Circular economy in The National Core Curriculum

Circular economy is mentioned in the context of the underlying values of basic education as part of a necessary sustainable lifestyle. According to the values, man is part of nature and completely dependent on the vitality of the ecosystems. Understanding this and acting accordingly are an integral part of basic education and this can be seen both explicitly and implicitly in both the objectives (O) and content areas (C) of several subjects. Below follows a closer look at the themes and topics of circular economy in the context of the different school subjects on different levels, and how the Inventions for Circular Economy in the Classroom module connects with the National Core Curriculum.

Grades 1-2

In grades 1-2, circular economy manifests itself in transversal competence T3: Taking care of oneself and managing daily life. According to this section, pupils should be guided towards critical consumption, moderation, and taking nature into account when making consumer choices.

Looking at different subjects, circular economy is present in environmental studies, which, by nature, combines natural sciences with health education. In environmental studies, particular attention must be paid to the ecological, cultural, social, and financial dimensions of sustainable development, which directly reflect the themes of circular economy. In addition, the pupils will come to understand the effects that different decision may have on the environment and develop a sensitivity to environmental questions and issues.

In content area six (C6) deals with shared ownership and waste reduction by recycling, among other ways. These are directly connected with the circular economic themes of from waste to raw material, lengthening the lifespan of a product, and from ownership to shared use.

Grades 3-6

In grades 3-6 circular economy is present in a similar manner to the lower grades, but the pupil’s own input is more emphasised. Social studies, which is a new subject at this stage, adds in economy-related themes. Regarding the objectives of transversal competences, Participation, involvement, and building a sustainable future (T7) is added. According to that objective, pupils should be guided towards understanding the impact of their choices and lifestyles on society and nature.

Content area 6 in environmental education has been broadened to include e.g. climate change and sustainable use of natural resources. The content description mentions the organising of a collaborative project, where pupils practice participation and involvement at the local and global levels. Inventions for circular economy qualifies as this type of project, and it can be used, for example, to build an application improving the recycling or sharing practices of the school or the immediate environment.

In social studies, the idea is to guide pupils to follow current affairs and to understand the connection of world events with their own lives. Circular economy is an extremely topical worldwide trend, that way have a large impact on and connection to a pupil’s life. Additionally, pupils familiarise themselves with responsible consumerism and they are expected to understand the principles behind consumer choices (O2). These topics are featured in the content areas 1 and 4, which also mention getting to know local economy and businesses. Pupils can also familiarise themselves with businesses following the principles of circular economy (with help from Sitra’s examples) and think about why they are following them.

Grades 7-9

Grades 7-9 introduce new practices for looking at sustainable development, as well as theoretical discussion on the interconnectedness of the different dimensions of sustainable development and what a sustainable lifestyle actually means. The objectives of transversal competence encourage the pupils to think about relevant issues from the point of view of their personal economy (T3). Objective T7 – participation, involvement, and building a sustainable future – guides the pupils to understand the meaning of concrete actions performed for the benefit of the environment or other people. The pupils will also observe different possible outcomes for the future and though that, develop skills to further sustainable wellbeing.

Natural sciences and health education, which were combined into environmental education up until this stage, are now their own individual subjects. Circular economy is also still present in social sciences.

Physics and chemistry teaching should emphasise the importance of sustainable development and the building of a sustainable future and encourage pupils to take responsibility for their environment. Both subject are required for the development of new, environmentally sustainable technologies and solutions. Relevant themes include ones relating to recycling, turning old products into something new, and lengthening the lifespan of products. In terms of content areas, physics (C3) places particular importance on energy production and the sustainable use of energy resources. Respectively, in chemistry (C3), the main emphasis is on the sustainable use of natural resources, and the concept of a product’s lifespan is introduced.

Biology teaching should aim to develop pupils’ environmental awareness, and biology holds several objectives (O6, O12, O13, O14), including themes relating to circular economy. Emphasis is put on man’s relationship with nature, environmental awareness, and ethical decision making and acting for the benefit of a sustainable future. The sixth subject area titled building a sustainable future is directly in line with circular economy, while also taking into account natural diversity and animal welfare.

Geography teaching pays attention to the interaction of humans and the environment, and aims to solidify pupils’ abilities to contribute to a sustainable future. Content area 3 deals with prerequisites for life and their sustainable use. As with biology, content area 6 in geography (sustainable lifestyle and sustainable use of natural resources) deals almost entirely with circular economy, however geography emphasises an economical perspective more than biology does.

Health education looks at issues relating to the health of the society at large, as well as the health of the pupils. When discussing these issues, the health and wellbeing of the environment must also be taken into account, and this line of thinking can be connected with circular economy and sustainable development. Content area 3 mentions sustainable lifestyle, social sustainability, and responsible consumption.

One aim of home economics is to pass on knowledge and attitudes that are in line with a sustainable lifestyle. It also strives to build a foundation for sustainable consumption and living. These objectives (O3 and O13) reflect circular economic thinking through sustainable development and personal economic decisions. Both objectives are featured in all three content areas from slightly different points of view. The first one emphasises decision relating to eating, the second one deals with environmental awareness, and the third one discusses responsible consumption.

As in the lower grades, social studies should also address topical issues in the higher grades. At this stage, economic phenomena and activities are looked at in a broader manner. Circular economy is present in objective 8, according to which pupils should learn to understand responsible consumption in the context of the principles of sustainable development. Additionally, content area 4 mentions the addressing of economic activity from the point of view of sustainable development.


In sum, it could be stated that circular economy is present in the lower grades in the form of sustainable development, discussed mainly in environmental studies. In the higher grades, circular development is more apparent, especially in biology and geography. In these subjects, the Inventions for circular economy study unit can be included in teaching as is. With other subjects, circular economy is present in a more implicit manner, but still clearly part of the learning objectives.

The teaching period can, thus, be carried out in any grade simply by observing the National Core Curriculum in the planning stages. It enables the teacher to focus more on one subject or include objectives from multiple subjects in the form of a transversal module.

The table below summarises The National Core Curriculum’s objectives (O), content areas (C), and objectives of transversal competence (T) that in some manner have to do with circular economy. With environmental education, also objectives regarding invention pedagogy (ip) are included.

Topic / grade




Transversal competences T3 T3 and T7 T3 and T7
Environmental education

O3 and O9(ip)


O3 and O7(ip)

C6, collaborative project

Social studies


C1 and C4

O4 and O8



O3, O4, and O15



O3, O4, and O15



O6, O12, O13, and O14

C2 and C6


O4, O11, and O12

C3 and C6

Health education



Home economics

O3 and O13

C3, C2, and C3