Plastic circularity and blockchain technology
New digital technologies can enable and accelerate the transition to a circular economy for plastics. Blockchain technology, in particular, has the potential to improve waste management practices by facilitating the monitoring and tracking of plastics waste, can support the implementation of cryptocurrency payments and smart contracts, and facilitate rewards-based reuse and recycling initiatives. However, the number of active blockchain-based circular plastics projects remains rather low to date and only a few of them have reached the piloting or operational stages. The adoption and diffusion of new (sustainability) technologies like blockchain often require significant socio-cultural, economic and legislative changes, and technology-innovating firms need to engage with a broad range of public and private actors to create a supportive business ecosystem around their new technology. Entrepreneurs (from startups) and entrepreneurial managers (from small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and multinational enterprises (MNEs)) should strategically and collectively create this supportive business ecosystem around blockchain technology in a process called strategic collective system building. Existing strategic collective system building frameworks however do not discriminate between startup entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial managers in SMEs and MNEs. Yet, the two types of entrepreneurs have access to different (financial, physical, human, technological, reputational, organizational) resources and have different characteristics (firm age, size and level of diversification in business practices), which have an influence on what strategic collective system building goals and activities they pursue. This empirical study aims to fill these knowledge gaps by investigating how these entrepreneurs build supportive ecosystems for blockchain-based business models that enable a circular economy for plastics. The research adopts a qualitative, multiple case study design and data is collected through desk research and 12 semi-structured interviews. The interviews were analyzed using thematic analysis techniques and resulted in both qualitative as quantitative data. Results show common patterns in the type of collective system building goals and activities pursued by entrepreneurs: startups, with fewer resources, focused more on technological developments, whereas SMEs and MNEs, with more resources, focused on a broader set of activities e.g., market creation. Embedding blockchain technology in society was collectively neglected by all types of entrepreneurs and should receive more system building efforts to increase adoption of blockchain technology for circular plastics. Findings provide practical insights for entrepreneurs striving to develop and commercialize blockchain-based circular business models and extend existing knowledge on the processes of creating and orchestrating business ecosystems for the successful uptake of a blockchain-driven circular economy for plastics.
This research was also presented and published at the 7th International Conference on New Business Models (NBM) in Rome, 2022. The theme of this academic conference was "Sustainable Business Model Challenges: Economic Recovery and Digital Transformation."
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