A lot of opportunities can be found in circular design: balancing supply and demand, reimagining packaging and delivery systems, enabling digital inventory, tracking traceability, etc. It is estimated that it represents a new kind of emerging business that is worth about a trillion dollars and will drive innovation in companies (The Circular Design Guide).
It is at the design stage of a product when the consideration of a circular business model should be incorporated, applying the five fields of action: take, make, deliver, use, and recover. The design phase should also contemplate the potential for reducing, reusing, repairing, remanufacturing, and recycling.
Circular Design has connections and implications with broader aspects of design and society: new tools such as artificial intelligence, the internet, and biomimicry prove that our design ambitions are limited only by our imagination. To name only a few of these connections:
- Social changes: circular design is open to an engaged society, committed to social innovation. Some brands use open-source tools to allow the consumers to co-create their purchases, personalizing them (e.g. Nike sneakers). This way, circular design becomes intertwined with participatory design, inclusive design, gamification, etc.
- New design: circular design introduces new business models based on offering services instead of products and extending the life cycle of the products by repairing, renting, offering a sharing service, remanufacturing, or recycling.
- Design thinking: this concept represents a non-linear, iterative process that teams use to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test. Involving five phases—Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test—it is most useful to tackle problems that are ill-defined or unknown. This methodology can also be used to design with a circular approach, as the user’s experience has to be taken into consideration to comprehend and approach the phases of use and recover/enrich involved in circular design. Design thinking is a human-centred approach to innovation, as it is anchored in understanding customers’ needs. By incorporating this concept, the decisions surrounding design are made based on what customers really want, avoiding risks and, consequently, minimising waste.
- Downcycling: The process of recycling consists of collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash and turning them into new products. It can be done by upcycling, when the new materials or products made from the recycled waste are perceived to be of a greater quality than the original object, or by downcycling, when the recycled artefact is not as structurally strong as the original product made from virgin materials. Downcycling usually involves using the recycled parts or components as materials for new products, without being able to recover most of the properties of the virgin material. However, downcycling is a very useful process, very well developed in our industry. A common example is the transformation of plastic bottles into fibers for carpeting or fleece, or even into new polyester yarns for the textile industry. Downcycling has a lot of benefits, since, even if it doesn’t recover all the materials, it implies a reduction of: the energy cost of operations, pollution, and manufacturing costs, as well as promoting environmental protection.