The most popular definition of sustainable development, which can be found in the Brundtland Report, sets an ideal goal but do not provide a clear direction for the implementation of sustainable solutions. Other related concepts and approaches have emerged as means to progress towards sustainability in a more pragmatic way, such as the circular economy. The circular economy has risen to prominence at a rate and on a scale to rival the idea of sustainable development itself. This is despite the fact that there is relatively little about the circular economy that is entirely original—it draws heavily on precursor concepts such as industrial ecology and industrial symbiosis. These ideas have received renewed impetus even whilst being eclipsed in both academic and policies debates. In order to address this paradox and help establish the identity and contribution of these fields, this article presents the concepts of circular economy, industrial symbiosis and sustainable development, summarizing their complex and often intertwined evolutionary paths, focusing on relevant developments and implementation challenges. In addition, the authors point out the divergences and interrelations of these concepts and link them to other adjacent concepts and research fields, such as ecological modernisation and the green economy. Additionally, the potential contribution of industrial symbiosis and the circular economy to sustainable development and to the Sustainable Development Goals set in the United Nations Agenda 2030 is briefly discussed.
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