Stimulating demand for circular solutions 

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James Griffin, Project Lead for our circular economy projects, highlights organisations making circular solutions desirable. This is fundamental if we are to speed up the transition to a more sustainable economy.

We’re working with our members to create a more circular economy in New Zealand. That means an economy in which materials remain in continuous flow, since many of the resources we currently rely on are finite in supply.

One of the things we’ve discovered is that there are a handful of fundamental leverage points to accelerate the transition from a linear (take-make-waste) economy to a circular one. Two stand out.

The first is design. Products need to be designed from the start to be circular rather than being retrofitted, otherwise they end up being too inefficient to be viable. The best that can be achieved is some form of downcycling, where a product is broken down into different parts of a lower-value. Designing products to be circular means incorporating elements such as:

  • Modularity (the ability to separate components and recombine them to extend life)

  • Dematerialisation (using less stuff)

  • Material feedback loops (reutilising materials)

  • Servitisation (providing a service rather than a product, so we sell less stuff)
  • Sharing (maximising usage of underutilised assets).

The second leverage point is demand. Demand for circular products needs to be stimulated because – now here’s the rub – designers tell me they actually know how to design for circularity but they haven’t been seeing sufficient demand for it from their clients.

My view has always been that it’s up to businesses to make their circular solutions desirable to their target customers. They need to stimulate that demand. It’s no different to stimulating demand for a linear product. Even if a product comes with great circular attributes (like a long life cycle, repair ability and full supplier-provided end-of-life solutions), it won’t sell unless its core function is at least as good as a linear competitor. It needs to be desirable in the eyes of the customer. The circularity aspects alone are not going to attract customers in sufficient numbers.

I, therefore, love coming across examples where circularity is designed in from the start and an excellent job is being done to make the product desirable.
The latest example I’ve come across is furniture manufacturer Pentatonic. It manufactures beautifully-designed and functional furniture with circularity embedded into the design. It’s doing a great job of stimulating demand and has already generated €4,700,000 in its first round of funding.

Check out this video clip to see how it has achieved that.

As the owners told design magazine dezeen, technologies are enabling them to outperform traditional linear products: “Recycling and circular manufacturing has evolved rapidly in recent years and we are now at a point where it can offer not just comparable, but superior performance from traditional methodologies.”

Of course, there are also some fantastic examples here in New Zealand. Let’s take a couple of the recently-announced finalists of the NZI Sustainable Business Network Awards’ Going Circular category: Wishbone Design and Ethique.

Wishbone Design utilises stylish and functional design, incorporating life extension and modularity, to make trikes desirable to both the child who uses it and the parents who purchase it.

Ethique has a dematerialisation model which provides fantastically sustainable beauty products without water and the plastic bottle.

Let’s help further stimulate demand for these types of circular solutions and speed up the transition to a circular economy.

To find out more about the Sustainable Business Network’s project on the circular economy, get in touch with James Griffin: james@sustainable.org.nz.