Integrating circular principles in environmental management systems

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Environmental management systems (EMS) have been adopted by organizations to ensure the continuous improvement of environmental aspects. The latest revision of ISO14001 in 2015 provides opportunities to align and manage strategic initiatives in organizations, such as employing a lifecycle perspective, circular economy strategies, and stakeholder interactions that go beyond operational optimizations. To date, this is limited in Danish organizations, where the focus of EMS is on optimizing production processes (resource and energy savings). Simultaneously, Danish organizations are pursuing circular economy through new product designs, business models, etc., without having integrated these initiatives into their EMS. In this paper, the opportunities for integrating circular economy initiatives in EMS based on ISO14001:2015 are highlighted through a mixed-method, three-step research strategy: 1) mapping the status of ISO14001 in Danish companies through qualitative interviews and a national survey, 2) developing potential circular EMS policies and objectives, and 3) interviewing focus groups to explore the potential for circular economy initiatives in EMS. Based on a review of the ISO14001 standard, the potential for integrating and aligning with circular economy was established, and the focus group interviews enriched this potential. The focus group companies all work with EMS and circular economy; however, they have not yet integrated both. These companies can see the benefits of having a systematic and dynamic strategy towards circular economy, and they can see the benefits of broadening the scope of EMS. Expanding EMS to encompass circular principles requires a broader scope of the system to include products, services, business model designs, and partnerships.
Original languageEnglish
Article number125485
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Circular economy
  • Circular environmental management
  • Environmental management system (EMS)
  • ISO14001

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