Circular design is the consideration of a product’s entire lifecycle, looking at everything from concept and development through to how it’s used and what happens after its primary use.
For example, H&M partnered with ICO to collect 29,000 tonnes of textiles for re-wear and re-use by turning into other textile products or recycling.
Deloitte’s Shifting Sands report noted that 45% of generation Z have stopped shopping with certain brands due to environmental or sustainability concerns, so the retailers who are able to navigate the complexities of sustainability well will truly lead the way.
There are many aspects of circular design that brands should be considering, and below we delve into just a few of the key aspects you can’t afford to overlook.
What should you be considering?
For authentic sustainability, it’s important to be looking at materials with the lowest possible impact. And this isn’t just about the materials you use – how you use them is vital as well. Are you ensuring that you’re minimizing waste? Do you understand the impacts of any by-products, or can these be re-used at all?
There isn’t a perfect solution and there’s no doubt it can be hard to get it right, but by scrutinizing each part of the process you’re helping to reduce negative impacts on the planet.
It’s a given that it’s important to keep any waste to a minimum, but could you go further and eliminate waste altogether? Take advantage of digital samples and how you develop prototypes; 80% of environmental damage is determined at the design stage, so evaluate your early design stages carefully. If physical prototypes can’t be avoided, then could you ensure the materials used can be recycled or repurposed?
What components do your products comprise of? How easy are these to dissemble when the time comes? Could each specific component be recycled or reused? If a consumer couldn’t dissemble the product, could they feasibly return it to you or a third party?
Essentially, each element of your product needs careful consideration, not just about how it will work as intended, but where it will go when the product has reached the end of its life.
Your responsibility toward a product doesn’t end with a sale. For many items, wear and tear can reduce performance or functionality, but we can investigate ways to rectify this, rather than simply letting it be thrown away. Is there anything you could introduce to support refurbishment, such as repair kits, replacement parts or troubleshooting guides? Or perhaps look to your materials to make them more robust – essentially, anything that will prolong the life of your product.
Packaging is a great place to look for sustainability improvements. Ideally, you’re looking for packaging that can be reused, recycled or is biodegradeable. Some brands use their packaging as an educational tool, or use packaging that can be transformed into something else.
Your first question should always be: ‘Do I need packaging?’ If the answer is yes, then it’s time to get creative about how you use it. Consumers are increasingly looking for green credentials from brands and retailers, and this is a great way to communicate your activities to them.
We’ve only scratched the surface of what you can do with circular design here, and each material, product, brand or retailer will have its own unique complexities and considerations. There is much more still to consider.
Steve Lister, sustainability consultant at APS Group.