Innovation’s Time is Now – Circular Economy Is Paving the Way

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Visiting my mother 3 years ago handed me some lessons on circular design principles. Long story short, I saw her using a 30-year-old fridge, to which I inquired why not to buy a new one in so long. She explained that fridges these days are expensive and not good quality to last as long as her old fridge. If she were to purchase a new one, she’d eventually have to buy another in 5–7 years.

I realized that she was right. Today, not many things are designed to sustain over a more extended time, unlike my mother’s old fridge. Planned obsolescence products are not only expensive but also add to landfills. But if we go deeper into my mother’s reflection is not only about obsolescence; it is more about global design.

Designing Out Waste And Pollution To Be The Next Focus Of The Design Approaches

As seen in the first chapter of these series, the offerings’ design is at the heart of the circular economy. Design is the mechanism by which we create goods, services, and systems around us to fulfill our daily requirements and desires. In designing, it is significant to consider how the product will be manufactured, used, and what will happen to it when it is no longer wanted.

Today, most products align with a linear economy model, which means that we need a radical change to comply with the circular economic model.

Contemporary design mechanisms focus primarily on the needs of the final consumers. However, in the context of a circular economy, we need to look beyond and consider the user and the system in which the products will be designed and circulated.

Circular Economy Design Process

As described by Ellen Macarthur Foundation, there are four stages to the circular economy’s design process.

  • Stage 1: Comprehend — Understand the user and the system.
  • Stage 2: Outline — Define the design challenge and how you intend to design.
  • Stage 3: Create — Create as many prototypes as you can until you find the best version.
  • Stage 4: Launch — Introduce your design in the system and share a compelling story of your journey.

This represents a continuous process; this means that you should keep testing your offerings to evaluate users’ experience and design impact on the system and refine your products and services accordingly.

Source: Ellen Macarthur Foundation – Circular Design

Circular Design Strategies in action

Circular design approaches call for creativity and innovation by giving manufacturers an open hand in choosing the production methods they wish to apply to create a zero-waste product that can serve for a long time.

Let’s review some successful examples of circular design strategies.

1. Design For Zero Waste

Designs aimed at creating inner loops are the ones that facilitate the repairing and remanufacturing of products or building business models based on sharing. Businesses adopting such approaches are creating better value for their customers as well as for themselves.

Loop — A Circular Shopping Platform

Loop, a global shopping platform, is based on the idea of a circular economy’s zero-waste design. The platform is owned and run by TerraCycle, a well-known recycling company. Loop offers products from popular brands like Unilever, Nestle, and Procter and Gamble in reusable packaging that users return after use.

Problem to Address

Product waste is the most common environmental issue these days. In today’s world of disposable items and single-use packaging, hardly a quarter of the total yearly waste is recycled while the rest ends in oceans or soils.

Proposed Solution

From Loop, customers can order regular items online (like shampoos and mouthwashes) in reusable containers. The orders are delivered to the customers’ doorstep, where the empty containers are picked up for free after use.

Circular Solution

Reusing containers saves resources and provides a significant exemption from recycling and disposal issues. The lasting design approaches enable the businesses to innovate and reinvent their offerings’ purpose, look, and feel. The disposable packages may be cheap, but reusable containers last long, making them worth the investment.

TerraCycle has funded the project with $10 million. Although reusable packaging production is about twice as expensive as disposable ones, the cost is offset through accounting rules that allow companies to depreciate the expense for wear and tear. It evokes my grandmother’s milkman of the 1960s and even the glass bottle deposits that my mother asked me to collect when I was nine years old.

2. Transitioning To Servicing Model

The circular economy promotes accessibility over ownership. It entails that some consumers require products for a short time, after which they would want to return it to the seller or hand it over to a new user.

We see several businesses emerging on this notion of second-hand and some traditional companies moving in this direction. For instance, Zalando launched their second-hand goods website, and Ikea recently opened a second-hand store in Sweden. However, the servicing model serves short-term rental, leasing, or subscriptions instead of permanently transferring the ownership.

VIGGA — A Circular Clothing Brand

VIGGA is a Danish clothing brand offering kids and maternity wear. Following a circular design, their product-service model allows users to lease organic children and maternity clothes, saving them time and money while benefiting the system and the manufacturer. Since the fast-changing fashion trends and babies’ outgrowing clothing produce enormous clothing waste, this shopping system helps control it.

Problem To Addressed

Kids-wear is mainly the clothing industry section that creates excessive waste, as the children quickly outgrow the clothes. Unfortunately, less than half of the total useless clothing items are collected for recycling, and only 1% of them are recycled.

McKinsey’s report reveals that 60% more clothes are purchased by average consumers today than fifteen years ago. Still, they keep it for only half the time. More than half of the clothing waste mixes up with household trash and eventually ends up in landfills.

Proposed Solution

As a solution to frequent baby clothing purchases, VIGGA offers a subscription-based service, allowing parents to lease baby clothes. The first package is delivered a few days before the birth of the baby. When the baby grows out of those clothes, another package arrives with larger clothes, and the parents return the first package to the company.

Circular Solution

VIGGA’s leasing model can reduce kids-wear waste by 80%. It forwards the outgrown clothes to new users and collaborates with the clothing recycling company that uses garments to produce newer ones.

Through this circular clothing brand, VIGGA contributes to reducing the need to purchase new clothes and allows parents to save money. According to VIGGA, parents can save $2100 during the first parenting year by subscribing to this model.

3. Designing For Durability And Dematerialization

One of the prime principles of the circular economy is extending the life of the products. This requires the products to be designed to cope with the changing user demands over time.

Products that resist and withstand damages — wear and tears, scratches, and breakages — and conserve their emotional feel can be used over a long time and even passed on to other users. Objects like the Japanese art of the Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery, become even more valuable.

Shoey Shoes — The Circular Shoe Brand

Shoey Shoes offer kids footwear produced entirely from waste material. They can be easily disassembled for recycling or reusing. They were introduced by Thomas Leech, a London-based industrial engineer, with the primary aim to reduce leather waste generated from the children’s shoe production in the landfills.

Problem To Address

According to the World Footwear analysis, global shoe production is over 20 billion a year. Sadly, 300 million pairs of shoes are added to the landfills in the UK alone. To control such growing waste, footwear companies are innovating their production methods and organizing shoe donation programs. Moreover, informed learners, like Thomas Leech, a student of the Royal College of Art, contribute to reducing leather waste and creating awareness.

Proposed Solution

Shoey Shoe allows the users to lease a pair of shoes, while the brand itself retains the possession of the materials and the responsibility to reuse them until they are fully consumed. The brand’s core aim, as discussed by Thomas, is to create ways to utilize the existing resources instead of creating new shoes.

Circular Solution

Thomas has adopted a circular economy model to produce kid’s footwear by reallocating leather offcuts and redeploying materials from used, worn-out shoes to create revamped shoes. The brand’s subscription-based system allows the users to return the used or outgrown shoes to the manufacturer to produce new footwear from its waste.

Indeed, Thomas is dedicated to convert his initiative into a successful business scheme that holds a high potential of disrupting the existing footwear industry.


Unlike the linear economic model that produces products that fail to last long and produce waste and pollution, the circular economy also promotes durable goods that can be of value for the users over an extended period and reduce the negative impact planet and reuse material over time.

Although it does not bind the manufacturers to a specific production method, a basic circular design approach involves deep interrogation into its impact on the users and the system in which it will exist.

Remind that even if we still far from parfait, there is a journey to start. Mark Twain said,

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started”.

As seen in the examples of the Loop, VIGGA, and Shoey Shoes, you can pick one of the design circular economy’s principles as inspiration to be an innovator or, to a greater extent, a disruptor. Think out of the box and start to find draft ideas to reduce waste, reuse materials, and regenerating the natural system.

Read the previous article  What Is Circular Economy and Why Should You Adopt It?

References and Additional Resources

Ellen Macarthur Foundation — Circular Design




Vigga — Case Story

Shoey- Shoes

Shoey Shoes made entirely from waste materials

The Circular design guide contains a series of methods and tools to help designers make safe and circular material choices.

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