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Progress Toward a Circular Economy in China

The Drivers (and Inhibitors) of Eco-industrial Initiative


Address correspondence to:
Prof. John Mathews
Eni Chair in Competitive Dynamics and Global Strategy
LUISS Guido Carli University
Viale Romania 32, 00197 Roma, Italy


Eco-industrial initiatives, which close industrial loops by turning wastes at one point in a value chain into inputs at another point, are attracting growing interest as a solution to the problem of sustainability of industrial systems. Although Germany and Japan have made important advances in building recycling incentives into their industrial systems and sought competitive advantage from doing so, China is arguably taking the issue even further (in principle) through its pursuit of a circular economy, now enshrined in law as an official national development goal. In this article, we review a number of the eco-industrial initiatives taken in China and compare them using a common graphical representation with comparable initiatives taken in the West and elsewhere in East Asia. Our aim is to demonstrate some common themes across the case studies, such as the transformation from the former linear economy to a circular economy and the evolutionary processes in which dynamic linkages are gradually established over time. We discuss the drivers of these eco-industrial initiatives as well as the inhibitors, setting the initiatives in an evolutionary framework and introducing a notion of Pareto eco-efficiency to evaluate them. We make the argument that China might be capturing latecomer advantages through its systematic promotion of eco-industrial initiatives within a circular economy framework.