Circular design: rethinking our world
From fashion to food, the products we make and consume, and the systems around them, are determined by design.
Design is about more than making things look nice. It is at the heart of every product and also of the systems that surround it, from the supply chains needed to make it, to the business models that deliver it, to how we experience it.
Right now, the designs we use for both products and systems are out of date and wasteful.
Excess packaging, disjointed processes, take-make-waste production. They’re leading us down a destructive path.
Today, the production of food and goods contributes 45% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Around 50% of all the plastics we make are designed to be single use, even though this material is clogging up our oceans. And 33% of still-edible food is being thrown away because of badly designed food systems.
Single-use plastics, fast fashion, fuel-guzzling heating systems, polluting traffic jams at rush hour. They’re all the result of out-of-date design in our current linear system.
The good news is we can redesign the products, services and systems around us.
Circular design applies and enables the three principles of the circular economy, all driven by design:
- Eliminating waste and pollution
- Circulating products and materials (at their highest value)
- Regenerating nature
By designing with circularity in mind, we can make sure waste and pollution is not created in the first place.
This is about more than recycling. This is about rethinking the entire system. It’s also about looking at nature’s systems as inspiration for our own. In nature, very little is wasted.
Designers are revisiting the design process to eliminate waste and pollution upstream. This means choosing safe materials designed for repeat circulation, making use of by-products and being innovative with materials.
They are also designing products for repairability, upgradability and durability.
This creates profitable circular business models that allow products and materials to be used more times, by more people, and for longer.
Designers are also looking at how design can not only prevent more damage, but also regenerate nature by designing to improve local biodiversity, air and water quality, creating the conditions for nature to thrive.
There are many positive impacts of circular design. Designing for a circular economy means we can begin to tackle the 45% of emissions associated with industry, agriculture and land use.
Circular design also has the potential to positively impact our health: designing out hazardous materials in favour of biologically kinder ones. Additionally, more effective systems have a positive impact on value creation, making us healthier and wealthier while ensuring the future of our planet
In a circular economy, design has a vital role to play.
Architects, materials scientists, business strategists, branding creatives, engineers, makers and many others will influence how things are remade for the better.
All are using design as a tool to work towards a cleaner, smarter and circular future.
Last updated 22 September 2023