top of page

Thinking in a straight line was yesterday: The new circular economy.

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

Upper body with a white shirt with the inscription "say bye-bye to single-use garbage bags" whose hands are in plastic bags


"Circular Economy" was only a niche term in 2005 and searching for it on Google would only yield a few hundred results. Today, however, the results number in the millions. The world seems ready to tackle the mammoth task of "sustainable circular economy".

Given that most of us previously only heard of "circular economy" in niche eco-chats or alternative agriculture, we want to take you through a few essential pillars of the circular economy:

Why this form of sustainable economy is currently thriving as a driver of modern lifestyles. What basics about circular economy you should know. The first clear signs of circular economy among the big players.

Those were the days

It hasn't been that long ago when a product could be described on a straight line: from the first suppliers to the communication with consumers, companies could align their value chain along clear, sequential process steps. Almost nothing had to be communicated about the production of the product, let alone its disposal. Today, this has fundamentally changed.

Ambitious Deal

In the future, companies will be given a great responsibility for the production conditions of the product, the compliance with human rights and environmental standards, and the correct disposal or reuse of a product. This is currently referred to in specialist media as the supply chain due diligence law, abbreviated as LkSG.

The deep insight and the accompanying control will not only extend to the company's own immediate supply chain, but the area of responsibility will extend to the entire supply chain, including all its indirect suppliers.

The European Green Deal, launched by the European Commission as a central part of its climate policy on December 11, 2019, is considered the nucleus of these radical changes. The Green Deal aims to reduce the net emissions of greenhouse gases to zero by 2050 in the European Union, making it the first climate-neutral continent. A goal that Germany and the EU are still far from today.

The Green Deal turns a once

image-panicking climate rhetoric

into reality.

The Green Deal transforms once image-enhancing climate rhetoric into hard-hitting economic reality by linking numerous other goals to it, ranging from widespread reduction of emissions to the implementation of a functioning circular economy in Europe. The circular economy is one of the key components of the Green Deal.

A small introduction to the Circular Economy

Although the term "circular economy" is not new, many people are still unfamiliar with its central pillars. Here is a brief introduction to some important concepts:

Circular Economy – Everything comes back

In simple terms, the goal of the circular economy model is to extend the life cycle of products and close material cycles.

  • This means that existing materials and products should be shared, leased, reused, repaired, refurbished and recycled as much as possible both during production and consumption.

  • On the other hand, waste should be made available as secondary raw materials (circularity). These secondary raw materials are considered valuable raw materials that can be effectively utilized to conserve natural resources.

Ökodesign Directive – Legally Anchor the End of the Disposable Society

Did you know that the design of a product is responsible for up to 80% of its environmental impact over its life cycle? So it makes sense to aim specifically at product design within the efforts of a circular economy. This is exactly what the Ökodesign Directive does.

This directive, which was established within the framework of the European Green Deal, aims to streamline all product groups at the EU level in terms of environmental friendliness, circularity and energy efficiency. It therefore affects not only energy-relevant products such as refrigerators or televisions, but also all companies in the EU and almost all physical products, including textiles, furniture, steel, cement and chemicals.

The Ökodesign Directive is also intended to lay the foundation for products to be reused, upgraded, repaired, maintained, refurbished or recycled more frequently. The energy and resource efficiency and environmental impact of products are also in focus.

CO2 Footprint – Measuring Legacy

Everyone has heard of it. But what exactly does "C02 footprint" mean? Starting in 2023, all European companies will be required to measure and document their CO2 emissions. The CO2 footprint describes the total impact of all greenhouse gases on global warming, which is measured over a certain period of time. This applies from raw materials and production to distribution, end-consumer use, and restoration and disposal. When speaking of the Co2 footprint, it is therefore necessary to distinguish two "paths".

  • Along the entire value chain (CCF): The Corporate Carbon Footprint (CCF) as a comprehensive company-related greenhouse gas accounting

  • Along the entire life cycle of a product (PCF): The Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) as a product-related accounting for each individual product (from development, through raw materials, manufacturing, transport to disposal and recycling).

Recyling – reborn

Recycling means returning waste material to the production process, either for the same or different use, and with minimal or significant changes to its structure. Recyclability refers to the ability to reuse the materials contained in a product or packaging by returning them to the material cycle to make new products.

Refurbishment – making old new again

In this process, used products are renewed for a new life cycle. Unlike recycling, where the product is materially recycled (e.g. by disassembling it to recover individual raw materials), refurbishment involves reusing the product itself. The electronics industry (smartphones, tablets, etc.) is a classic example.

Climate neutral – less is good

Climate neutrality describes a state in which climate-relevant gases produced along all stages of the value chain are compensated for through mitigation measures. A holistic approach requires reducing emissions to a minimum first. The European Council has set a target for the EU to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 and to become climate neutral by 2050. The EU Climate Law sets these goals legally for the first time.

Arrived in the economy

The most valuable corporation in the world showcases its efforts to extend the lifespan of its products in its sustainability report in a very vivid manner.

Short overview sustainability report Apple 2022

Conspicuous is the increase: For example, in 2007 only the SIM tray of the iPhone was repairable, but by 2020, it is already 8 components. And in 2018, a deliberate investment was made in the durability of the mobile phone. The curve of repairable and/or made more durable small parts is likely to continue to rise steeply.

excerpt from a website with information on repair options for apple products

"Starting now, Apple is selling original parts and tools in its self-service repair store in eight European countries," writes Vera Hermes excitedly in the "Green Wednesday," the sustainable news bulletin of the Absatzwirtschaft Online on Wednesday, 07.12.2022.

Whether the big players like Apple are just following the pressure of politics or rather want to correspond to the zeitgeist, we leave aside here. The fact is that the circular economy is already leaving its mark...

...that will continue to evolve until a clear path is noticeable. With the planned European Digital Product Pass, all product information along the entire value chain of a product (including origin, composition, repair and disassembly possibilities) will soon be available, allowing the social and ecological footprint of a product to be read out.

Quellennachweise und zum Weiterlesen (Stand Februar 2023)

Lieferkettensorgfaltspflichtengesetz (LkSG)

Hembach, Holger (2022): Praxisleitfaden Lieferkettensorgfaltspflichtengesetz (LkSG) (CB - Compliance Berater Schriftenreihe). Fachmedien Recht und Wirtschaft in Deutscher Fachverlag GmbH; 1. Auflage.

Jürgens, Max / Harings, Lothar (2022): Das Lieferkettensorgfaltspflichtengesetz: Umsetzung und Auswirkungen des LkSG in der Praxis. Reguvis Fachmedien; 1. Edition.

Grabosch, Robert (Hrsg.) (2021): Das neue Lieferkettensorgfaltspflichtengesetz. Nomos; 1. Edition.

Falder, Roland / Frank-Fahle, Constantin / Poleacov, Peter (2022): Lieferkettensorgfaltspflichtengesetz: Ein Überblick für Praktiker

Springer Gabler; 1. Aufl. 2022 Edition (7. Mai 2022)

BMAS Das Lieferkettensorgfaltspflichtengesetz

CSR in Deutschland - Das Lieferkettensorgfaltspflichtengesetz

Deutscher Bundestag verabschiedet Lieferkettensorgfaltspflichtengesetz

Deloitte: Lieferkettensorgfaltspflichtengesetz in der Praxis

Bayerischer Rundfunk: EU-Länder einigen sich grundsätzlich auf Lieferkettengesetz

Die Initiative Lieferkettengesetz:

Absatzwirtschaft: Nachhaltigkeit in der Lieferkette: Zeit für Gerechtigkeit


Rau, Thomas / Oberhuber, Sabine (2021): Material Matters: Wie eine neu gedachte Circular Economy uns zukunftsfähig macht | Die Antwort auf die Klimakrise ist die Kreislaufwirtschaft. Econ; 1. Edition

Münger, Alfred (2021): Kreislaufwirtschaft als Strategie der Zukunft: Nachhaltige Geschäftsmodelle entwickeln und umsetzen. Haufe; 1. Auflage

Beckmann, Martin (2022): Kreislaufwirtschaftsgesetz: Kreislaufwirtschafts- und Abfallgesetz mit Verordnungen, Abfallverbringungsrecht. beck im dtv; 23. Edition

Europäisches Parlament: Recht auf Reparatur: Für Produkte, die langlebiger und reparierbar sind

VDI: Zirkuläre Wertschöpfung. Werkstoffliches und chemisches Recycling von Kunststoffabfällen

Europäisches Parlament Ökodesign-Richtlinie: Steigerung der Energieeffizienz und Recyclingfähigkeit

Europäische Kommission: Circular economy action plan (CEAP):

Europäische Kommission zum neuen Aktionsplan der Kreislaufwirtschaft:

Recyclingnews: EU-Kommission will nachhaltige Produkte zur Norm machen

EUR Lex (Zugang zu den Originaltexten) A new Circular Economy Action Plan:

Umweltbundesamt: Abfall- und Kreislaufwirtschaft

NABU: Kreislaufwirtschaft:


United Nations Global Compact:

United Nations Global Compact: Nachhaltigkeit in der Lieferkette:

Europäer Green Deal

BMUV Den ökologischen Wandel gestalten. Integriertes Umweltprogramm 2030.

brand eins Sonderausgabe Der neue grüne Deal Dezember 2020

Europäisches Parlament Ökodesign-Richtlinie: Steigerung der Energieeffizienz und Recyclingfähigkeit

Europäische Kommission: Der Grüne Deal

Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung: The European Green Deal:

DIHK: Worum geht es beim Green Deal?


EUR Lex (Originaltexte): On making sustainable products the norm

Umweltbundesamt: Ökodesign-Richtlinie

Süddeutsche Zeitung, 28. März 2022: Wie die EU Produkte ökologischer macht

Europäisches Parlament Ökodesign-Richtlinie: Steigerung der Energieeffizienz und Recyclingfähigkeit

Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)

BMZ: Die globalen Ziele für nachhaltige Entwicklung

IHK: Die UN Nachhaltigkeitsziele (SDGs) als Maßstab für verantwortungsvolles Unternehmertum

United Nations Global Compact:


BMUV: Kreislaufwirtschaftsgesetz

BMBF (Plastik): WErtschöpfungsketten gestalten

Stiftung zentrale Stelle Verpackungsregister: Mindeststandard recyclinggerechtes Design:

Europäisches Parlament: Recht auf Reparatur: Für Produkte, die langlebiger und reparierbar sind

VDI Zentrum Ressourceneffizienz:

Recyclingnews: EU-Kommission will nachhaltige Produkte zur Norm machen

Europäisches Parlament Ökodesign-Richtlinie: Steigerung der Energieeffizienz und Recyclingfähigkeit

ESG & Nachhaltigkeitsberichterstattung

Rat der Europäischen Union: Neue Vorschriften für die Nachhaltigkeitsberichterstattung von Unternehmen: vorläufige politische Einigung zwischen Rat und Europäischem Parlament

Regularien zum Greenwashing

BMUV Den ökologischen Wandel gestalten. Integriertes Umweltprogramm 2030.

Europäische Kommision: Unfair commercial practices directive

Europäische Kommision: Kreislaufwirtschaft: Kommission schlägt neue Verbraucherrechte vor und will Greenwashing verbieten

NKS / Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung: EU legt Vorschläge für nachhaltige Produkte vor

Digitaler Produktpass (DPP)

Digtler Produkpass

Europäisches Parlament Ökodesign-Richtlinie: Steigerung der Energieeffizienz und Recyclingfähigkeit

BMUV Der BMU Design-Sprint zum Digitalen Produktpass für die Elektromobilität

Umweltbundesamt Förderung des nachhaltigen Konsums durch digitale

Produktinformationen: Bestandsaufnahme und Handlungsempfehlungen

BDI Der „Digitale Produktpass“ auf dem Prüfstand

Recyclingnews: EU-Kommission will nachhaltige Produkte zur Norm machen

DKE Digitaler Produktpass: Förderung der Digitalisierung und Kreislaufwirtschaft durch standardisierte Daten

Europäische Kommission: Circular economy action plan (CEAP):


bottom of page