Author ORCID Identifier

https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8236-6166 Heurkens Erwin

https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6775-0664 Dąbrowski Marcin


Circular economy (CE), the new ‘buzzword’ in urban and regional studies and policy debates, is about shifting from a linear production process towards a circular one in which the generation of waste is minimised, materials circulate in ‘closed loops’, and waste is not considered a burden but rather a resource that brings new economic opportunities. However, while there is a consensus on the need to facilitate a transition towards a circular economy, the governing of this endeavour remains extremely challenging because making a circular economy work requires cutting across sectoral, scalar, and administrative boundaries. Drawing on the sustainability transitions literature and the case of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, arguably one of the frontrunners on the strive towards a circular built environment and economy, the paper seeks to identify and understand barriers for CE transition at a regional scale. The findings underscore the multi-faceted nature of the challenge and offer lessons for the governance of emerging regional circular spatial-economic policies.


circular economy, transitions, urban regions, governance, sustainability, planning




AMA (2018a), Ontwikkelplan Circulaire Economie Metropoolregio Amsterdam, Amsterdam: Amsterdam Metropolitan Area.

AMA (2018b), Ruimtelijk-economische Actie-Agenda 2016–2020, Amsterdam: Amsterdam Metropolitan Area.

AMENTA, L., ATTADEMO, A., REMØY, H., BERRUTI, G., CERRETA, M., FORMATO, E., PALESTINO, M.F. and RUSSO, M. (2019), ‘Managing the transition towards circular metabolism: Living labs as a co-creation approach’, Urban Planning, 4 (3), pp. 5–18. https://doi.org/10.17645/up.v4i3.2170

ARCINIEGAS, G., ŠILERYTÉ, R., DĄBROWSKI, M., WANDL, A., DUKAI, B., BOHNET, M. and GUTSCHE, J.M. (2019), ‘A geodesign decision support environment for integrating management of resource flows in spatial planning’, Urban Planning, 4 (3), pp. 32–51. https://doi.org/10.17645/up.v4i3.2173

ARLATI, A., BERRUTI, G., DĄBROWSKI, M., FRASER, T., HEURKENS, E., KNIELING, J., MEZEI, C., OBERSTEG, A., OPPE, O., PALESTINO, M.F. and VARJÙ, V. (2017), D6.1 Governance and Decision-making Processes in Pilot Cases, REPAiR: REsource Management in Peri-urban AReas: Going Beyond Urban Metabolism.

BODE, N., BUCHEL, S., DIERCKS, G., LODDER, M., LOORBACH, D., NOTERMANS, I., VAN RAAK, R. and ROORDA, C. (2019), Staat van Transitie: Dynamiek in mobiliteit, klimaatadaptatie en circulaire economie, Rotterdam: DRIFT.

Circle Economy (2016), Banen en Vaardigheden in de Circulaire Economie, Amsterdam: Gemeente Amsterdam en Metropoolregio Amsterdam.

Circle Economy (2017), Circulair Noord-Holland: Kansenkaart circulaire economie, Amsterdam: Circle Economy.

DĄBROWSKI, M., HEURKENS, E., BERUTTI, G. and PALESTINO, M.F. (2019), ‘Overcoming governance challenges to transitions for circular economy’, presentation at the Regional Studies Association (RSA 2019) Conference, Santiago, Spain.

DOMENECH, T. and BAHN-WALKOWIAK, B. (2017), ‘Transition towards a resource efficient circular economy in Europe: Policy lessons from the EU and the Member States’, Ecological Economics, 155, pp. 7–19. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2017.11.001

Ellen MacArthur Foundation, SUN and McKinsey Center for Business and Environment (2015), Growth Within: A Circular Economy Vision for a Competitive Europe, Ellen McArthur Foundation.

ELZEN, B., GEELS, F.W. and GREEN, K. (eds.) (2004), System Innovation and the Transition to Sustainability, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK, 2004. https://doi.org/10.4337/9781845423421

ESPON (2019), CIRCTER – Circular economy and territorial consequences, Applied research (draft synthesis Report, version 09/01/2019), Luxembourg: ESPON.

ERNST, L., DE GRAAF-VAN DINTHER, R.E., PEEK, G.J. and LOORBACH, D. (2016), ‘Sustainable urban transformation and sustainable transitions: Conceptual framework and case study’, Journal of Cleaner Production, 112, pp. 2988–2999. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2015.10.136

European Commission (2015), Closing the loop: An EU action plan for the Circular Economy, COM/2015/0614 final.

FARLA, J., ALKEMADE, F. and SUURS, R.A.A. (2010), ‘Analysis of barriers in the transition toward sustainable mobility in the Netherlands’, Technological Forecasting & Social Change, 77, pp. 1260–1269. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2010.03.014

FISCHER, A. and PASCUCCI, S. (2017), ‘Institutional incentives in circular economy transition: The case of material use in the Dutch textile industry’, Journal of Cleaner Production, 155, pp. 17–32. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2016.12.038

FRANTZESKAKI, N., LOORBACH, D. and MEADOWCROFT, J. (2012), ‘Governing transitions to sustainability: transition management as a governance approach towards pursuing sustainability’, International Journal of Sustainable Development, 15 (1/2), pp. 19–36. https://doi.org/10.1504/IJSD.2012.044032

FRANTZESKAKI, N., WITTMAYER, J. and LOORBACH, D. (2014), ‘The role of partnerships in ‘realising’ urban sustainability in Rotterdam’s City Ports Area, The Netherlands’, Journal of Cleaner Production, 65, pp. 406–417. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2013.09.023

FRANTZESKAKI, N., BROTO, V.C., COENEN, L. and LOORBACH, D. (eds.) (2017), Urban Sustainability Transitions, Routledge, New York. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315228389

FRATINI, C.F., GEORG, S. and JØRGENSEN, M.S. (2019), ‘Exploring circular economy imaginaries in European cities: A research agenda for the governance of urban sustainability transitions’, Journal of Cleaner Production, 228, pp. 974–989. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2019.04.193

GEISSDOERFER, M., SAVAGET, P., BOCKEN, N. and HULTINK, E.J. (2017), ‘The Circular Economy - A new sustainability paradigm?’, Journal of Cleaner Production, 143, pp. 757–768. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2016.12.048

GELDERMANS, R.J., WANDL, A., STEENMEIJER, M.A., FURLAN, C., STREEFLAND, T., FORMATO, E. and IODICE, S. (2018), D3.3 Process model for the two pilot cases: Amsterdam, the Netherlands & Naples, Italy, REPAiR: REsource Management in Peri-urban AReas: Going Beyond Urban Metabolism.

GLADEK, E., VAN ODIJK, S., THEUWS, P. and HERDER, A. (2015), Circular Buiksloterham: Vision and Ambition: Transitioning Amsterdam to a circular city, Amsterdam: Metabolic, Studioninedots & DELVA Landscape Architects.

GRIN, J., ROTMANS, J., SCHOT, J., in collaboration with GEELS, F. and LOORBACH, D. (2010), Transitions to sustainable development – part 1. New directions in the study of long term transformative change, Routledge: New York. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203856598

JACKSON, M., LEDERWASCH, A. and GIURCO, D. (2014), ‘Transitions in theory and practice: Managing metals in the Circular Economy’, Resources, 3, pp. 516–543. https://doi.org/10.3390/resources3030516

KORHONEN, J., HONKASALO, A. and SEPPÄLÄ, J. (2018), ‘Circular Economy: The concept and its limitations’, Ecological Economics, 143, pp. 37–46. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2017.06.041

LOORBACH, D. (2007), Transition management: New mode of governance for sustainable development, PhD thesis, Erasmus University, Rotterdam.

LOORBACH, D. (2010), ‘Transition management for sustainable development: a prescriptive, complexity-based governance framework’, Governance, 23 (1), pp. 161–183. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0491.2009.01471.x

MARIN, J. and DE MEULDER, B. (2018), ‘Interpreting circularity. Circular city representations concealing transition drivers’, Sustainability, 10 (5). https://doi.org/10.3390/su10051310

MEADOWCROFT, J. (2005), ‘Environmental political economy, technological transitions and the state’, New Political Economy, 10, pp. 479–498. https://doi.org/10.1080/13563460500344419

MERLI, R., PREZIOSI, M. and ACAMPORA, A. (2018), ‘How do scholars approach the circular economy? A systematic literature review’, Journal of Cleaner Production, 178, pp. 703–722. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.12.112

Metabolic (2017), Circular Amsterdam: Spatial Implications, Amsterdam: Metabolic.

Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment and Ministry of Economic Affairs (2016), Nederland circulair in 2050: Rijksbreed programma Circulaire Economie, Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment and Ministry of Economic Affairs.

MOREAU, V., SAHAKIAN, M., VAN GRIETHUYSEN, P. and VUILLE, F. (2017), ‘Coming Full Circle Why Social and Institutional Dimensions Matter for the Circular Economy’, Journal of Industrial Ecology, 21 (3), pp. 497–506. https://doi.org/10.1111/jiec.12598

Municipality of Amsterdam (2016), Circular Amsterdam: A vision and action agenda for the city and metropolitan area, Amsterdam: Municipality of Amsterdam.

Municipality of Amsterdam (2017), Roadmap Circulaire Gronduitgifte, Amsterdam: Municipality of Amsterdam.

Municipality of Haarlemmermeer (2015), Haarlemmermeer naar een circulaire samenleving Duurzaam 2015–2018, Hoofddorp: Municipality of Haarlemmermeer.

Municipality of Haarlem (2017), Haarlem Circulair in 2040, Haarlem: Municipality of Haarlem.

NEVENS, F. and ROORDA, C. (2014), ‘A climate of change: A transition approach for climate neutrality in the city of Ghent (Belgium)’, Sustainable Cities and Society, 10, pp. 112–121. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scs.2013.06.001

NEVENS, F., FRANTZESKAKI, N., LOORBACH, D. and GORISSEN, L. (2013), ‘Urban transition labs: Co-creating transformative action for sustainable cities’, Journal of Cleaner Production, 50, pp. 111–122. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2012.12.001

OBERSTEG, A., ARLATI, A., ACKE, A., BERRUTI, G., CZAPIEWSKI, K., DĄBROWSKI, M., HEURKENS, E., MEZEI, C., PALESTINO, M.F., VARJÚ, V., WÓJCIK, M. and KNIELING, J. (2019), ‘Urban regions shifting to circular economy: Understanding challenges for new ways of governance’, Urban Planning, 4 (3), pp. 19–31. https://doi.org/10.17645/up.v4i3.2158

OECD (2019), Waste Management and the Circular Economy in selected OECD Countries: Evidence form Environmental Performance Reviews, OECD.

OLSSON, P., GUNDERSON, L.H., CARPENTER, S.R., RYAN, P., LEBEL, L., FOLKE, C. and HOLLING, C.S. (2006), ‘Shooting the rapids: Navigating transitions to adaptive governance of social-ecological systems’, Ecology and Society, 11 (1), art. 18. https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-01595-110118

PRENDEVILLE, S., CHERIM, E. and BOCKEN, N. (2018), ‘Circular Cities: Mapping Six Cities in Transition’, Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 26, pp. 171–194. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eist.2017.03.002

Provincie Noord-Holland (2017), We maken het rond: Ontwikkelingsperspectief circulaire economie, Haarlem: Provincie Noord-Holland.

REMØY, H., FURLAN, C., WANDL, A., DĄBROWSKI, M., AMENTA, L., ARCINIEGAS, G., MUÑOZ UNCETA, P., STREEFLAND, T., GELDERMANS, B., HEURKENS, E., MEISTER, K., CRAIGEN, A. and ŠILERYTÉ, R. (2018), D5.2 Catalogue of solutions and strategies for Amsterdam, REPAiR: REsource Management in Peri-urban AReas: Going Beyond Urban Metabolism.

Rijkswaterstaat and Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment (2015), Beleidsverkenning circulaire economie in de bouw: Een perspectief voor de markt en overheid, Den Haag: Rijkswaterstaat & Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment.

ROORDA, C., WITTMAYER, J., HENNEMAN, P., VAN STEENBERGEN, F., FRANTZESKAKI, N. and LOORBACH, D. (2014), ‘Transition management in the urban context’, Guidance manual, Rotterdam: DRIFT.

ROTMANS, J. (2003), Transitiemanagement, Sleutel voor een duurzame samenleving, Van Gorcum, Assen.

ROTMANS, J., KEMP, R. and VAN ASSELT, M. (2001), ‘More evolution than revolution. Transition management in public policy’, Foresight, 3 (1), pp. 15–31. https://doi.org/10.1108/14636680110803003

RoyalHaskoningDHV, FABRICations and Circle Economy (2018), Grondstoffen Atlas MRA, Amsterdam: Amsterdam Metropolitan Area.

SCHOT, J. and GEELS, F.W. (2008), ‘Strategic niche management and sustainable innovation journeys: Theory, findings, research agenda, and policy’, Technological Analysis & Strategic Management, 20 (5), pp. 537–554. https://doi.org/10.1080/09537320802292651

SONG, J., SUN, Y. and JIN, L. (2017), ‘PESTEL-analysis of the development of the waste-to-energy incineration industry in China’, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 80, pp. 272– 289. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rser.2017.05.066

STEEN, K. and VAN BUEREN, E. (2017), Urban Living Labs: A living lab way of working, Amsterdam: Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS).

TURCU, C., GILLIE, H., TURCU, C. and GILLIE, H. (2020), ‘Governing the Circular Economy in the City: Local Planning Practice in London Governing the Circular Economy in the City: Local Planning Practice in London’, Planning Practice & Research, 35 (1), pp. 62–85. https://doi.org/10.1080/02697459.2019.1703335

VOß, J.P., BAUKNECHT, D. and KEMP, R. (2006), Reflexive governance for sustainable development, Edward Elgar: Cheltenham/Northampton. https://doi.org/10.4337/9781847200266

WILLIAMS, J. (2019), ‘Circular cities’, Urban Studies, 56 (13), pp. 2746–2762. https://doi.org/10.1177/0042098018806133

WINANS, K., KENDALL, A. and DENG, H. (2017), ‘The history and current applications of the circular economy concept’, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 68, pp. 825–833. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rser.2016.09.123

WITTMAYER, J.M., SCHÄPKE, N., VAN STEENBERGEN, F. and OMANN, I. (2014a), ‘Making sense of sustainability transitions locally: How action research contributes to addressing societal challenges’, Critical Policy Studies, 8 (4), pp. 465–485. https://doi.org/10.1080/19460171.2014.957336

WITTMAYER, J.M., ROORDA, C. and VAN STEENBERGEN, F. (eds.) (2014b), Governing urban sustainability transitions: Inspiring examples, DRIFT, Rotterdam.

WITTMAYER, J.M. and LOORBACH, D. (2016), ‘Governing transitions in cities: Fostering alternative ideas, practices, and social relations through transition management’, [in:] LOORBACH, D., WITTMAYER, J.M. , SHIROYAMA, H., FUJINO, J. and MIZUGUCHI, S. (eds.), Governance of Urban Sustainability Transitions: European and Asian Experiences, Springer, Tokyo.

WOLFRAM, M. and FRANTZESKAKI, N. (2016), ‘Cities and systemic change for sustainability: Prevailing epistemologies and an emerging research agenda’, Sustainability, 8 (2), 144. https://doi.org/10.3390/su8020144

First Page


Last Page