The concept of the circular economy (CE) is currently gaining impetus as a way to move towards sustainable, low‐carbon, resource‐efficient, and competitive economies. However, despite the potential benefits of CE activities, their implementation remains relatively rare. We use a cross‐sectional survey of European small and medium‐sized firms (SMEs) to identify the main barriers firms face to promote the CE, focusing specifically on the following: those related to a lack of resources (human and financial) and capabilities (expertise) and those related to the regulatory framework (administrative procedures and the costs of meeting the regulations). Our results indicate that it is the complexity of administrative/legal procedures and the costs of meeting regulations/legal standards that constitute the most significant barriers, whereas the lack of human resources is also perceived to be an obstacle by firms engaged in CE activities. Those obstacles may be considered revealed barriers, and it is only when the firms become involved in these activities that they actually perceive them. Furthermore, when we consider the breadth of CE activities, administrative procedures and regulations once again emerge as the most significant obstacles. Finally, we stress the need to distinguish between different CE activities given that the perception of barriers differs substantially across these activities. Firms undertaking a disruptive innovation redesigning products and services to minimize the use of materials are more likely to perceive all barriers as important. However, firms implementing such activities as minimizing waste, replanning energy usage, and using renewable energy only perceive those obstacles related to administrative procedures and regulations.
barriers; circular economy; decision models; green innovation; smes