The Guidance Tool is a 10-step process framework to implement Circular Economy and Sustainability principles in the business model. As such the framework also provides the basic structure for the modular course.

It builds on Circular Economy Readiness levels which were defined by the CircularStart consortium on the basis of the well established Technology and Market Readiness Levels (TRL, MRL). Similar to the TRLs which estimate the maturity of technologies and MRLs which describe the process for entering the market, the CERLs provide a typical process from generic (e.g. identifying a relevant circularity strategy) to specific (e.g. implementing a circularity communication strategy). Ideally the CERLs are followed in parallel to the MRLs and TRLs.

For example, if your current business idea qualifies as TRL 4, having a small scale prototype, the corresponding CERL would encourage you to analyse in parallel the circularity of your value chain. To do so, the previous the CERLs from 0 (Understand Circularity) to 3 (Define a Circular Value Proposition) provide the necessary foundation.

 Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs)
Market Readiness Levels (MRLs)Circular Economy Readiness Levels (CERLs)
Understand circularity
Basic Research Basic Research
Relate to circularity
2Technology Formulation Needs Formulation
Analyse existing circular solutions
3Technology Validation Needs Validation
Define a Circular Value Proposition
4Small Scale PrototypeSmall Scale Stakeholder CampaignAnalyse the circularity of your value chain
5Large Scale Prototype Large Scale Early Adopter Campaign
Specify the circular value chain
6Prototype System Proof of Traction
Analyse the Circularity Performance
7Demonstration SystemProof of Satisfaction
Improve and Validate the Circularity Performance
8First of a kind commercial system
Proof of Scalability
Communicate Circularity
9Full commercial applicationProof of Stability Maintain Circularity

The contents of the CircularStart online course cover all 10 steps. For this purpose the CERLs are grouped into 4 modules: Ideation, Integration, Validation and Implementation. The following table provides guiding questions which are treated in the referenced sections of the course. By browsing through the questions you can see which contents of the learning program are most relevant for you at your current development stage. However in all cases we encourage you to go through the learning program from the beginning, as the contents are designed in a progressive manner.

The table also highlights certain business model elements (as defined in the commonly known Business Model Canvas, BMC) which particularly come into focus in the related course modules. The Ideation phase is all about the Value proposition and the Customer segments. This is followed by the Integration phase, mostly concerned with the left side of the BMC, defining the activities, resources and partners needed to realize a circular business model. The Validation phase is mostly concerned with the environmental costs and benefits of the business model. At this stage a certain clarity about the involved resources must be given to ensure a satisfactory analysis. The Implementation stage is all about the sustainability communication strategies, and therefore in the framework of the BMC mostly relates to channels and customer relationships.

 CERLGuiding QuestionsRelated UnitsBMC focus
Course Module
0Understand circularity
Which Sustainable Development Goals exist and which are important to us?
What is a Circular Economy and why do we need it?
What are the drivers and enablers of a Circular Economy?

Unit 1
Unit 2
Unit 3

go to the course
1Relate to circularity
How could the Circular Economy relate to my idea?
What are the most important SDGs in relation to my idea?
What environmental and social issues can be affected by our future business?
What products / services /systems are most important to be made circular?

2Analyse existing circular solutions
Which business strategies of circularity exist?
What can I learn from other businesses? How do they achieve circularity?
What specific objectives can I define to integrate circularity?
Unit 4
Unit 5
Unit 6
Value Proposition

Customer Segments
3Define a Circular Value Proposition
What value is created for other stakeholders than our customers?
How do customers use our product / service? What happens at the end of life? Do they need to own the product?

Unit 7
Unit 8
4Analyse the circularity of your value chain
Which Partners do we need in our value chain to enable a circular BM?
What natural, technological resources are used along the lifecycle and how can they be used more sustainably?
Can you provide a service to improve the circularity of your product or service?
Unit 1
Unit 2
Unit 3
Unit 4
Unit 5
Key Partners

Key Resources

Key Activities

Customer Relationships


go to the course
5Specify the circular value chain
How can the design of the product / service be optimised to enable circularity?
How can we align our activities with the circular value proposition?
Unit 6
Unit 7
6Analyse the Circularity Performance
What ecological or social costs is our business causing and how can these be mitigated?
What ecological or social benefits is our business model generating?

Unit 1
Unit 2
Cost Structure

Revenue Streams

go to the course
7Improve and Validate the Circularity Performance
How can we measure success other than in financial profits (employee happiness, environmental performance, resource independence,..)? Unit 3
8Communicate Circularity
How can our sustainability efforts be communicated to our customers and other stakeholders?
Unit 1
Unit 2
Customer Relationships


go to the course
9Maintain Circularity
How can we maintain and monitor the circularity efforts over time?
How can we continually improve the sustainability and circularity of our business model?

Unit 3
Unit 4