How design thinking can make the circular economy a reality

Discover how design thinking can change our business models and supply chains, and make the circular economy a reality. 


Design thinking and the circular economy

Design thinking and the circular economy


Chris Grantham, Circular Economy Executive Director (Ideo)

Design is a crucial tool in making the circular economy happen. Not only will it help us rethink products and how they are made, it will also help us re-shape systems in business and beyond. 

Chris Grantham, Circular Economy Executive Director at Ideo, says: “When we think about the scope of design, that has drastically shifted. With the circular economy we’re thinking about designing organisations to support their desire to have a circular impact.”

This idea, of more broadly applying design, is called design thinking. Applying design thinking could change an entire business model, including KPIs and how a company measures its value.

It could also mean redesigning how a business is owned and governed. This can allow companies to capture and create value differently. 

Alice Bodreau, Strategic Partners Manager for Europe (Ellen MacArthur Foundation)

Design could also reimagine industry – breaking down competitive barriers to build co-operative chains of creation, which squeeze every bit of value out of resources to help counter environmental catastrophe.

Alice Bodreau, Strategic Partners Manager for Europe at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, says: “Circular design is a very important new way of applying design methodologies. But it is at its most powerful when you apply it with a business-and-systems thinking cap on as well.”

Rental model is a sustainable business model

Alice cites French sporting goods chain Decathlon’s new rental model as an idea that has sprung from this new way of thinking. “It is much easier for me to rent a tent to go camping once a year than to buy one. At the same time, for companies like Decathlon there is an economical interest in those models.”

The rental model means companies must think about products in a different way. Under a rental model, for example, mass market products have to be designed and manufactured for longevity rather than for the highest profit margin. 

As the first financial services strategic partner of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Intesa Sanpaolo has thought a lot about the redesign of systems. Fabio Salierno, the bank’s Head of Service and UX Design, says: “Circularity can be considered a kind of framework that enhances features that are in the design thinking mindset. And it adds some new opportunity for the design of new services.

“When we design services, we try to apply a systemic approach. We take into account the reciprocity of any exchange; we try to consider elements from other systems that could give new value for our services.”

Fabio Salierno, Head of Service and UX Design (Intesa Sanpaolo)

Intesa Sanpaolo’s most recent business plan, from 2022 to 2025, includes a significant contribution of €115bn towards society and the green transition, of which €8 bn of new lending allocated to the circular economy.

The bank has also launched an entirely digital bank, Isybank, to improve systems, reduce waste and give better outcomes for customers.