What does closing the loop mean? It refers to the idea that currently we take, make, waste - a linear use of material goods that is wasteful and unsustainable. To close the loop, one must design systems or programs that interconnect the processes of where things come from, how will it be used, and where is it going to after the first intended use. For example, if I make silk clothing and I want to close the loop and have a thriving business, I would consider every process of my business for the long term. I’d want to support the overall environment of the silk producers so that I ensure I have silk and I know where it’s coming from. I support the people by buying from them individually or through a buyers club, maybe even get bulk shipping rates for efficient distribution. Then as a part of my sales program could offer a percentage of sales to go to reforestation or water sanitation for the area of where my silk comes from to support the ecology and the people that live there while ensuring their practices are environmentally and socially just. This could happen through direct relationships or through program management by an NGO.
To continue my choice of using silk I’m using a material that is designed for decomposition - it will decompose to dust safely. Moreover, a buy-back or credit program that allows customers to trade in their old clothes for a new piece could enhance long-term sales and customer loyalty all while the returned silk items could be shredded or refashioned into another product.
The fact that your business is thoughtful, efficient, and proactive in strategic partnerships will attract customers that will support your work. This is a quick example of how system or program design in your business or organization closes the loop through relationships, conscious business practices, and system designs that respect for where materials come from and where they will go after typical use. Join the circular economy by having programs that close the loop!
The future is uncertain, but we can anticipate what needs will arise given current conditions and offer our service to address these needs. Even if there isn’t a pretty job title for it. I’ve dealt with this throughout my journey defining my work in the vast sustainability field. So many things to be done, so many existing systems to try to translate to and work within.
Leaning on the design process, sustainability strategies, ecological design principles and experience with developing and managing projects with artists, companies, foundations, and organizations, I still find myself and others snagged on the best title for this work. Titles such as "Sustainability Strategist", "Project Manager", "Specialized Generalist" (a joke because it's true), "Trends Forecaster","New Ventures Director" all of these titles and more might fit depending on the project. I see, using design thinking to reconnect and remake processes to have a different outcome to be “Program Design”, at least for now. Maybe there is a better title and explanation out there (if you are reading this and have one please share it with me).
Program Design and Development seems to be confused with programming or slinging code, but I use program design to mean using the design process to developing plans, processes, relationships and experiences to reach measurable goals. I’m particularly passionate about eco-centered design thinking for taking organizations from linear take, make, waste economy into the circular economy. This can take the form of creating a program for a conscious company that wants to join the circular or regenerative economy, or become a social enterprise by developing a program with manufacturers, for example, to create a better product, relationships, and system that is more socially, financially, and ecologically thriving.
Community-based design and ethnographic research also work that I (and my team if needed) do to support designers by finding out from the stakeholders what challenges and benefits they have, need, and want. This work is important for strategic planning, business planning (especially for social enterprise start-ups), urban planning and architecture as well as community development in general both internationally and locally. Foundations often use program design for creating opportunities and projects that address their intended stakeholders. Design for learning, strategic partnerships, and new venture planning could all use program design and development.
By whatever name fits the best, the essence behind the title is motivated by how badly our systems need to be reviewed, redesigned, and become relevant and resilient to ecological pressures the future generations will face. Rethinking and redesigning innovative and efficient programs and projects are critical. Bringing in an outside perspective on these matters makes a big difference for moving beyond, around, over, the cultural and hierarchical blocks that keep organizations stuck. Let's focus on the work and not the words.