Full Circle | Circular Economy
by Kelly Dawson, Design Strategy Manager, Kinneir Dufort.
The linear take, make and dispose model of product creation no longer makes sense for the good of the planet, or for companies struggling with slim profit margins. If we as consumers and companies shift our mind-set and consider that each time something goes to landfill it is lost currency, we might see products differently. Something that holds value, even when we’re done with it. A shift that would move us from a linear model into a circular economy could have a significantly positive impact.
We’re experiencing the impact of the post-industrial revolution, which propelled countries, companies and brands into unprecedented levels of wealth and success. Production lines that enabled products to be churned out faster, cheaper and more efficiently have peaked. We drastically need change, if we are to protect the planet. It is estimated that by 2050 the ratio of fish to plastic weight in the ocean will be 1:1*.
So what is a circular economy? Consideration of the circulation of materials and goods that are manmade, that avoid reaching landfill or the ocean. Designing systems and products to recover resources and value, your consumer electronics, your packaging, your clothes, everything. If you could maintain, reuse, refurbish or recycle these items you would be making an enormous difference to the planet and businesses could be reaping the rewards of implementing new business infrastructure and services to get products and materials back.
There are four main routes in the technical cycle for a circular economy:
Prolonging the lifetime by personally maintaining a product.
Modular mobile phones are yet to truly dominate the mainstream. Google, LG, and PhoneBloks have tried it and Fairphone is entirely built on this principle. Instead of changing a handset every few years, you can easily repair it yourself when necessary. Simply swap the battery for optimum charge time, or change the camera module if there is a fault. In 2010 we here at KD (Kinneir Dufort) created a similar concept, Revive as the opportunity in this space was obvious. But is a modular, repairable mobile phone a value proposition that people really want? Can companies create a viable business case to enable us to do the right thing?
When it runs out, you can reuse it.
Consider packaging, for example the bottles that contain the milk you use each day. It’s not often we see glass bottles delivered to our doorsteps anymore. Once empty, bottles are rinsed then collected from your doorstep and reused. Nothing new to those who used or still use this service. But imagine if all of your consumer packaged goods were designed to be durable, last longer and encouraged to be reused. A pioneering sector adopting reuse systems is the home cleaning category, by using concentration as an enabler for a circular economy. You – Naturally Powerful offer a mini concentrate pod of cleaning fluid that is diluted with water in a spray bottle to retain and reuse. Splosh use both a pouch and capsule refill system to encourage consumers to continue to reuse their plastic bottles they started with. Lastly, CleanPath from Walmart have partnered with replenish refills to offer a pod packaging system that is also diluted with water.
Refurbish & Remanufacture
Products that can be reconditioned by the manufacturer and their lifetime extended.
Hiut Denim make jeans, nothing else. They resurrected an old denim factory in Cardigan, Wales and offer a free repair service on Hiut jeans for life, so you don’t have to personally repair your damaged jeans. Hiut Denim are the antithesis of fast fashion, making high quality, long-lasting products and actively encouraging you to maximise the lifespan of your jeans.
Patagonia have recently launched a new e-commerce take back service called Worn Wear, where they will offer you store credit for your unwanted Patagonia items and fix them up and sell to someone else. A bold step to extend clothing’s lifetime, building on their brand purpose.
When you’re finished with the product, you return it, or it’s reclaimed to be recycled (by the same manufacturer).
More than two million people in six countries subscribe to HP’s Instant Ink. When running low on ink, an internet-connected printer notifies HP and a replacement cartridge is automatically delivered, along with a return envelope. Not only do HP provide a direct to consumer service for new products, but they are encouraging a direct from consumer approach to enable a circular economy.
We need consumers and businesses to think differently. With investment in new business infrastructure and services the benefits will pay dividends, both monetary and to our planet. Rather than take, make and dispose, let’s think about repair, reuse, refurbish and recycle. We need to look at new ways of connecting markets, consumers and resources. How might we consider new business models and call on digital technology to enable a revolution that is needed? With so many businesses operating on linear model, the challenge ahead will be for innovation to be focusing on product and system design in the drive towards closing the loop.
* World Economic Forum
1. Revive - Kinneir Dufort