Rethinking Design

The Principles and Promise of Circularity

Emma Menebroker

10/30/20231 min read

Rethinking Design: The Principles and Promise of Circularity

Sustainability is at the forefront of many designers' minds today. An emerging approach called "circular design" aims to reduce waste and environmental impact by keeping materials in circulation. In this post, we'll explore some key principles of circular design and why it's gaining steam.

What is Circular Design?

Circular design seeks to emulate natural cycles, where waste from one process becomes food for another. This contrasts with the dominant linear "take-make-waste" model of consumption. Some key concepts in circular design include:

  • Cradle to cradle - Creating products that can be perpetually recycled or composted, rather than ending up in landfills.

  • Biomimicry - Looking to nature for sustainable design inspiration. For example, studying a spider web's UV reflectivity to make bird-safe windows.

  • Upcycling - Transforming discarded materials into new, valuable creations.

  • Closed-loop systems - Keeping materials in circulation through recycling and reuse.

  • Circular economy - An economic system powered by renewable energy that aims to eliminate waste through circular design.

Why Circular Design Matters

Circular design offers many benefits:

  • Preserves resources by extending product lifetimes and reusing materials.

  • Reduces pollution and carbon emissions by curbing waste.

  • Saves money for businesses through material efficiency.

  • Creates new economic opportunities through repair, reuse, and remanufacturing.

  • Provides consumers with affordable, high-quality recycled and upcycled goods.

Circular Design in Action

Forward-thinking companies are already implementing circular practices:

  • Patagonia encourages customers to buy, repair, and trade in its outdoor apparel, keeping it in use longer.

  • Ornilux uses biomimicry to create bird-safe glass, reducing collisions.

  • Brands like Le Creuset and Briggs & Riley build products to last, avoiding planned obsolescence.

  • Fairphone makes modular, repairable smartphones with recycled materials and responsible sourcing.

The Future is Circular

Circular design offers a framework for creating a more sustainable, equitable future. As designers, businesses, and individuals continue to adopt circular practices, they set an example for others to follow. What role will you play in transitioning to a circular economy?