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.