Consumption in the Circular Economy: Learning from Our Mistakes

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The Circular Economy (CE) is gaining increasing attention among businesses, policymakers and academia, and across research disciplines. While the concept’s strong diffusion may be considered its main strength, it has also contributed to the emergence of many different understandings and definitions, which may hinder or slow down its success. Specifically, despite growing attention, the role of the consumption side in the CE remains a largely under-researched topic. In the present review, we first search the literature by means of snowball mapping and a systematic key-word strategy, and then critically analyze the identified sources in order to elucidate the fundamental elements that should characterize consumption in a CE. We extract two pillars, directly from definition, that should be at the nucleus of future research on consumption in the CE: (1) the hierarchical nature of circular strategies, with “reduce” being preferred to all other strategies; and (2) the inadequacy of defining the CE only through its loops or strategies without considering its goal of attaining sustainable development. Moreover, the discussion is placed within the extant consumer research streams deemed relevant, in order to bridge these with the context of the CE. We highlight limitations of said research streams regarding their typical focus on the quality (and not the quantity) of consumption, the lack of heterogeneity in the theories and data collection methods employed, and the non-impact-based instruments typically used to measure consumption behaviors. We show how these limitations have contributed to the emergence of the intention–behavior gap, a phenomenon extant studies identify as key to overcome for encouraging sustainable consumption practices. In particular, we focus the analysis on the intention–behavior gap in order to: (1) establish the state-of-the-art; and (2) uncover avenues for future research addressing extant limitations.
MDPI and ACS Style Georgantzis Garcia, D.; Kipnis, E.; Vasileiou, E.; Solomon, A. Consumption in the Circular Economy: Learning from Our Mistakes. Sustainability 2021, 13, 601.