The Renewal Workshop
Interview with Nicole Bassett from the Renewal Workshop
I get so excited that there are more and more examples of people creating circular systems. These SME's help well known brands fill in the gaps to start going circular through partnerships. The Renewal Workshop works with big brands such as Prana, Toad & Co, and others to provide a second life to returned items. How it works is that when a return is made at these brands, it is sent to The Renewal Workshop where it is cleaned, repaired, and/or upcycled and resold on their partners websites and their own. Nicole, one of the founders commented that she is working with the perfect sized brands because they are small enough to still want to take risks, but large enough that they have a recognized product. We discussed this idea that being a "fixer" or a upcycler for brands that are too big or too inflexible need "gap filling" small businesses to provide these services. Angles to creating these services to deal with the waste produced by big brands still using the linear take, make, waste model, involve thinking about logical offerings that work for all parties involved including the costs of transportation in terms of money and the environment,
Take back program design can help as well as service design, experience design, and creating partnerships to be mutually supportive of programs to reduce waste, increase customer loyalty, and recoup resources to grow profitability by way of multiple uses of that resource, This is the goal and these are the skills needed for businesses to get on board. We can help. Textiles are the second most wasteful, resource intensive, and toxicity producing industry second to the oil and gas industry. Working to reuse clothes, extend the life of them by designing them well and with durable materials, and creating business models such as leasing clothes for special occasions or through company take back programs to recapture and reuse the textiles into other products are all ways to start shifting this industry to go circular. There are plenty old world examples of this, but we need new modern stories of resourcefulness that works at bigger market levels.
What's great about the Renewal Workshop model is that they have created partnerships that give them a branding angle with a demographic that has environmental ethics. They found a friendly playground to thrive with this idea. They also use a state of the art cleaning method that minimizes water use, and they have made a smart resale channel with their partnerships and with their own brand. One thing that I love is that they are also a small business in a small town and are creating jobs where they are sorely needed.
There are many small designers using sustainability methods in their processes and choices of materials, but the overall impact is small. Finding that sweet spot to work with medium sized brands that are agile enough to partner for circular program or service design is key, not just for impact but to show the big clothing brands like H&M etc. a downstream reuse method that they could implement and a upstream redesign that could shift their product and distribution, the latter takes more innovative leadership and a stomach for change.
As I work and write in this field I really want to to help and highlight companies without customers with environmental ethics create systems that are efficient, effective, and so well designed that anyone with any ethics can see the value, this is the goal. I'm super grateful for entrepreneurs like Nicole Basset at the Renewal Workshop for working the angles to be a stellar example for circular economy strategies that work. We need more successful stories that are grounded, common sense, and networked to be mutually beneficial. The future, the present, is collaborative and resourceful.
Joel Newman, a recent PNCA graduate came to me about 2 years to chat about needs in the reuse arena. We talked about the wild world of combating obsolescence and he settled his interests towards repair. I couldn't be happier to see the fruits of his labors with his final thesis. At http://www.portlandrepairfinder.com you will see the beginnings of a comprehensive directory of repair resources. As you can see in the graphic below, the number of people with repair skills across material or product has plummeted. Grandpa who knew how to fix the radio isn't around anymore either. It's like dying languages, once the people that know how to fix things pass away, there goes whole worlds of skills. But this project is a happy story about the revival of the fixers, about connecting those who understand the value of materials and want their stuff fixed. So if you or someone you know like to know how to fix stuff, or want to continue the lifespan of your gear, please support local people who keep things going and add your handy dandy name to the list if you are one of the lucky ones who learned a repair skill. I've decided to take steps to get better at sewing and welding so I have something to bring to the table.
I'm noticing a lot more businesses moving into this direction by contracting with other businesses or vendors to fix their product or take it and fix it to resell in a different market. More blogs on this soon.
It's getting easier to give a damn people! Thanks be to those that create systems to make it easier for the rest of us.
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.
The Circular Economy: What is it?
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
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.
Programming for Closing the Loop
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!
People get easily overwhelmed by the big picture or whole systems thinking, and the possibilities of what could be done especially in regards to new business models or the circular economy. When you draw out the system of your product or business and you see all the connection points, relationships, logistics, processes, flows, and barriers - it can give you analysis paralysis. This process allows you to see where you are and where you could go and it can overwhelm you into thinking that the problem is too big or you are powerless to make any real change. Sadly, this is where most people give up and settle or think that this theoretical exercise is a good idea, but not practical. This is also where the innovative, patient, and self-assured step back and look deeper into their spheres of influence, leverage points, and business and service models and start to think deeper.
The big picture is the map for you to see your territory and what you can really do in your situation. Having whole systems thinking done first is a tool for discovery not for discouragement to find your route. Once you have it, you have something beyond the typical to strive for that will help you and the environment in which you are a part of to thrive more.
First, you see what the current scene is and you then imagine the possibilities. This is where the design process and strategic doing comes in. Then you narrow your focus to what you can do and you do one thing every day that will build steps toward the creating the conditions to get you where you want to go. You start asking the right questions. How might we create a product that won’t be thrown away? What relationships can I build now that will help me create a business in the circular economy?
Looking at yourself in relationship to other things is about connectedness, not powerlessness. Seeing what could be rather than placating to what has been lets imagination and innovation liberate your mind from destructive stagnant suppression. Being down to earth and making your actions count to build the world you want to live in takes patient strategic doing found in practical daily steps such as that phone call where you talk about a different way of doing something.
Upcycled Is Not An Excuse for Low Quality
Upcycling is gaining popularity, especially for young millennial women. I'm not a millennial, but I have worked with upsizing artisans and artists for 7 years now and have watched the trend develop here in Portland, OR. What I have noticed is that this isn't a new concept, my grandmother who suffered through the depression reused, repaired and remade everything, nothing was wasted. Incidentally, the materials she had to work with 60 years ago were of a higher quality. The rubber gloves she cut up and used as rubber bands, they are probably still elastic. I bring this up because being aware of unintended consequences is part of my training and I'm noticing a trap door and that is manufacturers using upcycling as an excuse for making low-quality products. Beware that buying poor quality goods, that won't last and that require energy to make, or even remake in this case and fall apart is not helping the planet of the circular economy. Upcycling as an ethos is about creative reuse that adds value and quality and says, "I'm not going to waste the energy that was put into this material, I'm going to remake it into something else that is useful and will last". Upcycling the trend might be making tennis shoes from plastic waste, but are those tennis shoes going to last or end up as waste faster than if another renewable resource was chosen.
Is it upcycling for energy conservation and supporting artisans or is it crappy quality but upcycling trendy? I'm aware of the benefits of the popularity of upcycling especially for the artists I work with and a few of my own designs. I want to be clear that as larger companies jump on board choose to support the ones that have an end of use programs that recycle or reuse the materials and check out the longevity of the product they are creating. If it lasts half as long please complain to them. Seeing ecological sensibilities coopted for selling trends is an opportunity to hold companies accountable for their perceived ethics. The companies making quality items that will last are as important to support as those exploring upcycling. Let your inner depression surviving grandmother help you make the best decision and call out green washers selling poor design, quality, and false fronts under the guise of ecologically conscious. They are asking to actually be who they proport to be.
Artist Emily J. Pratt
Psychological Barriers to Reuse
I work part time with an environmental art organization dedicated to waste reduction. Part of my work with them is to curate materials that people would like to donate to artists. Metro government has a reuse line (503 234 3000) that allows Portland people to call in and get help on where to take their stuff they would like to recycle. Occasionally, there are pieces that are perfect for artists to use such as old instruments or dental office teeth molds. If this is the case, people call me to have help to connect to artists. Talking to people about their unique waste streams is interesting because they legitimately want to give items away to people that will reuse them, but they don't want to have the human to human contact that reuse can require. For example, if an item would be better reused on Craigslist, they typically don't want to post it there because of all the fear around the type of people that would show up for their stuff. They are fine having an artist call them to make arrangements, however. The take home here is that if you are looking to reuse items donated on craigslist you might call yourself an artist, and there are huge psychological barriers and stigma attached to reuse, recycling, and recapturing waste.
Waste pickers around the world suffer these social labels when the services they are providing is so needed and valuable. When I modeled high couture fashion made from trash I loved the mental flossing that provided. Here was a group of beautiful ladies wearing refused trash reimagined into amazing creations. We watched as people had to face their conditioned stigmas.
The social marketing needed for the circular economy and waste to product economy to thrive is educational and a marketing (destigmatizing) challenge on the outside as much as it is a systems design challenge on the inside. In your area of influence remember to see the reverence in the recyclers, the scarab people, remember that you can quell the fears people towards the "type" of people that reuse, remake, fix. Somewhere being resourceful and waste conscious was co-opted by wasteful capitalism and the consumption economy and we have to reclaim that ethos as sane, common sensical, ecological, and creative.
Design for Decomposition
Prevention is better than prescriptions. Design for Decomposition is a preventative measure for the challenges that reusing materials can bring. It's also a standard I would like to develop and promote maybe even into a certification program. The idea is to highlight product designers and producers who choose materials that can be composted or will easily decompose after the use of the product. This was the idea behind compostable corn based plastics and the "not a new" concept of using natural fibers and not synthetics. This not only keeps the energy used to produce this material more ecological (using the sun), but also this supports fiber farmers and ranchers, not the petroleum industries.
The Design for Decomposition concept can really shine in the single use disposable arena, such as coffee cups, to-go packages, forks and knives, water bottles. Companies that are using bamboo or wood or even recycled cardboard are thinking much further a head to the longevity of their sourcing and the waste their product creates. Ideally, a company that is adhering to the Design for Decomposition standards could close the loop on their business by having their growers connect with composting industries to supply any compost they might need to grow bamboo, trees, grasses or other fibers such as industrial hemp.
Cradle to Cradle covers the idea of designing for decomposition as well in the systematic design program they have. I'm promoting the idea of this standard for companies that might need that extra push to think about using naturally degrading materials, things that will decompose quickly, and to consider making with purity in their products. A wool sweater for example, perhaps mixing it with a synthetic fabric will help keep it from shrinking, but when it's thrown in the landfill it will take decades to decompose. In contrast, a sweater that you have to learn to care for made of 100% wool will likely be a higher quality product and one to develop a caring relationship for, it could last longer and decompose faster or be more easily reused as insulation for example.
This is a back to the future concept. Something simple we have lost touch with. Our ancestors didn't leave us mountains of trash to deal with. Why was that?
Here is a picture from Buddha jeans a sustainable clothing lifestyle company that is prioritizing using biodegradable synthetic fibers. It's interesting to know really how fast do these fibers degrade and in what conditions. I think this new fiber technology is interesting but I'd rather wear natural fibers like silk, wool, linen and hemp.