Design Inspirations for The Circular Economy
The circular economy is creating opportunities and conditions for a design revolution in products, services, and business. This revolution will also extend into how businesses and organizations are positioned to interact with each other to create zero waste alliances. As resource efficiency gains priority in our economy, designing for reuse and extending the life of materials and products requires that we be extremely thoughtful at the front end of the design process so designs can be most effective throughout the circular system. In order to reach this end, people at all stages of a product, service, or business system must work together to ensure the development of the designs will be able, as best as possible, to join the circular economy responsibly.
Design in this article mainly covers the creation of products but this also applies to how business processes, services or experience design can participate in the circular economy. This design revolution requires that we consider economic, environmental, and social considerations as well as the system that the designed thing is moving through.
Here are inspirations for the circular economy.
Design for …
Durability - Creating products of quality materials and construction that last and that can be reused many times. For example, a leather bag that gets better over time and is made to lasts generations.
Extended Use - Create products designed for many uses by many people. Experience design and designing for ease of use for customers is key for this to work well. For example, build in a recapture and distribution service for products so they can be easily reused by another consumer.
Repairability - Create products that can be easily repaired. For example, parts can be labeled and accessible making it easy to replace parts and put back together again with standardized tools and hardware.
Disassembly - Design the product to be easily disassembled for transport efficiency, repairability, and recyclability. For example, a chair can designed with durable, repairable, and recyclable materials, like wood or metal, and assembled and disassembled for transport.
Modularity - Create products with parts that can be replaced, repaired, or upgraded easily. For example, a guitar could be made with modularity so that if the tuning pegs or neck broke those pieces could be replaced.
Light Weighting - Create products that travel to be made of lightweight materials to decrease energy costs. For example, transporting concentrated liquids such as soap that can be mixed with water available on site, rather than transporting heavy water diluted products.
Zero Waste - Design product components that leave no waste behind, ideally in the whole process of production from raw materials to post consumer use. For example, using bamboo or renewable materials that can be turned into soil to facilitate the growth of plants.
Recycling and Upcycling - Create products that have components that can be disassembled and reused, remanufactured, and downcycled or upcycled into other products, reusing the material at any stage of the product life. For example, a metal car part that can be replaced, renewed, reused, or remade over and over.
Decomposition - Products that can’t be recycled or remanufactured could be designed to decompose or compost back into soil or into an organic material that could be used in another process. For example, single use disposable consumer products, i.e. bags, coffee cups, or products like furniture could be made from biological materials with a quicker decomposition rate.
Restoration / Regeneration - Design the end of use of a material or process to be a supportive element in regrowth, such as compost for growing plants potentially used in production, feeding animals, or creating habitat for example. What if a product improved the conditions of water, soil, air, or earth through its use? For example, using products made from mycelium could improve the health of the soil the product decomposed in after use.
Job Creation - Products, processes, or businesses can be designed to increase employment opportunities over the use of materials. Creating products that need to be repaired, remanufactured, or redistributed to another market for extended life creates more jobs through the extended use of one product compared to the one time manufacturing, sale, and landfill hauling. For example, sharing underutilized assets of regular people such as rooms, cars, or sports equipment have also created jobs for people willing to share the performance of their assets and this has created jobs.
Versatility/ Standardization - Design products that will work on many different systems or with different users, by allowing language options, network connecting, and user experience to be accessible. For example, a cell phone that is designed to work on any network internationally, while it uses standardized cords, chips, and payment options. This process will make extending the use of the product more fluid while increasing the sales of one product to many people with the right recapture program in place.
Connection - Design for sharing and connecting people to people for increasing extending the life of products through service and businesses. Many businesses in the sharing economy prioritize technological and service processes that allow the global public in some cases to connect and share, Craigslist, Uber, and Airbnb are well known examples.
Fields of design with big promise in this field are green chemistry and materials innovation, business model innovation, industrial design, lean manufacturing, service design, experience design, and spatial, logistical and system thinking will also be important.
May the inspirations cause you to think about what sphere of influence you might have to make steps in your lifestyle and work to go circular.
The electric guitar below, made by Henry Boyle is made from renewable bamboo and not endangered hardwoods. It's designed to be modular, portable, fixable, upgradable, and recyclable. An example of cutting edge ecological industrial design.
Article I wrote for the Green Living Journal, www.greenlivingpdx.com September 2016
Sustainability has come a long way in the last decade but as we know, the current linear ‘take, make, and waste’ system of production is not working for social, economic, or ecological health. We are facing the consequences of over-extracting natural resources and living in a culture of consumption. As populations increase, we also need employment that is based on people owning only stuff they really need.
The circular economy is about moving toward a restorative and regenerative system where products are diverted from landfills and materials are used again. When people embrace thinking in more circular ways, all ‘economies’ on the planet - social, economic, and ecological - start to get healthier.
The Circular Economy is gaining popularity around the world because of its effective use of resources across many sectors. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, champion of the idea, defines the circular economy as a
“continuous positive development cycle that preserves and enhances natural capital, optimizes resource yields, and minimizes system risks by managing finite stocks and renewable flows. It works effectively at every scale.”
“The Circular Economy can be embedded into all sectors and especially business products, and services, so people don’t even realize they are choosing the ecological choice.”
Circular thinking inspires the components of the economy to work like nature by creating products, services, businesses, and processes designed from the beginning to be zero waste and multifunctional using reciprocal/symbiotic relationships that increase the opportunities for exchange. This creates money and jobs. As products reach an end of use, they can continue to support the health of the system through reuse as a feed stock in a new cycle of development.
The circular economy concepts work at every scale, from manufacturing to agriculture, or cell phones to vegetables. For example, zero waste in the technical cycle means the product is designed to have every component of it remade into another product. Increasing the use of the materials creates a need for material innovation, green chemistry, reverse logistics, and re- use jobs, to name a few. In the biological cycle, waste products of brewing beer, spent grain, could be reused by a neighbor- ing business to make bread and create electricity via biogas to bake it before what’s left is sent to the compost bin to build soil to grow grain.
The four parts of the circular economy include:
The Circular Economy can be embedded into all sectors, es- especially business products, and services, so people don’t even re- realize they are choosing the ecological choice. Once embedded, it is about appropriate user experience, cost savings, and fabulous whole system design behind the scenes, instead of marketing an (often more expensive) “green” option. This could take the guilt, behavior change, and eco-elitism out of the equation and invite all people, not just environmentalists, to participate in making healthy choices for the planet, people, and profit.
We have many reasons to shift from the wasteful linear pro- cess to circular operations: the rising cost of raw materials, the need for shifting niches to compete globally, and the need to create healthy living wage jobs globally. The Circular Economy is a way of thinking and connecting that creates value, zero waste, and relationships needed for us all to thrive.
Next issue, join me in reading about design inspirations for the circular economy.
Chelsea Peil is a Circular Economy advocate who helps businesses and organizations shift to circular operations. For more info: Ecocreativestrategies.com
I’ve noticed that when I give a talk on the circular economy or about using art to market sustainability, that the young professionals and students arise and want to know how to do this work, how to get involved. These questions have happened so much that I’m writing a short book to share what I've learned. It’s tragic that we have people at the ready to make a difference, to work for equality, ecological health, and holistic systems and they don’t feel like they can find an open door. I’ve been there, and we can’t afford to lose their passion to discouragement.
In my wild wiggly path of doing this work, three things have kept me going navigating the uncharted waters of applied sustainability and social change.
If you are a student or young professional reading this, please email me your questions so I can cover angles and topics you are interested in or find the right person to answer it for you. Email email@example.com. I’m working on an online book and I would love feedback, donations (via PayPal using my email address), and stories to make it as successful as possible. Please reach out.
During Design Week Portland 2016 Stef Koehler and I gave a talk called "Visually Thinking Through the Circular Economy".
Our talk was filmed and can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbyH-vBySeNXAsdUlfUrdNQ
Thanks to everyone who helped make the day happen.
Here is a description of the talk:
Our design duo will sketch out a big picture overview of the circular economy as it promotes redesigning processes, products, and systems from a “take, make, waste” scenario into a “high quality, zero waste, and sharing economy” situation to name a few. This is a whole-systems design approach that is applicable to all sectors of design and makers of many disciplines. By employing ecodesign lenses such as biomimicry, permaculture, and other sustainability frameworks, we’ll share how to clarify possibilities and innovate to co-create an environmentally, socially, and economically appealing future.
Chelsea Peil is fresh from the international Resource (circular economy) conference to share what’s going on in the EU. In Portland, she specializes in sustainability strategies especially, waste to product, and program design and management. Chelsea helps private sector, social enterprises, and nonprofits use design thinking to shift from linear to circular operations. ApPeil |ecocreativestrategies.com
Stef Koehler is a product designer by training and with specialties in sustainability strategy, visual thinking, behavior analysis, and biomimicry. She’s worked on an array of projects from integrating biomimicry into the innovation process for the auto industry to helping social entrepreneurs use design thinking to solve business challenges. LetsCoCreate.org LikoLab.com
I'm revamping a 30-year-old Nationwide trailer into a mobile sauna/camper I call "The Freedom Capsule"_. This has been a 6-year dream, and finally, the pieces and people showed up to make it a reality. I mention this personal project on a business blog because I always learn something valuable about the reuse/recycling markets with my art/building projects.
This time, the lesson was at the Pick n' Pull and the Wild Cat Mopars both parts dealers, or junkyards. This is an old idea and a simple system of reuse, but what struck me this time, was how this process could be more effective to increase reuse and my service experience. I saw a job creation opportunity that I think would pencil out. Instead of me going in with my tools to pull parts myself with no incentive to be careful not to ruin other parts, I would have loved to browse what parts were available and/or already pulled for me either in person or online. Wild Cat was close to this model of service. You could walk their organized and interesting yard and point out the part you wanted to them and they would remove it for you with much more skill and finesse. They did this for people calling them from around the world and had a robust online business.
The difference between the services provided by these two organizations shows in my experience observing them that more reuse, jobs, and revenue are created when the service model is just right. For example, I pulled a triangle window from a 1967 Volvo, but my design changed and now I don't need it, but I can't take it back. So if I needed to get rid of it I would have to spend a lot of time to recoup my money or give it away. This shows another missed business and waste saving opportunity through a simple smart service redesign. Many businesses and organizations will say they don't have time for any changes to their systems, but that is like saying you don't have time to stop and refill your gas tank but you want to keep driving.
This is a simple example but I hope it gets you thinking about tweaking your service design to build in less waste and hassle by looking at who is ultimately incentivized to care about your assets and what risk can you and should you manage. Do it yourself isn't always the answer, especially if you are caught in not seeing your service process from the angle of a new customer.
This is a list of design considerations for designing your product, service, business, or organization to join to the Circular Economy.
Design for Durability
Design for Repairability
Design for Lightweight
Design for Renewable Energy Use
Design for Adaptability
Design for Extended Use
Design for Zero Waste
Design for Reuse
Design for Modularity
Design for Disassembly
Design for Upcycling
Design for Remanufacturing
Design for Recycling
Design for Decomposition
Design for Restoration
Design for Regeneration
Design for Desirability
Design for Job Creation
Design for Versatility
Design for Accessibility
Design for Connection
Design for Inspiration
By: Chelsea Peil at ecocreativestrategies.com
Thanks to all the minds that have and those that will continue to, develop and support the circular economy and other supporting concepts. The list of thinkers is long.
We are not designing the world to deal with the mental illness we are creating in it.
The french air traffic controllers went on strike (surprise, surprise) and it caused my plane to be delayed that then caused me to miss two flights. I was trying to get to Portland, OR from Lisbon Portugal within 24 hours. This strike would extend my travels home from 20 hours to 3 days, 1500 extra dollars, and a few gray hairs I didn’t have before.
This was one of the most exhausting and stressful situations I have been involved in for many years. This experience plus my body's state at the time allowed me to experience the world sleep deprived, sick, hungry, fatigued, and frankly really pissed off because I had mentally prepared myself to be home and I wasn’t and I had to pivot immediately to re-coordinate everything in a compromised mental state. I was also navigating through Portuguese and English systems that were not familiar to me. Fortunately, the language barrier was minimized although I didn’t always understand what people were saying even in English and I’m sure they didn’t understand my United Statesian English either. (I see how whiny this is, but I'm not a trained soldier. If it gets too whiny jump down to the last few paragraphs).
In the situations of being stuck on airplanes, trying to navigate airports, calling, emailing and dealing with airplane companies with inadequate or expensive wifi, on low batteries, and check in desks that redirected me to other desks all while scrambling to find lodging just like the sea of people also trying to recalibrate. I was struck by how all these systems were not designed for users traumatized by the very system they were using or trying to navigate.
Interestingly, the French might argue the same thing which is why they went on strike. What I noticed, yet again, is that everything is connected so the poor treatment of one thing gives what it gets and it cascades to everything else, just like polluted water.
I was able to change plans quickly because I had a little battery left on my computer and a kind Portuguese flight attendant created a hot spot for me using his personal phone. I immediately asked my family to help me knowing I didn’t have much time left or a decent way to connect to the airline offices via email or cell phone. I did manage to call via Skype and switch tickets on my international flight. At the last moment, everything changed yet again and the pilot announced that they were able to leave a little bit earlier now. WHAT?! This meant that I may have been able to make my original flight. Oh, DANG!
When the plane finally landed in London, I tried to run to the other concourse, go through customs and security, again, and make the gate. I had a helpful pilot even run with my part of the way so I didn’t have to navigate signage. I wouldn’t have been able to find my way or know that I had to get to the other concourse without him. On top of all of this, I had taken an antihistamine a few hours before because I have been suffering from a rash and a cold. So I ran dry mouthed, itchy, late, lost, and adrenaline pumped to try to catch a plane. (This is important because many, many people are moving through the world on pharmaceuticals, many of them take them to deal with depression, pain, and hyperactivity for example.) The navigation and the layout, the signage, everything at that moment was confusing, poorly signed, there was no maps, keys or guides. The lines, rules, processes all seemed poorly organized for the various time-tables people were on. Why didn’t they have rush lines? Why wasn’t their signs that were at eye level about where you were, and which way you needed to go for help or information? Where was the line on the floor for me to follow to the other con concourse? Why did the world make the assumption that everyone had wifi or cell phones to help them navigate systems now? Why were the colors of the signs the same when the functions of them were different (way-finding vs. shopping)? How would I navigate if I was really old or young, not able-bodied, etc?
It’s not a new concept that all these desperate companies and designers take their little slice and add it to a system like an airport. (This is the segmentation and linear thinking we are trying to change to collaborative and systems thinking.) But for the user having to experience each layer in a system and in an experience, especially in a mindset altered by the experience, the process is disjointed, hellacious, confusing, and crazy making.
The most pathetic part of was having to visually and mentally decipher and filter the advertisements versus the way- finding. The airports were cages of consumption with jacked up prices and I was stuck with the options. What was really driving the design of this system then? Consumption, shopping, spending money, could this be a root cause of poor design?
I was really grateful for this experience because I gained, even more, empathy, awareness of access and economic barriers, mobility consciousness, and the need for designing systems to address the trauma that the systems we navigate create. Let's not design a system that creates or amplifies a traumatic outcome. If the users, (especially the Earth as a user) is put in a traumatized state after the use of the designed system, service, or product some things needs to be addressed differently than how it was created and pronto.
Let's take a close look at the top mental illnesses in the modern world and create places, systems, and experiences, that provide the antidote to what it is in the modern world that creates these illnesses. This is how design, service design, and space creation can be healing. This might just be what keeps loyal customers willing to support your support of them. We can and should start everywhere especially in our public spaces, where the need for universal or "public-friendly" design is the greatest. Cities, urban planners, developers, corporations, administrations, bureaucracies, can check in deeper with what they are really creating - stress and cumulative mental illness maybe? We can design for life, not just money.
I use design thinking as a way to work within a process to problem solve for social and ecological challenges. It is a container that helps me focus my natural systems thinking ability while it creates boundaries for ideation to turn into activation. I discovered this process while making art, designing products, and creating programs for non-profits and organizations wanting to incorporate sustainability into their company or projects. Over the years, the public has put "the green focus" on recycling and doing less bad, but I have always felt that you have to work on the front end and design things to be eco-efficient or built to last for the get go and not give folks the opportunity to behave unsustainably. The industrial design community is having this conversation about moving away from just an aesthetic form focus to incorporating an ethos and design with more substance. This article is written by designer Thomas Wendt and he speaks to what has been missing in the design world. http://www.thedesigngym.com/toward-sustainable-design-thinking/
My gratitude to indigenous designers, Bucky Fuller, and Victor Papanek, to name a few, and the mentors that introduced me to their thought leadership.
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!
Slow Design means great design, not necessarily pokey, or hokey.
Thoughtfulness and consideration are required for good relationships be they with friends or business associates. This idea carries into thinking about the relationship to the planet and it’s ability to care for all life on earth, not just humans. Additionally, our relationships to this ourselves, each other, the planet is all reflected in our lifestyles and choices, all reflections of our values. The slow design method is a way to stop and systematically check in with how we are designing and what we are designing to be of utmost quality. Here's more about what it is and why it is so amazing.
Beth Meredith and Eric Storm attempt to summarize the concept, stating:
Slow Design is a democratic and holistic design approach for creating appropriately tailored solutions for the long-term well-being of people and the planet. To this end, Slow Design seeks out positive synergies between the elements in a system, celebrates diversity and regionalism, and cultivates meaningful relationships that add richness to life.
Common qualities of Slow Design include:
• Holistic – taking into account as many relevant short and long term factors as possible.
• Sustainable – considering the cradle- to-cradle impacts and reducing harm as much as possible including the precautionary principle.
• Elegant – finding the simplest and most concise solutions that provide the desired results.
• Tailored – creating specific solutions that fit a particular situation.
• Democratic – keeping the process and results accessible to those using and impacted by the design and to non-professionals.
• Adaptable – developing solutions that will continue to work over time or that can be modified as needed.
• Durable – making sure solutions can be maintained over time while minimizing the need for repairs and replacement.
• Non-toxic – eliminating substances and processes that pollute or are toxic.
• Efficient – minimizing waste of time, labor, energy, and physical resources.
• Distinctive – promoting cultural, social, and environmental uniqueness and diversity.
Slow design is still a relatively new concept of design thinking, and its implications are yet to be fully developed and defined. It could evolve in the following ways:
• Longer design processes with more time for research, contemplation, real life impact tests, and fine tuning.
• Design for manufacturing with local or regional materials and technologies or design that supports local industries, workshops, and craftspeople.
• Design that takes into account local or regional culture both as a source of inspiration and as an important consideration for the design outcome.
• Design that studies the concept of natural time cycles and incorporates them into design and manufacturing processes.
• Design that looks at longer cycles of human behavior and sustainability.
• Design that takes into account deeper well-being and the findings of positive psychology. (Thanks Wikipedia!)
This way of seeing, thinking, and creating is not a new concept, but we have lost this ethos in much of what is happening in the world today and we are seeing the multifaceted consequences of fast and cheap. Slow design and intentional redesign and relationship building could do wonders for all aspects of life if we revive it.