular Economy Language Skills workshop
Building Circular Economy Language Skills

Workshop 3: Building Circular Economy Language Skills

After successfully building skills in circular business model design in the first workshop, and exploring the challenges related to electronic equipment dismantling and recycling in the second workshop, the series' third part brought together participants from engineering, business, design and other fields to 1) build a common circular economy vocabulary basis, 2) practice explaining circular economy related terminology, and 3) get into the habit of asking questions when terms are not clear to support fruitful interdisciplinary communication.

What attendees said they appreciated and learned:

  • A truly interdisciplinary environment and lively group discussions with participants from diverse backgrounds – meeting people from other disciplines was appreciated
  • Learning to ask "how" and "why" questions, preparing to explain terms in a way that people from other fields would understand and practicing communicating complex content in a simple way
  • The distinction between multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary was found to be eye-opening
  • The “Circular Economy Glossary” exercise helped foster understanding

Workshop slides:

Project team

Circular economy workshop student team
Master's student team members (left to right): Nikhil Bhole, School of Engineering; Karelia Dagnaud, School of Business; Hai Anh Tran, School of Business
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