EU and Sweden have decided to adjust towards a circular economy. It is clear that we must speed up the transition in order to reach the environmental and climate goals. What does this mean for companies that develop and produce products and services in these markets, and how can design support this necessary transition?
For 18 months we have been working in a project, partly financed by Vinnova, called ‘Transition and scalability’, focusing on a circular and bio-based economy. Together with Axis Communications and Hässleholm Miljö we have identified and investigated key obstacles and opportunities to accelerate the desired transition for an electronics-producing company.
The project has given us important insights that we believe are highly relevant to all our customers, no matter where in this transition you are. We have also developed methods and processes so that we in different ways and at different levels can identify and explore appropriate circular initiatives with associated products and services.
It is important to remember that something does not automatically become more sustainable because it is circulated, sustainability is the starting point and the goal, not the circularity itself. It also seems easy to focus too much on the circulation of raw materials, on recycling, when the primary focus should instead be on better managing the value of our resources for as long as possible, by extending their productive life. That is, we must strive to move the solutions further up in the model below.
This project has introduced us to many inspiring cases that successfully contribute to less resource-usage on many levels, from business models to recycling.
Unfortunately the good examples aren't that many when it comes to our projects focus area; electronics. Electronics are often built in complex ways, have high demands on fire safety issues, contain various components and are rarely produced in Sweden. Most of these products do not qualify for “Cradle to Cradle”-certification and such, but there are still inspiring initiatives and business models that show the way. ‘Circular Computing’ in Great Britain offers companies used and served computers that come with a guarantee plan. Chalmers, together with Lenovo, Dustin, ‘Naturskyddsföreningen’, Stena Recycling and more is doing KEEP - a project that creates traceability systems by tagging electronics, to offer the customer product information about sustainability and to enable material circulation.
We can say with certainty that it will take a fundamental transition on all levels in our society and in our linear models, everything from change in attitudes, behaviours and business models to support and demands, to accelerate these processes. No company can do the full transition on its own, collaboration and system thinking is key.
As a design studio we see many challenges, but also many exciting opportunities in this matter, especially in many of today’s very static linear models and value chains. For many companies it will be necessary to rethink their business models, how to source material and components and how to develop and market their products and services, in order to achieve maximum value and circularity from used resources. To start this kind of transformation can be difficult and risky, and many companies lack internal expertise in the matter. Therefore, there has been a rise of platforms that can support companies and societies, both national and international. The nordic initiative Circit is one of them. The supporting expertise is there, so there is no longer any excuse to not act!
Design, and the design process as such, can act as an enabler for creating these new values and for exploring alternative offers and business models. This is where we as designers can make a huge difference, and the more we know about this matter - the further we can go in the transition to a circular economy.