Designing a More Circular World, Together

Exploring the future of the Circular Economy with the IDEO CoLab

Imagine if your company could make more money, reduce material costs, make the most of its assets, and drive stronger engagement with its customers, all while taking care of the planet and its people. That’s the promise of the Circular Economy — a new way of working that is restorative and regenerative by design.

Many organizations are publicly taking on the circular challenge: Apple recently announced a goal of a closed-loop supply chain, H&M aims to become 100 percent circular and renewable by 2030, and Philips aims to deliver 15 percent of total revenues from circular solutions by 2020.

IDEO, in partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, has written a playbook on how to design such systems — models that cut waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural and social capital — but most established industries don’t know where to begin. We kept hearing:

“The business case for the Circular Economy makes a lot of sense—but the challenge is implementation, often requiring product, service and business model innovation.”

No doubt, it’s hard to imagine what that future might look or feel like. Knowing that, we set out to bring the Circular Economy to life, creating an exhibit of circular products based on questions like, “What if sneakers could be made better than new?” and “What if food packaging was redesigned for online shopping?” Turning abstract principles into tangible prototypes helps us inhabit the future right now.

What if sneakers could be better than new? This shoe gets a custom re-sole based on your personal wear patterns.

These prototypes have clear business models, demonstrate that circular products can be desirable, and break down technical challenges. More importantly, the design process helps us uncover underlying changes we may need to make to current systems.

What if food packaging was designed for online shopping? These bottles and jars no longer need to catch your eye on the shelf, they just make the food look great. AND they’re more recyclable.

A new way of working, together

As IDEO developed these exploratory concepts in the Circular Economy, a new model for networked innovation was also gaining traction within IDEO’s walls: the IDEO CoLab.

CoLab is IDEO’s collaborative innovation lab. Member companies interested in emerging systems like AI and blockchains are led through a human-centered design process — building prototypes together as cross-company and cross-industry teams. This year, the CoLab is expanding its offering to include a Circular Economy portfolio.

The CoLab Circular Economy portfolio had its formal kickoff this week in London with members from H&M Group, YOOX NET-A-PORTER GROUP, Steelcase, and The Dow Chemical Company.

Our first official prototyping sprint kicks off April 23, and we couldn’t be more excited to get started.

Interested in learning more about the Circular Economy, prototyping sprints, and how to get started? Drop us a note!