Coopetition and Alignment in Circular Economy Ecosystems - Beverage Package Recycling System and Circular Economy Service Platform


The increasing pressures towards more environmentally friendly operations, drive companies to work together to forward shared objectives. To achieve system-level outcomes in advancing circular economy, multiple actors from different industries must join forces. Consequently, these companies and organizations form circular economy ecosystems which usually also involve competitors from multiple industries. Collaboration between competitors is often filled with tension and other issues inherent to simultaneous competition and collaboration (discussed as coopetition). Alignment among the ecosystem participants as well as some form of facilitation is needed in these coopetitive circular economy ecosystems to enable efficient multi-actor collaboration. To address the limited understanding of these issues in multi-actor collaboration to promote circular economy, the objective of this study was to investigate the dynamics of circular economy ecosystems entailing competitors and analyze the facilitation and alignment needed to achieve system-level outcomes in the field of circular economy.

To meet the research objectives, a multiple-case study of two different circular economy ecosystems from Finland was conducted. To validate the case selection, a preliminary case identification from Finland of cases in which horizontal actors pursue circular economy objectives together, was carried out. The selected cases were the beverage package recycling system and the circular economy service platform, representing ecosystems that vary in, for example, time- frame, success-rate and participant composition. The primary data sources for both cases were interviews with the studied ecosystems’ key actors. Data triangulation was ensured with multi- sourced secondary data. Data-driven thematic analysis was supplemented with ecosystem actor mapping. Lastly, a cross-case analysis between the studied cases was performed to identify the similarities and differences between the cases.

The key findings show that strong alignment in technological, economic, and cognitive dimensions regarding the alignment of goals and practices is needed for multi-actor collaboration to achieve system-level outcomes. Especially, the joint understanding of the shared objectives and mutual benefits among the ecosystem participants, enhance the alignment within the ecosystem. Entailing horizontal actors in the ecosystem may increase the overall alignment due to the shared challenges, interests, and objectives of competitors. However, coopetition facilitation by an objective central actor or project leader is required to enable smooth collaboration between competitors. According to the findings, coopetition facilitation should include a strong focus on operations by an objective coordinator, taking into consideration issues related to trade secrets and regulations. In addition, the equal involvement of core partners should be ensured as well as the balance between the interests of different actors. Mental facilitation between partners is often needed in coopetitive relationships, whereas the utilization of research can ease joint decision making and development between competitors.

This study contributes to ecosystem, coopetition, and alignment literatures in circular economy context by providing insights on the coopetitive dynamics as well as alignment and misalignment in two dissimilar circular economy ecosystems. In practice, the findings of the study support organizations in initiating, implementing, and managing multi-actor collaboration in ecosystems aiming for system-level outcomes. In future research, more studies of various circular economy ecosystems and their dynamics are needed to expand the understanding of the related phenomena. Studying the cases in the preliminary case identification could provide an interesting outlook of the field in Finland.

Author: Linnea Harala, Tampere University

Published: Tampere University

Potential beneficiaries of the results: ministries, companies, research and development organizations, central organizations

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Linnea Harala