Circular economy principles are easy to list but hard to implement. Many businesses lag behind concrete guidelines, especially regarding design for and within the circular economy. A circular design guideline can help.

In our daily work, we see businesses facing challenges like:

  • Varying stages of Circular Economy (CE) readiness across a diverse product portfolio.
  • Uncertainty about transforming a complex and heterogeneous product portfolio.
  • Lack of guidance for the responsible R&D and project teams

Sustainable business practices permeate all standard practices, question silos, and hierarchical knowledge silos. Likewise, digitization challenges learned routines the principles of the circular economy put organizations under stress. A circular design guideline helps your business to streamline efforts and make your development and product teams the spearhead of corporate social responsibility.

laid out tooling parts, described with material details and detailed emissions

Go directly to “How we build your circular design guideline. and learn more about our approach as well about the steps needed for successful implementation.

Circular economy principles are easy to list but hard to implement.

One way to cope with the pressure of change is clear guidance. A Circular Design Guideline built with all relevant stakeholders will drive an equal level and consistency across the portfolio. The guideline allows proactive planning to boost your products’ readiness for the Circular Economy.

open booklet of a circular design guideline showing two pages. left page: current hard ware tools, right page: illustration of circular economy readiness in different fields

Circular design guideline elements

The following are some aspects that could be crucial in a circular design guideline for corporates:

  1. Design for Durability: Corporates can design products to last longer by choosing durable materials. This also means designing for easy repairs and ensuring products can be easily disassembled and recycled. This reduces waste and the need for new resources.
  2. Design for Recyclability: By designing products with recyclability in mind, companies can reduce the amount of waste generated and make it easier for materials to be repurposed in the circular economy. This can involve designing for disassembly, using materials that are easy to recycle, and minimizing the use of harmful chemicals.
  3. Design for Resource Efficiency: Corporates can design products that use resources more efficiently by using renewable materials with a low environmental impact, designing lightweight products, and reducing the energy required to manufacture and transport products.
  4. Adopting a Closed-Loop System: Corporates can adopt a closed-loop system by reusing waste materials, using renewable energy, and recycling products. This can reduce waste and conserve resources.
  5. Measuring and Reporting Sustainability Metrics: Corporates can measure and report on their sustainability metrics. Such as their carbon footprint, waste reduction, and resource efficiency. This can help them track progress and identify areas for improvement.

Corporations can collaborate with stakeholders such as suppliers, customers, and other businesses. That is also an opportunity to promote sustainable practices throughout their supply chains and operations. Next to collaborating with stakeholders educating and engaging employees is crucial. Corporations must educate employees on sustainable business practices, such as reducing waste, conserving resources, and promoting circular economy principles. Talk to our colleague Michael for details.

Circular Design needs a guideline.

A Circular Design Guideline incorporates more than resource efficiency; it strives for a closed-loop system. Companies can promote sustainable practices, reduce waste, and conserve resources by adopting circular economy principles.
The Circular Design Guideline is a physical or digital guidebook with industry/client-specific strategies leading the product development process for Circular Economy (CE)-readiness. This includes standardized circular experience design and evaluation of CE-readiness at individual product levels or across portfolios.

hands holding a tablet. on display: frontend of circular design guideline mobile version. User experience structures by navigation tiles showing circular design principles and captions.

How we build your circular design guideline

With our legacy in product development and our expertise in design for the Circular Economy, we cover all areas required to create overarching guidelines for our client’s whole portfolio and circular (brand) experience. Laying the foundation for the development of a portfolio-specific circular design guideline, we follow a straightforward process:

Step 1 – Assessment of product and portfolio

Where do you stand in your journey toward circularity? What is your corporate sustainability strategy, and how do the business units align in their operations?
Which steps have you already taken regarding supply chain sustainability and sustainable manufacturing?
What importance is attributed to eco-design, waste reduction, and environmental impact reduction?

Three people in conversation holding a disassembled tool, more tool parts on the table. One person is taking notes. In the background boards with post its showing elements of a circularity assessment of products or portfolios.

We find the answers in a cross-functional and cross-department workshop together. Aligned with your brand values and individual business strategy, the results of this kick-off are the foundation for continuous work in the following steps.

Step 2 – Identification of KPIs & definition of impact areas

Next, we take a deep dive into identifying which stages of the product development process can be standardized to promote sustainability and minimize waste. This includes examining various impact areas such as material selection, design principles, production methods, and end-of-life considerations.
Subsequently, we establish benchmarks outlining the fundamental principles your business should strive to incorporate into the product development processes.

Setting: Workshop desk with computer, equipment for technical operations and tooling parts. In front: Person measures a tool shell.

These working sessions (in-house or remote) consider regulations, internal standards, and industry benchmarks. Timings are determined by product and portfolio complexity (project scope). We have seen 2 weeks up to 6 months. But it’s worth it, as, after steps 1 and 2, all stakeholders have a solid understanding of the status quo and sharpen their strategic circularity goals—short-term, mid-term, and long-term.

Laying out the roadmap for a portfolio-specific guideline

Step 3 – Roadmap for detailed development

Routed in step 2 developed strategic circularity goals, we synthesize decisions and internal standards by utilizing tools like decision matrix and system mapping. This results in defining design and action principles as a foundation for sustainable and regenerative practices in your product design process.

illustration of development timeline for a circular design guideline

The action steps in this phase shape the work for the next step. It’s the perfect moment to get stakeholders on board and start collaboration negotiation. Keeping them engaged in the following step is crucial for later implementing the circular design guidelines.

Step 4 – Development of a circular design guideline

The guideline is more than sustainable product design recommendations for one product. Although we start with a pilot project or small-scale production run – we subsequently evaluate its effectiveness and identify areas for improvement. Once the circular design guideline has been refined, it is implemented in the product’s design and manufacturing process throughout the company.
This takes time. But from the first pilot, you will see results and gain valuable metrics which serve as benchmarks for the following rollout.

An agile process is recommended to keep stakeholders engaged and react promptly to changing market dynamics. Our circular design guideline for your company is a living document—meant to be altered and updated frequently by us (subscription based), your employees (ongoing), 3rd party contributors (recommended), etc.

A circular design guideline initiates circularity across your portfolio. It is the foundation for your business to lead in sustainable and regenerative practices. Not for the sake of reporting but for good.

The long-term transformation toward circularity

Implementing a circular design guideline can offer several benefits for a corporate with a diverse and complex product portfolio, including but not limited to resource efficiency and reduced waste. By designing products for durability, repair, and recyclability, companies can reduce the amount of waste generated. You can minimize disposal costs and reduce the risk of adverse environmental impacts. Implementing circular design guidelines can improve a company’s reputation as a responsible corporate citizen. This supplements a positive brand image that can improve customer loyalty and attract new customers.

Designing products with circular economy principles in mind will reduce costs associated with raw materials, manufacturing, and disposal. And reduce energy and water consumption.
At the same time, adopting circular economy principles can foster innovation in product design. Encouraging companies to develop better for future generations and regeneration. And regulatory compliance is becoming even more prominent in the years to come.

The circular design guideline will help to comply with current and future regulations related to resource efficiency, waste reduction, and environmental sustainability. By adopting circular economy principles, you can engage with stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, and investors, who increasingly demand sustainable business practices and transparency in supply chain operations.

Overall, a circular design guideline can help any corporation with a diverse and complex product portfolio to achieve greater sustainability, reduce costs, and improve the brand image while fostering innovation and engaging stakeholders.

Sarah Crooks

Managing Director

Sarah leads the community building and business development in New York bringing an American-European perspective to the table. As a self-proclaimed curious mind, she believes everyone (and everything) has a story.
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