Design Thinking

Circular Economy – coming back round to good thinking

Paul Kelly | 10 October 2016

Designers love a circle. It is the purest, most efficient of shapes – one continuous line, not starting or ending – simple and elegant, more concept than form.

As designers, making things in the real world, we know that delivering simplicity and elegance demands clarity of thought and action. It requires a logic that is applied throughout a process – an organising thought.

Some of our recent projects have challenged us to consider big questions. They are issues of such scale that our collective response can be rooted in overwhelm and paralysis. One clear thought can help to break large complex problems into parts that can be acted on. Which is why we find the central idea of the circular economy – there is no waste, just resource – such a useful organising thought.

It allows designers, engineers, entrepreneurs, CEO’s, consumers, to think about the entire process of making things. Not just the final product but also the raw materials, energy, by products, offcuts, logistics, skills that go in to its ideation and manufacture. Viewing these stages as having inputs and outputs rather than materials to be used and discarded is a major shift in thinking but it brings with it significant opportunity to turn waste into valuable resource.

Our current predominant manufacturing attitude is the linear approach of take—make—consume—dispose. It is clear that with a fast growing global population and expanding middle class in many emerging countries that this approach is entirely unsustainable. Our collective situation calls for more collaboration on how we use resources; water, energy, raw materials, and allow industries to feed into each other. It is an approach that makes space for unexpected solutions; removing the need for raw material consumption by ‘growing' new packaging solutions using mushrooms, using the heat energy from a council crematorium to heat the local swimming pooldesigning tyres that can be more easily recycled into footwear. These are not typical linear processes, they come about by broadening the context of a solution, by examining how each part of the journey can be used to start another. It is a simple, elegant idea that brings with it a creativity of thought and approach that can restructure our economy, our food systems, our healthcare and education.

Finding big answers to those big questions starts with drawing wider circles around our thinking.



Background reading

The Ellen McArthur Foundation – Towards the Circular Economy

The Good Economy – 4 pillar model