Design Intervention for Circular Economy

31 May 2022

Circularity & Sustainability

Circular economy is defined as an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. It replaces the end-of-life concept with restoration, shifts towards the use of renewable energy, eliminates the use of toxic chemicals, which impair reuse and return to the biosphere and aims for the elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, systems and business models.

The European Commission estimated that 80% of a product, service or system’s life-cycle costs and environmental footprints are determined during its design phase. Making it evident that design decisions radiate across the ecosystem and lead to long-term investments, financial and social commitments and determines a product’s carbon footprint and environmental impact.

Circular design is the practice of applying circular economy principles at the design stage of products, services & systems. It is a practice that embraces ‘Systems Thinking’ to address some of the biggest interconnected challenges we are facing today. Enabling a product to be either, regenerative, with minimal loss of value, or have decay & disintegration designed into its make is circular design. Products that have been designed with circularity in mind generally tend to be durable, easy to reuse or recycle and essentially, profitable.

Key Design Elements of Circular Economy

Eliminating Waste & Pollution – Old industrial systems of ‘take-make-dispose’ are giving way to new methods of functioning that considers the future impact of present-day activities. Better design choices that reflect on circularity during the ideation & innovation process, provides organizations with opportunities to generate economy & create value, while safeguarding the environment. For businesses, reimagining products, packaging, services, and experiences can bring about tangible benefits and long-term gains.

Circulate products and materials – At the core of circular design is the concept of recovery & reintegration for which products and services must be designed with, either biological or technical, multiple-use-cycle in mind. Durability, ease of repair & maintenance, materials that are easily recycled and modularity of components are important characteristics of circular design.

Regenerate nature – The expected outcome of shifting from linear economy to a circular one is that it shifts the focus from extraction to regeneration. Enabling the transition to renewable energy and material usage helps build natural capital and emulate natural systems that is regenerative.

Nuances that Designers, Innovators & Engineers must Consider

The rise of fast paced consumer culture was one of the catalysts behind the popularity of products that were low-priced, easy to manufacture and easily replace or discarded. Processes became profit oriented and often time wasteful. Professionals in creative teams were often not concerned with what happens to a product at the end of its life cycle or how wasteful systems tend to get.

For design professionals, circular design implies a change in perspective. It is no longer enough to simply replace the materials used in a product for ones that are more recyclable. Designers must consider the entire life cycle of a product and collaborate with all stakeholders during product-development process to create a truly circular product. The ability to deliver utility and functionality, while creating something that comes with a smaller end-to-end resource footprint is the need of the hour.

Implementation of circular principles throughout a product life cycle needs significant reorientation of business models with upward revision in investment and often result in increased costs of production for businesses and higher prices for consumers. The cost implications, however, are offset by the longevity of the product and major financial and economic opportunities.

The Roadmap Towards a Sustainable Future

Businesses, today, face increasing pressure from consumers and governments to be better aligned with the needs of the environment and the community they operate in. And, while industries and individuals do their part, it is crucial that the Government actions put in place legislations and policies that promotes, subsidises and incentivises circular initiatives and activities. For governments, implementing circular approaches can boost employment and citizens’ well-being, reduce resource dependencies, limit environmental impacts and create channels for new enterprise and jobs.

For more information visit


Design and the circular economy, Ellen Macarthur Foundation

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