The power of Circular design truly lies in its creative process and the ability to re-think and ask fundamental questions such as: what the real purpose of a product or service is and how will it fit into a broader restorative system. Circular Economy aims to be regenerative by design from which waste and toxins have been designed out by focusing on positive society-wide benefits. Therefore, adopting a Circular design approach enables companies to transition away from take-make-dispose linear production, towards business models that allow goods to be designed and produced for extended use, disassembly, reuse and recycling from recovered material sources. A Good example of this is the Dutch carpet manufacturer Interface, who completely transformed the way it operates from a linear into a circular business model by utilizing circular design as a tool to reach its goals for carbon-positivity.

 Maximising the positive and creating regenerative systems 

When comparing different sustainable design practices, one might ask: What is the difference then between Eco-design and Circular design? In the current model, Eco-design directives aim to improve efficiency through minimising negative environmental impacts with regulation, whereas the circular design approach is about maximising a positive, regenerative footprint. It also offers a Systems approach pursuing value creation and innovation by focussing on new business opportunities. Exploring new business models requires new ways of designing and this is why Circular design and business go so tightly hand in hand. Besides designing solutions for and making good quality products, Circular design aims to have long-term benefits by shaping a more resilient and prosperous future for businesses.

Good design solution is quality inside out

In addition to the terminology and different practices in design, it is also important to differentiate what makes a good design solution and how it is genuinely supporting the circular economy as well as human health and the environment at the same time. When aiming for closed-loop solutions with Circular design, one should remember that the goal is not to have harmful or unidentified substances in circulation. For this reason, the right materials should be designed at the very start to be in the right place. Following for instance Cradle to Cradle principles with clear circularity objectives and material health criteria can support the design process to achieve more innovative and beneficial products with truly long-lasting socio-economical value.

Circular design practice is working in product and system level

At Ethica we follow the comprehensive Circular design process which can be divided into following four different steps within the macro and micro level:

  1. Discover – Research phase for understanding business & user needs

  2. Define – Synthesising findings into circular principles & goals

  3. Develop – Ideating solutions & concepts for design

  4. Deliver – Validating concepts with iterative prototyping for market-ready products

Ethica Circular design process.png

Above all, the fundamentals of the Circular Economy and company’s visions need to be clear, as this will then steer the design process for achieving ideal closed-loop solutions. Good and holistic circular design is stepping away from the object and thinking about the whole system. Therefore, working in cross-disciplinary teams and iterating feedback loops among them can enable the process in the most fruitful way.

Circular design fosters a radical mind shift and shapes the world into a more positive and resilient direction. Lastly, it can be used as a creative and useful tool for understanding what it means to engage with the idea of positive footprint with a circular business advantage in a rapidly changing world and markets.

So, let’s get the restorative ‘closed-loop’ wheels turning!

About the author:
Ida Urmas is working as a Circular Designer and Cradle to Cradle expert at Ethica.
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