Journal of Circular Economy

An applied scholarly journal on circular economy

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Systems and Ecosystems in the Circular Economy: What’s the Difference?

Wisdom Kanda


‘Systems’ and ‘ecosystems’ are buzz concepts in the circular economy literature. However, the differences between these concepts remain ambiguous. Systems and ecosystems are often used interchangeably and at times confusingly. While conceptual ambiguity offers possibilities for broad interpretations and engagement, it can undermine the relevance of these concepts as analytical lenses to disrupt the linear economy. In this perspective article, I examine whether systems and ecosystems are distinct concepts and how they complement each other. To do so, I analysed these concepts and applied them to a case of biomethane for transportation using scientific literature.  Systems and ecosystems are not mutually exclusive; rather, they offer nuanced perspectives to describe, analyse, and facilitate complex interactions among entities and their external environment. They signify the complexity, interdependency, and co-evolutionary nature of the circular economy. Ecosystems are a subcategory of systems. Differences between the concepts of systems and ecosystems partially arise from their origins, evolution, and the research communities using them. The article shows how systems and ecosystems perspectives can enrich each other and calls for better integration between the two concepts in the circular economy discourse.


Systems, Ecosystems, Circular Economy, Co-evolution, Orchestration


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