A systemic perspective on transition barriers to a circular infrastructure sector

Tom B.J. Coenen*, Klaasjan Visscher, Leentje Volker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
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Due to the large use of resources and waste generation, the transition to a circular economy (CE) has become a major sustainability-related topic in construction. Intentions to achieve circularity are shared widely, but developments are slow in practice. This study identifies systemic barriers to the circularity transition from a social-technical systemic perspective. We used the
Mission-oriented Innovation System (MIS) framework to provide insights into the problems and potential solutions underlying the circularity mission, the structure of the system and the system dynamics. Based on the analysis of a wide range of policy documents and twenty in-depth interviews with stakeholders in the Dutch infrastructure sector, three vicious cycles were identified that form persistent barriers to the transition: (1) the CE contestation cycle given the contested
nature of the circularity mission; (2) the knowledge diffusion cycle given the need to adopt and diffuse knowledge; and (3) the innovation cycle when it comes to procuring and upscaling circular innovations. These barriers all relate to processual, organizational and institutional challenges rather than to technological ones. This indicates that construction managers, policymakers and
researchers in the field of infrastructure circularity should shift their focus from specific circular solutions to creating appropriate conditions for changing current and introducing novel processes that facilitate circular ways of doing things.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-43
Number of pages22
JournalConstruction management and economics
Issue number1
Early online date29 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2023


  • UT-Hybrid-D
  • circular economy
  • Sociotechnical systems
  • sustainability transition
  • mission-oriented innovation policy
  • mission-oriented innovation system
  • Construction industry


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