Circular-ish: the messy reality of circular design
Katie Treggiden appeared live on The Circular Economy Show to explore the opportunities and challenges in circular design.
Hosted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, The Circular Economy Show is a fortnightly discussion and debate around how we can move from a linear take-make-waste economy towards a circular economy.
Katie Treggiden was also joined on the show by Lay Koon Tan, co-founder of Nature Squared.
Below is a transcript of our conversation.
So, we know the circular economy starts with design, but how do you start designing for the circular economy? Is it okay if it is only circular-ish and am I a designer?
We are going to be answering those questions and a lot more on this episode of the Circular Economy Show.
Welcome to the Circular Economy Show by The Ellen Macarthur Foundation, where we develop and promote the idea of a circular economy, engage key actors in that transition and develop system solutions at scale.
My name is Seb, and I am going to be your host for this episode of the Circular Economy Show and the topic of this episode is circular-ish. We are really trying to drop the curtain, not just talking about polished solutions, but talking about the process and the journey of circular design, and we hope to take you with us along the way.
Joining me along the way will be my colleague Joe Isles who in turn is going to be speaking to two innovators who have also been engaged with designing for a circular economy and of course we really do welcome you to join in that conversation. Post your questions, post your comments on any of the chat functions across LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, wherever you are watching this stream.
Welcome Joe. Joe Isles is the circular design lead here at the Foundation. Joe you have worked with the Foundation for close to a decade and are one of the best in terms of understanding the theory and the concept of the idea of a circle economy, but also drain that down to the practical ideas. What does it look like? How do we do it? So why is design so important for a circular economy?
Thanks Seb, that’s very kind of you to say. I have always been fascinated by the moments where this idea of a circular economy is translated into real examples and the people, designers and creatives who are involved in doing that. Really, that’s why design and the circular economy is so linked, and design is crucial for the circular economy because everything around us is designed.
Some of those things are obvious, like designer clothing, gadgets or mobile phones and things like that. Things that we hold up as a kind of iconic design, but also transport systems, the food we eat and the buildings we live in are all designed too. So circular design really is an important part of the transition to a circular economy because it says, “let’s take a different approach at that design stage, let’s build in those three principles of a circular economy, let’s think systemically and nudge us towards a more circular economy rather than today’s linear one.”
Again, and you are right, that is why we just know those three principles; eliminate waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use through generational systems. We say they are all underpinned and driven by design. It raises the question who should apply circular design, who is involved in this?
Well, you know you do not have to be a designer to be involved in circular design. I think if we have this expanded view of design, that everything around us is designed, then it follows that we have an expanded view of who is a designer or who designs. We did a piece of research a few years ago off the back of a kind of a hunch really, saying there’s so much stuff around us, all those things I mentioned a few minutes ago, and in new products and services and systems. There must be a vast number of people who influence how those things work and yes, some of them are designers and designers often have the methods, the tools and mindsets that are useful in navigating messy circular economy innovation, but it’s many more than that too. It is architects, material scientists, even if you think about people in advertising who influence the types of services that we choose or the way that we interact with the world around us. Those people influence whether the economy is more linear or more circular as well.
That notion of everything is designed is so crucial to understanding the circular economy. We are saying that the economy is also designed and that means, we have the agency to redesign it and rethink it is not some naturally occurring phenomena that is happening to us.
So, Joe at some point last year I feel like you started talking about this thing called circular-ish. You sort of forced it into a webinar that we were doing and finally we just had to give in and do a Circular Economy Show on circle-ish.
What is circular-ish, why are you so obsessed with it and the reason?
Seb, I’ve become a bit obsessed with this idea of circular-ish. I should say it started out as kind of a fun or colloquial way to describe circular sign efforts, because the good news is that the circular economy idea is really mobilised now. More and more people are talking about it and thousands of designers and creative people innovators from either by themselves or in small or large companies, they’re all trying stuff out which is amazing, but not all circular design efforts are equal, and I think actually we sell the concept a bit short if we think that they are. Some efforts are under the banner of a circular economy they’re well-intentioned, but they might just be a bit more kind of an efficiency on today’s linear model. Some innovation let’s face it is kind of in the wrong direction, it may be products where materials are completely mixed up and are inseparable even though they might contain recycled material. We need to ask ourselves whether that is the right sort of innovation for a circular economy?
Obviously, we are at the stage now where people and some organisations are seeing circular economy as a savvy marketing label, but, and thankfully more and more innovators are trying things out. It’s in the right direction, but they’re not going to create a circular economy overnight it’s work in progress and I think that’s the point behind circular-ish.
No one can create a circular economy alone from their garage or from an r d lab so it’s a creative process and like with any innovation any step forward is also probably going to come with a number of other questions. The bits that the designer is proud of, the things that they’d like to do differently next time, the things that were really difficult or what else would have to change in the system to make their job a bit easier.
That’s really what I mean when I check out this colloquial term circular-ish. It’s about encouragement, about saying you’ve started on this creative journey and to keep going because there is a bigger idea here. Maybe you did start out looking at materials or making a durable product or renting something, but you can always go further and push the ambition of your circular economy innovation.
Now fortunately, for our audience anyway, the exploration of this is not going to be just the two of us. Indeed, you’re going to be joined now by Katie Treggiden and Lay Koon Tan who have had a bit of an exploration of space. I know you have some questions, so I am just going to hand over to Joe to introduce them and get into the meat of the session.
I’m really delighted to be joined for this conversation by Lay Koon Tan who Is the co-founder of Nature Squared. Nature squared is a business that focuses on bespoke luxury and sustainable surface design applications and is built on reaffirming the value of artisanal skills by reinforcing the links between nature and human endeavour. The concept of trade, not aid, so a strong material focus to the conversation with Lay which I am looking forward to.
I am also joined by Katie Treggiden, who is a purpose-driven writer and keynote speaker who champions a circular approach to design through several different channels including a great book called Wasted and her podcast as well which I’m sure we’ll touch upon later.
Firstly, I’d love to speak to you Lay as someone who’s maybe a bit closer to this creative endeavour, this journey, that Seb and I were talking about just a moment ago.
Do you think you could just start by telling us a bit about Nature Squared, maybe one or two of the specific kinds of projects or material innovations that you’ve overseen over the past 20 years.
Lay Koon Tan
Hi Joe, thanks so much for having me. Well, I founded Nature Squared 20 years ago and we did it extremely unfashionably by wanting to focus on the bigger sustainability picture. When we looked at the developing economies in which we wanted to make a difference we found craft skills and a souvenir-making ability and of course they used indigenous material, but they weren’t valued and for us that was a real issue. It was about giving the people a platform for developing their livelihoods, but also for revaluing the material that was around them. There is this perception that what comes from abroad from the rich world is valuable and in the rich world you know that common things are less valuable than rarity. That was the paradigm we really wanted to break so we looked at what was indigenous, what was fast growing, what was waste clearly and how we could transform them into things that would be valued.
First, we’re talking about the design world. We’re talking about value for its form and function. It needs to be beautiful; it needs to be fit for purpose functionally. Joe you asked about an example of something we are very proud of, we are very proud of the work we do with eggshells. The most ubiquitous material you know.We are all so used to having our breakfast eggs chucking away the shells. Of course, eggshell inlay is very laborious you know, but beautiful it has been a heritage craft in East Asia for a long time but that doesn’t use an awful lot of eggshell, so we did two things. First, we said you know what these pretty little birds and butterflies that have a very limited aesthetic that needs to be broken so let’s inlay it all over and you’ll get a very different look and feel. It will use a whole lot more eggshell that we are diverting from landfill so that was step one.
Step two is that you know what instead of 2000 eggshells a square metre let’s use 20 000 eggshells and employ many more people in the cleaning and the processing of those eggshells. So, you know later this year we’re going to be launching a tile product essentially using crushed eggshells.
I guess this is one example of our journey and as you say you know there are many exciting stories out there of people doing similar things.
I mean that’s a great example taking, like you say a ubiquitous, and I was going to say low perceived value, but I mean certainly very low value. I mean as you say most of my eggshells after a Friday are going to the bin and turning that into something valuable if we just look at something like that for a moment, and you mentioned this word pride and it’s something I’m really interested in when we speak with creative practitioners like yourselves. What is it about that innovation that you are particularly proud of? That you think is a real breakthrough? And maybe as a side note it was what was especially difficult about it and that was what took some time to overcome.
Lay Koon Tan
Perhaps let me take the questions in reverse order because this is something that most people can probably relate to.
You think about eggshells and of course it’s calcium carbonate on the outside and you think that’s great you know that’s easy to work with, but anyone who’s ever peeled a hard-boiled egg knows that there is a layer of membrane in there. That was the technical challenge, how do we deal with it because we don’t want to eliminate it.
That adds a layer of process that is a challenge so the difference between step one and step two for us was how do you come up with a system that allows that membrane to be incorporated in the final product.
You talked about pride. Well, we are very small, we are 200 artisans in the Philippines and pride comes in two ways. I’m super proud of our people and what they have managed to achieve in the last 20 years that we’ve been going, but that doesn’t matter, what matters is their pride in their achievements because when we show them the results of their work you know we can see them sit on the edge of their seats. This is so far away from the way they live and the pride they exude it and with that comes self-respect. It comes with different awareness of the environment around them, and they then come up with ideas themselves, they say can we use this, can we use that, what about this fruit skin? and you get this virtuous whereby you loved the word nudge that you used because that’s what I feel. We just nudge people to look at things differently and to follow a slightly more sustainable path, not a perfectly circular one, not a perfectly sustainable one. That’s why I really buy into the concept of circular-ish.
That’s good to hear another vote for circular-ish.
Katie I’m going to come to you now and your book and your podcast. The book Wasted features about 30 different designers I believe who are working on projects like this and is this story quite typical? What I mean you’ve known Lay Koon Tan for a while now but what really stands out to you from stories like this?
I think it’s interesting that your approach on this particular episode has been to look beyond the “designer” because it was actually Bethan Gray, I interviewed for the book who collaborated with Lay on a collection called exploring Eden which was a collection of furniture and home accessories made largely from food waste and so Bethlehem I think was relatively typical of designers.
In this space, perhaps slightly atypical in that she’s come to this slightly later in her career so I think her approach to sustainability so far has been to use FSC certified wood to make products that have longevity and will be perhaps passed down through generations, but that’s been about the extent of it so far. One of the things she said to me when I interviewed her for the book was this project had opened her eyes to the wider sort of possibilities and the circular economy in particular but I think I think where Lay is atypical from most of the people, I spoke to is 7:30 actually because of her awareness of the wider systemic implications so the sort of social implications and the economic implications of working with waste. So, all of Lays projects sort of form part of a wider environmental stewardship project and are also helping to sort of support people living on vulnerable income.
For example, fishermen. When Nature Squared buy shells from fishermen that gives them additional income which helps to support their livelihoods and that income is often invested back into things like more environmentally friendly fishing nets and so on. I think there’s an awful lot of designers who’ve cottoned onto the idea of working with waste, but I think not all of them have necessarily taken that step further and that’s where I again think this idea of circular-ish is fascinating.
I think they said I asked a lot of them. Okay so you’re using waste in your product what happens when your product becomes waste and a lot of them would say “oh well it’s not going to because I’ve designed it to last for ages and ages and ages you know it’s going to be handed down through generations”. My question is always okay and then what happens in say 500 years’ time when your beautiful heirloom table is no longer of use? That was a question not all of them had fully resolved yet and so I think I think it’s important that you know we don’t shame people for not having got there.
I don’t think this sort of trend for environmental shaming is helpful. I think it’s brilliant that people are taking those first steps, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that there are more steps to go before we reach a circular economy.
Yes, and we’re going to come on to that in a little bit but let’s linger on that idea for just a moment then I think.
So, we’ve had some glimpses of a bigger idea behind circular design, but we have spoken a bit about materials and it’s a place where a lot of designers and creative people and innovators in businesses start. They’re looking at what’s in front of them. A mountain of waste material of some type and they’re saying that’s very tangible let’s do something with that. Is there a danger that you might in doing that ignore some of the systemic considerations or maybe to put it a different way just because you can turn waste into something new should you? Can that lead to some unintended consequences?
Yes, I mean I think the answer to that is yes. I think there’s definitely a huge argument in favour of using waste as a raw material. You know a lot of people have said to me in the producing of the podcast. I also wrote a column for Design Milk called Circular by Design. A lot of people have sort of levelled the criticism well using waste is not circular because in a circular economy there is no waste and you sort of think okay but we’re not in a circular economy yet so we’ve got a sort of the 200-year legacy of the linear economy and there’s an awful lot of waste in the environment that if we can scoop up and do something valuable with it would be a good thing. So firstly, I think it’s not always a bad thing I think there is a danger that you sort of legitimise waste and create demand for waste streams.
So, you know plastic came about as a by-product of the oil industry and now in some ways is driving the extraction of oil. I think we’ve got to be careful about that, but I mean there are certainly examples where it’s okay to legitimise a waste stream if you’re using that waste in a product which can go back into the cellular economy.
There’s a city in in Denmark where 11 companies have got together and formed 22 waste exchanges one of them makes insulin and the by-product of that is spent yeast and another company turns that spent yeast into biogas and fertilizer. So, you can see how there are examples where reusing waste stops it from being waste at all and a lot of the designers in my book argued that we shouldn’t be using this word waste we should be talking about secondary materials or second life materials. So, I think it can be valuable in that sense. I think it really depends on the process you know if you’re trapping waste products in epoxy resin in a way that they can’t be separated afterwards and they can’t biodegrade whereas that waste product could have previously biodegraded then that’s not a good idea. Whereas if you can use sort of very organic natural waste materials to replace something that’s perhaps oil-based or chemical-based that would off gas in the home for example then you’re actually using products that are safer and more natural. So, I think I think the answer to your question is it depends, which is so often the case in this stuff.
Of course, and I think that touches nicely on this idea that part of the reason it depends is because we’re talking about systems and they’re complex and vary from between different contexts and geographies and cultures and so on.
And Lay to come back to you, you’ve said a lot of your work or if we browse the Nature Squared website you can see the specific materials that you work with, but even in our short chat now it’s clear that dealing with materials has taught you a lot about the wider system. What are some of the big learnings over the 20 years you’ve been working with Nature’s Squared that because this isn’t just a material story is it there’s so much more about the wider economic system that you’ve discovered through your work.
Lay Koon Tan
Yes absolutely. I mean first you know people characterise us as driven by material. That’s the very tangible end of it is that we’re actually, as Katie so well described, where our primary driver insofar as you know this sort of one more equal than others the social aspects of it and the economics of livelihood in a less developed community is such that it’s the same concept to us as micro banking, micro lending. You know that if you can augment these low livelihoods by a little bit the marginal impact is huge. Now we don’t want to lecture people, but the fact is if that comes with an educational element then that has in systemic terms you know clearly does good at the other end of the scale.
Let’s not kid ourselves you know we talk a lot with designers and architects and of course also end consumers the designers and architects talk to their own project owners and a lot of this is driven by aesthetics and function and that’s what these guys are paying for. If we come and say look this thing is not particularly beautiful but it is very virtuous please by the virtue it isn’t going to fly so therefore the economic model must be one in which you deliver something that is desirable and at the best at the most optimised sustainability price that you can.
The example that I often give is you know we do what we do, and we try and make it as circular as we can, but then an architect comes along and says I need to put this in a public space, or I need to put this on a cruise ship it needs to meet this flammability standard, or it needs to be a floor that’s walked on. In one stroke you have put a coating and additive, a something, that as Katie says, you know negates an awful lot of it, but this is the real world we live in and I’d rather have that opportunity, have that conversation and carry on that path than lecture them and say no what a terrible thing to do you know how you could possibly want this.
I think that’s a great sentiment and one that really resonates this idea that you spoke about as a path and an implied journey. I think there is this sense of keep starting but keeping going and Katie I don’t know if you speak to designers and either glean from them or maybe with your experience you give them a steer, but is there anything you could share about how to celebrate those early wins and successes? But to keep going because it is a journey and potentially quite a long one if we’re really thinking about this very ambitious future circular economy.
I mean I think transparency is the most important thing, there is so much green washing out there these days. I think it’s often quite difficult for consumers and even interior designers and architects who are specifying products to sort of tell the difference and I think the brands who I think are doing best and the sort of even young designer makers who are being really honest so sort of saying this is where we’re trying to get to at the moment. We’re here you know we’ve achieved steps one and two we’re halfway through step three, but you know it’s a ten-step plan to where to get to where we want to. I think there are also sort of certifications like the sort of core standard and soil association and you know there’s unfortunately far too many of them. I think some of those sorts of situations where you’re not marking your own homework can be quite helpful end labelling so environmental product declarations, I think that stands for some of those things can be really helpful to sort of combat some of that green washing and have that transparency to sort of say these are the bits we’ve achieved but I think some of those sorts of big certifications are not open to smaller companies.
I think for brands just starting out it’s about just being really honest and transparent about the steps that they’ve taken and the steps they’re yet to take. I think being honest with themselves about that as well because I think sometimes it’s that sense of sort of well you know I’ve done this thing I can rest on my laurels now and I think understanding that it is a journey it’s not you know there is no product that is perfect in terms of sustainability.
There are always compromises to make and I can give you a very personal example which is that when I started writing the book, I said to the publisher it cannot be wrapped in plastic and it must be made of waste. I wanted those things written into my contract before we started, and she sort of said look I can’t write them into a contract, but I promise we’ll do our absolute best. So, at one point in the process, she came back and said look we’ve investigated the potato starch poly wrap and it doesn’t last long enough. It starts biodegrading after six months and the books might be in storage for a year so we’re going to wrap it in plastic. I was just like no we can’t do that you know we have to try harder. In the end we found a polywrap that’s actually made from a by-product of the sugar processing industry so it’s a sucrose. It looks and feels and works exactly like a plastic polywrap. So that was a win and the publisher’s now using that for all of their books which is fantastic.
Paper on the other hand, the cover is made from a waste product of the leather processing industry so the cover’s made from waste. The paper I really wanted to be made from recycled paper but the cost implication of that meant printing the book in China and then shipping it largely back to Europe and America which is where the biggest audiences for it were or making it so expensive that most people wouldn’t have been able to afford to buy it. And so actually we decided the carbon footprint of all that shipping negated the benefit of printing on recycled paper and so it’s printed on FSC certified virgin paper which sort of feels really wrong for a book about waste but actually when you took into account all the complexities it was the most environmentally sound decision.
I only share that example to say that I think there are compromises always and I think the more open and transparent we can be about those not only to sort of prevent green washing and promote transparency but also to sort of encourage our competitors, our collaborators, the other people in the industry to say you know this is not about me pretending I’ve got this perfect, it’s about sharing my journey so other people can perhaps learn from that and learn from it and maybe go further and build on it.
I know Seb’s been listening intently, but I just have one more question that I would love to get a quick answer from both of you.
We have spoken a lot about materials I think it is something that designers deal with or are in proximity with on a day-to-day basis, so in a sense that’s unsurprising, but we’ve also in this conversation knocked on the door of some of the much bigger ideas around people’s livelihoods and the social benefits of creating products in this way.
I’d just like to get a sense Lay, starting with you what would it be like if the whole economy worked in this way? Can you maybe highlight what some of the benefits would be if it wasn’t just Nature Squared and a few other pioneers but the whole economy worked like this?
Lay Koon Tan
Oh, wow dare to dream is your question, right?
First, may I say you know we’re on a very modest journey. I don’t pretend to give anybody lessons in how this should all work, but if I were to extrapolate from our value system and our approach then I guess my headline would be that people would think through the complexities make those weigh up those choices that Katie you know so graphically illustrated and come up with the sensible answer for that set of circumstances.
I’m sorry to be as vague as that but the fact is that ducking the complexity is where the problem often is you know we want the sound bite and even if the intent is not to green wash, we’ve been watching resins develop for the last 20 years our material scientists and chemists have been watching this innovating on our own and the fact is it’s not there yet but go look at how many brands say we use bio resin. You know our chemicals are responsibly this and that and as Katie says I think it’s very important not to kid ourselves and if everybody were open-minded to balance those factors and to make a sensible choice and sensible includes money no question then I think we might get a little bit further on that journey.
And what about you Katie just a quick, but massive answer I guess on that question.
It’s quite interesting because I recently came across some research from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology that kind of answers this question. So, they investigated what would happen if the whole world adopted a circular economy. What would happen to the economy, to jobs, to people’s economic prosperity, on an individual level and then they looked at what would happen if just Norway adopted a circular economy.
I think for Norway you could probably substitute developed nations, what they found was that if the whole world developed a circular economy there would be a growth of 2.5 new jobs and that would be particularly in developing nations particularly for people with low to medium education and particularly women. The people who are most impacted by climate change, so I mean that’s a brilliant outcome. However they also found that if only Norway were to adopt a circular economy those same people, so people in developing nations people with low to medium education and women would lose jobs and that’s as you can imagine if everybody in developing nations are repairing clothes for example there’s going to be less demand for cheap clothes from countries like Bangladesh and I think what that says is that we have to do this in a really inclusive way. It’s no good certain countries rushing ahead on this and leaving others behind.
There’s actually a beautiful quote which I might leave you with from a book called All We Can Save which is an anthology of women writing on the environment and it was edited by Dr Ayanna Elizabeth Johnson and Katherine Wilkinson and there’s a lovely quote in the introduction when they say “to change everything we need everyone” and I think that just sort of sums up you know the way we need to approach a global circular economy.
Thank you so much Katie and Lay Koon Tan for all your great insights there in Circular Design.
We encourage zooming in and zooming out to problem solve effectively I think we’ve done a lot of that today. Zooming into some specific innovations and zooming out to this bigger idea of a circular economy so I appreciate that.
Seb, I know you’ve been on the edge of your seat listening in there. What were some of your reflections.
You’ve been zooming in and out so much Joe I’m actually feeling quite dizzy, but actually I didn’t prep our guests for this but there are been a couple of interesting contributions online I just want to just throw out there for some really quick responses because obviously this conversation to some extent we’ve done a bit of sort of encouragement like; have a go, do something, design something and then a little bit of like well there’s also these big system-wide implications to think about that might make your exciting design somewhat null and void even and I suppose just picking up on a summing up of a few of the comments that have come in maybe for you Katie to tackle in the first instance.
Can you give us a bit of hope like what the people should still go and dive into this right and give it a go for lots of good reasons?
Yeah, lots of good reasons and I think there’s something really important about embarking on that journey because that’s how you start to learn. That’s how you start to understand the biggest systemic implications and I think you know there’s a danger that we can just sort of get overwhelmed by this. You know there’s a reason they call it a wicked problem it’s so complicated and so interrelated. I think the worst outcome is we can sort of say oh it’s all too complicated I can’t, you know whereas I would really encourage designers, makers, crafts people, anybody sort of working even in the broadest creative industries to start. And I think that’s how you learn, and your first project might turn out not to be the one that’s going to make a difference, but you’ll learn so much from that first project to invest into a second project. And I think the second thing I’d say is none of us are going to solve this problem on our own. This problem is going to be solved by lots and lots and lots of people all chipping away at their little bit of the problem, so I think if you know if your problem is not going to save the world on its own that’s okay.
Okay good and then finally a good provocative question from Margie on LinkedIn. They ask a question about what makes a product circular, and their question is; if a product is made with good materials designed for disassembly but there is no take back system there’s no system around it to collect it is it actually circular?
I don’t know if you want to take that one on Joe and whoever wants to jump in on that one.
Well, I mean I’ll throw that over to Lay maybe he is a bit closer to the creative process than I am.
Lay Koon Tan
I mean of course you know the theoretically correct answer is that it’s not. I mean circular is circular definitionally but again you know back to Joe’s concept of circular-ish if there is no take back it’s not, but if you stop a linear something that’s going to be wholly linear at some point and you give it a little bit of a u-bend you’re already doing something better now. I think that your contributor Seb you know is quite correct in the premise that it’s not wholly circular of course but going to Katie’s point about if I’m making something of such good quality that it lives 500 years well I will take the 500 years over 500 days any time because you know in 500 years, we may well have different solutions to these things, well guess what in 500 days we won’t.
Thank you and Katie thank you so much for joining us on the circle show.
Joe, firstly, circular-ish is taking off you’ve definitely got two advocates for it here, secondly, we’re not quite done with you yet. We’ve got one that we’ll just wrap up in a moment, but before we do that just a reminder to our viewers that this is just one episode of the Circle Economy Show under the Foundation’s wider content and focus on circle design. Let’s take a quick look at some of the other conversations we’ve hosted previously which you can find on our YouTube channel.
It does strike you as such a strange phenomenon that we can produce a material that I know keeps a salad fresh for two hours, three hours, until it’s bought at lunchtime and it’s good for 500 years. That to me is just a design flaw and it always struck me so what are you asking the designer to design when they design that piece of plastic because it’s amazing science it can you know keep it fresh and let bits of it breathe and all of those things but actually is it designed to last forever or is it designed to do that for a certain period of time? That design question we so often come back to at the Foundation is; what are you asking people to design?
I can’t keep on making more products that goes into the world that will not be taken care of or nobody would take responsibility for.
I always find it quite an amazing paradox that there’s so much plastic and food which as you say is this weird combination of like the most short-lived objects i.e., food with the most long-lived objects is plastic and that you get so much plastic in kid’s toys and diapers and wet wipes.
Again, it’s like it seems so paradoxical that you’re buying these materials that are going to have a kind of long-lasting negative effect on the planet to use for your children that are going to be the ones that inherit the planets.
Farah Ramzan Golant
I think creative industries bring the notion of impossible as solvable it’s an impossible complex intractable big issue and what the creative industries will bring first and foremost is a mindset which is impossible as solvable. Everything was impossible once and was pretty much everything being impossible until it got solved.
So in that video, we heard from among others Lilly Cole and Ikea various conversations the Foundation has hosted over a period with leading designers and leading on our YouTube channel and cropping up consistently in episodes of this show and the Foundations of our activities.
Joe we’re back, great, just a couple of final reflections on the conversation we’ve had today and also looking at that video that the circular design seems like it’s something that is extremely varied as an idea, is that true?
I think that is true and you know this is circular economy in this kind of recent wave of activity of momentum is really the term has really grown in the past 10 years which is a relatively short time scale really and circular design as a discipline that people can kind of organise around and start to experiment with even shorter than that really, so it is emerging. I think what you had some examples of in today’s conversation and in the video, you shared said is that yes circular design is about materials about products about making isolated or coupled innovations more feasible designed for disassembly durability smarter materials choices and things like that, but it’s also about business model innovation about a whole organization. I mean you heard from Ikea they’re rethinking all of their 10,000 different products in their catalogue along a circular economy roadmap so different types of solutions and starting to rethink the value that they provide to their customers not just through one or two isolated innovations but through thousands of different innovations. Then you’ve got even bigger even a bit more kind of abstract is how we design for systems change you mentioned that the economy is designed.
Seb, I mean we can argue about that next time we’re together in the office but really is it designed or is it the consequence of innumerable different design decisions that are combined and kind of ladder up to this to create a system and I think however you look at it those different design decisions can nudge, and we use this word nudge but can shift the economy towards a more circular outcome.
I won’t be taking you on any debates. Joe one final question from me is obviously we talked about this a bit earlier that when we say that everything is designed, I know we’ve heard Tim Brown from Ideo former CEO of Audio say everyone is a designer. We’ve talked about this before it can feel a little bit almost scary to even for people like yourself and I to think about ourselves as designers. Is your message to our viewership here that we need to get more comfortable with thinking of ourselves at least in having design roles in the economy?
Yeah, I think so. I mean I think if you acknowledge like we said at the start of the session that everything is designed then there are many more people who can influence the way that things work than those that just went to design school or have design in their job title. We said those people do have a toolkit of methods and ways of working which are helpful but there are many more people who have agency and the enthusiasm to reimagine the world around us along circular economy lines, so yeah, we are all designers in some respects. I also think you kind of must do it, just because I made a loaf of bread it doesn’t mean I am a baker although I kind of am an amateur one. So, you must try these things. I don’t think we can all say that we’re designers if we’re not trying to reorient or change a bit of the world around us so I think you could be a designer too sir but you must do it.
I hope I’m a better designer than you are a baker. Joe, thank you so much for joining this episode of the Circular Show and thank you to you at home or in your offices wherever you are watching this session and whether you’re watching it live or if you’re watching it in catch up and for those questions and comments that you’ve been submitting throughout.
So, we’ve heard that the circle economy starts fundamentally by designing things differently underpinning those three core principles. It’s a much bigger idea going beyond recycling to how we design the design decisions that make up how our economy fundamentally works, and you have a role in that and hopefully what you’ve heard in this session is that you can embrace the journey and the process of doing that rather than feeling that you have to be submitting these polished solutions.
That’s all for this episode of the Circle Economy Show we’ll be back in the same time place in two weeks’ time but we’re also live on Instagram.
The Foundation is live on Instagram tomorrow at the same time at 3 p.m. and we’re talking to organic basics about their design decisions and how they’re involved in our jeans redesign products so do make sure you follow the Foundation on Instagram and join that conversation. We’ll be hosted by the Foundation’s François Suchet subscribe to all of our channels like and share this video do all those nice things. Otherwise, we’ll see you next time on the Circle Economy Show
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