Exploration: future visions of the circular economy

Exploratory research of eight key players in the circular economy (City of Amsterdam, Interface, Unilever, Natuurmonumenten, Alliander, Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, Rabobank and Waternet) shows agreement about the image of the circular economy, but differences when it comes to the path to take and the division of roles among the different parties.

Possible obstacles: role division and scale level

A study of vision documents plus interviews with the professionals involved show that the broad features of the future visions of key players in the circular economy have a lot in common. These future visions insist on the importance of value (preservation). This demands the coordination of several (scale) levels, with attention to value-sharing (including risk-sharing) and the business case. This means that there is a good foundation for collaboration between the different parties. However, at a detailed level one still encounters lots of uncertainty and variation.

The key differences in the future visions are found in the role of the different parties (government, citizen and the business community) in the transition to the circular economy. In particular, the analysis shows that the role division between the different actors presents a possible obstacle. All of the actors affected need to move, but who should take the first step is not altogether clear. This is frequently not a matter of technology or financing, but of behaviour, risks and responsibilities. The scale level – for instance, local, regional or international) – for production in the circular economy is also an important source of uncertainty. There is, however, agreement that the diversity in the scale levels will grow.

Follow-up in WiCE Governance project and Water Knowledge Action Programme

The exploration and analysis of the different future visions, which was conducted within the joint research programme for the water companies (BTO), highlights the importance of different governance aspects in bringing about a circular economy. In doing so, this analysis confirms that the research subjects previously identified in the WiCE ‘Value in the Watercycle’ research theme, such as value, scale and role division, are indeed important targets for more detailed research.


All of the parties specify that knowledge is vital for the transition to the circular economy, and practically all of them also point to the value of learning processes. In the Water Knowledge Action Programme learning processes are central. In this programme, KWR, together with other stakeholders and knowledge institutes, is conducting action-0riented research into water in the circular city of the future. The programme’s approach is directed at promoting the exchange of knowledge and experience among entrepreneurs, policy workers, administrators and researchers.

The above-mentioned governance subjects and the role of knowledge in the transition have already been given a place in the WiCE project on ‘Governance and knowledge action for the circular watercycle’. This project began in 2018 in connection with the Water Knowledge Action Programme. With knowledge about the governance aspects and the transition to a circular urban watercycle, water organisations can define their own role and develop a strategic action perspective.