ECO9005 Circular Economy Business Models

September 1, 2023 (digital), September 8, 2023 (digital), September 20-22, 2023 (Steinkjer), October 10, 2023 (digital)
Sirkulærøkonomi illustrasjonsbilde

ECTS credits: 5 ECTS

Student work load:

The course consists of the following:

Kick off and digital session 1, digital session 2,  pre-physical workshop short preparatory assignment, Physical 3-day Workshop in Steinkjer, digital wrap up session, and delivering the final term paper

Overall, we expect the time spent to be no less than 140 hours distributed as follows:

  • ​10 hours for pre mid-course short preparatory assignment (900 words)
  • 70 hours for reading course literature (400-500 pages)
  • 24 hours for sessions (digital and physical)
  • 36 hours for final term paper (3000 words)

Level of course: PhD​

Course type: Elective​​

Study location: Steinkjer, Norway and online

Course coordinator: 
Associate Professor Dolores Modic, Nord University Business School


Professor Arild Aspelund, NTNU
Associate Professor Rannveig Edda Hjaltadottir, Nord University Business School
Associate Professor Dolores Modic, Nord University Business School
Associate Professor Sujith Nair, Nord University Business School
Professor Einar Rasmussen, Nord University Business School

Teaching language: English​

Teaching semester: Autumn 2023, Autumn 2027​

CostsNo tuition fees. Costs for semester registration and course literature apply. ​Course evaluation: Evaluation using final survey sent to the participants.​

Course description

This course provides an introduction to the main research topics and discussions related to sustainability and circular economy, and the related business models.The course will draw from research from a broad spectre of industries but will focus specifically on the bio-based industries.​

The content is based on four parts.

First, we will introduce the concepts of sustainability and circularity, and how an innovative bio-industry can help mitigating environmental and social issues in the society, while at the same time creating economic value and competitiveness. We will discuss the principles of circular economy and sustainable business activities with focus on circular business models.

Second, we will look at research on the business opportunities that emerge as a consequence of the sustainability shift. We will deal with challenges related to the implementation of circular economy business models. This part will also deal with challenges related to transition to circularity, such as coordinated activities across circular value chains, collaborative activities across traditional industry boundaries and with academia, and management of innovations portfolios.

Third, the course will build on both research and real examples of circular business models from a range of industries – including the bio-industries – and we will discuss boundary cases and the applicability of different models in bio-based industries.

Fourth, the course will introduce the concepts of innovation, innovation management and commercialization of science-based knowledge for circular economy. Here we will discuss the general challenges and economic discourses related to entrepreneurship, innovation and commercialization, that will be relevant for the further discussion, in relation to the PhD projects of the students and their potential.

Learning outcomes:

The objective of the course is that the students should master the main contributions and scholarly discussions of the literature on sustainable and circular business models and are able to relate these literature streams to bio-economy in general and specifically to their own research.​


-Advanced knowledge about circular economy principles and business models for circular and sustainable business;

Deepened understanding of the application of circular business models and theoretical perspectives in circular businesses across different contexts, and in particular within bio-economy;

Knowledge about how innovation and commercialization processes can transform businesses and industries, with an emphasis on bioeconomy, towards a circular economy,


To analyze and critically assess the foundations of circular business models within bio-economy

To analyze the complex interplay between the economic, social, and environmental issues related to circular business models.

To apply knowledge to manage an independent analysis of a circular business model elements within own work and other real-life cases, and be able identify, analyze and construct solutions for a given problem.

To identify and evaluate innovative opportunities for value-creation from adapting circular economy principles via understanding commercialization opportunities and potential.

General competence:

Ability to critically analyze opportunities and challenges of circular business models and their significance for business in different contexts, but in particular as related to the bio-economy

Ability to critically read, review, present and discuss top research papers in the area of circular economy, innovation and commercialization

Ability to display creativity in designing and implementing circular economy innovation in new and established businesses and demonstrate thorough understanding of its impact across the wider ecosystem.

Ability to communicate research and development work and participate in a high quality academic dialogue in the area of circularity, innovation and commercialization


Admitted to a PhD program or have the qualifications to be admitted to a PhD program. Must fulfil the English language requirements. Applicants from Nord University and Photosyntech PhD school are prioritized.​

Recommended previous knowledge:

Not applicable.

Mode of delivery:

Digital and onsite

Learning activities and teaching methods:

Lectures (in-person, digital – both synchronous and asynchronous), workshops (including based on world cafe and design thinking workshops), group work, assignment work


Assessment task (written preparatory assignment, max 900 words – pass/fail) and paper (Term paper, max 3000 words, A-F).

Course literature and recommended reading

Antonioli, D., Ghisetti, C., Mazzanti, M., & Nicolli, F. (2022). Sustainable production: The economic returns of circular economy practices. Business Strategy and the Environment, 31(5), 2603-2617.

Aspelund, A., Fredrik Olsen, M., & Michelsen, O. (2021). Research Handbook of Innovation for a Circular Economy. In S. Jakobsen, T. Lauvås, F. Quatraro, E. Rasmussen, & M. Steinmo (Eds.), Chapter 14: Simultaneous adoption of circular innovations: a challenge for rapid growth of the circular economy. Edward Elgar Publishing.

Bocken N. M. P., de Pauw, I. Bakker, C. & van der Grinten, B. (2016). Product design and business model strategies for a circular economy, Journal of Industrial and Production Engineering, 33 (5), 308-320. 

Bjørnstad, E., & Grande, J. (2021). Exploring the entrepreneurial landscape and systemic barriers of circular business models. In Research Handbook of Innovation for a Circular Economy (pp. 183-194). Edward Elgar Publishing.

Cagno, E., Neri, A., Negri, M., Bassani, C. A., & Lampertico, T. (2021). The Role of Digital Technologies in Operationalizing the Circular Economy Transition: A Systematic Literature Review. Applied Sciences, 11(8), 3328.

Calicchio et al. (2021). Supply chain collaboration for a circular economy – from transition to continuous improvement. Journal of Cleaner production, 328, 129511 

D'amato, D., & Korhonen, J. (2021). Integrating the green economy, circular economy and bioeconomy in a strategic sustainability framework. Ecological Economics, 188, 107143.

De Jesus, A., & Mendonça, S. (2018). Lost in transition? Drivers and barriers in the eco-innovation road to the circular economy. Ecological Economics, 145, 75-89.

Elhacham, E., Ben-Uri, L., Grozovski, J., Bar-On, Y. M., & Milo, R. (2020). Global human-made mass exceeds all living biomass. Nature, 588, 442–444. 

Esposito, M., Tse, T., & Soufani, K. (2018). Introducing a circular economy: new thinking with new managerial and policy implications. California Management Review, 60(3), 5-19. 

Genovese et al,. 2017. Sustainable supply chain management and the transition towards a circular economy: Evidence and some applications. Omega, 666, 344-357.

Henry, M., Bauwens, T., Hekkert, M., & Kirchherr, J. (2020). A typology of circular start-ups: An Analysis of 128 circular business models. Journal of Cleaner Production, 245, 118528.

Hermundsdottir, F., & Aspelund, A. (2021). Sustainability innovations and firm competitiveness: A review. Journal of Cleaner Production, 280, 124715.

Kirchherr J., Reike J., Hekkert M, 2017. Conceptualizing the circular economy: An analysis of 114 definitions, Resources, Conservation and Recycling, Volume 127, Pages 221-232.

Muscat, A., de Olde, E. M., Ripoll-Bosch, R., Van Zanten, H. H., Metze, T. A., Termeer, C. J., ... & de Boer, I. J. (2021). Principles, drivers and opportunities of a circular bioeconomy. Nature Food, 2(8), 561-566.

Pieroni, McAloone and Pigosso, (2019). Business model innovation for circular economy and sustainability: A review of approaches. Journal of Cleaner Production, 215, 198-216. 

Rennings, K. (2000). Redefining innovation—eco-innovation research and the contribution from ecological economics. Ecological economics, 32(2), 319-332.

Seles, B. M. R. P., Mascarenhas, J., Lopes de Sousa Jabbour, A. B., & Trevisan, A. H. (2022). Smoothing the circular economy transition: The role of resources and capabilities enablers. Business Strategy and the Environment, 31(4), 1814-1837.

Stahel, W. R. (2016). The circular economy. Nature, 531(7595), 435.  

Tura, N., Hanski, J., Ahola, T., Ståhle, M., Piiparinen, S., & Valkokari, P. (2019). Unlocking circular business: A framework of barriers and drivers. Journal of Cleaner Production, 212, 90-98 .

Recommended reading: ​

Boulding, K. (1966). The economics of the coming spaceship earth. New York.

Corvellec, H., Stowell, A. F., & Johansson, N. (2022). Critiques of the circular economy. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 26(2), 421-432.

Cullen, U. A., & De Angelis, R. (2021). Circular entrepreneurship: A business model perspective. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 168, 105300. 

D'Amato, D., Veijonaho, S., & Toppinen, A. (2020). Towards sustainability? Forest-based circular bioeconomy business models in Finnish SMEs. Forest Policy and Economics, 110, 101848

Fini, R., Rasmussen, E., Wiklund, J., & Wright, M. (2020). Moving Ideas from Lab to Marketplace: A Guide to Research. Entrepreneur & Innovation Exchange.

Foley, J. (2017). Living by the lessons of the planet. Science, 356(6335), 251-252.

Geng, Y., Sarkis, J., & Bleischwitz, R. (2019). Globalize the circular economy. Nature, 565, 153-155.

Hermundsdottir, F., & Aspelund, A. (2022). Competitive sustainable manufacturing - Sustainability strategies, environmental and social innovations, and their effects on firm performance. Journal of Cleaner Production, 370, 133474.

Hopkinson, P., Zils, M., Hawkins, P., & Roper, S. (2018). Managing a complex global circular economy business model: opportunities and challenges. California Management Review, 60(3), 71-94.

Huyhn Evertsen, P., Rassmussen, E. and Nenadic, O. (2021). Commercializing circular economy innovations: A taxonomy of academic spin-offs. Technological Forecasting and Social Change.

Mor, R. S., Panghal, A., & Kumar, V. (2021). Circular Economy in the Agri-Food Sector: An Introduction. In Challenges and Opportunities of Circular Economy in Agri-Food Sector (pp. 1-14). Springer, Singapore.  

Reike, D., Vermeulen, W. J., & Witjes, S. (2018). The circular economy: 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. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 135, 246-264. ​

Velenturf, A. P., & Purnell, P. (2021). Principles for a sustainable circular economy. Sustainable Production and Consumption, 27, 1437-1457.

Suchek, N., Fernandes, C. I., Kraus, S., Filser, M., & Sjögrén, H. (2021). Innovation and the circular economy: A systematic literature review. Business Strategy and the Environment, 30( 8), 3686– 3702.

The reading list is subject to amendments at semester start.  

Overlapping courses:

Not applicable.

[1] Note this course is part of the Photosyntech PhD school, where the Nord University Business School is one of the partners.