At INDEED, we consider ‘Design for Circularity’ as an approach. It serves as the premise for how we want to contribute to a circular economy in a way intrinsic to our innovator DNA. As we define, build, scale, and embed circularity for our client’s organization, we apply this view to create concrete outcomes that help tangible impact.

The common nominator

Alphabetical or down the chain – it shouldn’t matter. Just move through this article by text anchors 🙂

| Circular Supplies
| Collaboration
| Modularity
| Product as a service
| Recycle
| Refurbish
| Regenerate
| Remanufacture
| Repair
| Reuse
| Sufficiency
| Upcycling & Downcycling
| Upgrade

Design for Circularity goes far beyond material flows. It includes the whole value chain and other dimensions, for example, information flows that may indicate stakeholder interaction and collaboration of all levels beyond their direct tier. We believe a transformation from a linear towards a circular economy can only happen when people and organizations come together. Therefore, we apply a systems approach to define opportunities, design creative solutions, and implement them for long-term effect by encompassing multi-stakeholder values and promoting cross-industry partnerships.

Circular Supplies

The use of recyclable materials in production, e.g., renewable and bio-based materials, chemicals, and energy, increases recovery rates.

Example: Using waste as a renewable fuel

Processes have been developed that convert agricultural residue or waste like baled corn cobs, husks, leaves, and stalks into cellulosic bio-ethanol fuel for other industrial production processes.


The voluntary exchange of information, modification of activities, sharing of resources/products, and a willingness to improve another party’s skills for mutual benefit and a common purpose. Concepts and business models like sharing platforms follow this principle.

Example: Kalundborg

In Kalundborg, Denmark, several large companies and the municipality, all very resource-intensive, agreed to collaborate and recycle their waste and resources to achieve industrial symbiosis. Resources are recycled and shared in an almost closed-loop operation, anchored in a circular logic. A crucial element of industrial ecology implemented in Kalundborg is the application of effective waste management: recovering waste from one stakeholder that can be used as a resource by another. Today, 11 stakeholders are working together.


Design products that allow for easy adaptation of hardware and software.

Example: Fairphone

Fairphones are designed from several modules that make up the device (a bit like Lego bricks). This enables the users to quickly repair or swap out a broken module, like a cracked screen.

Navigate via list.

Product as a service

Offer customers a product against a subscription fee or usage-based charges instead of owning it. Closely linked to performance as a service, where customers get a pre-defined function service and quality level and commit to guaranteeing a specific result.

Example: Signify – Light as a Service

Instead of making a significant upfront investment to buy, install, and manage a new lighting system yourself, customers pay a monthly fee, and Signify takes care of the rest: from design and installation to operation and maintenance.


Reprocessing of waste materials for the original purpose or other purposes in a production process, excluding energy recovery.

Example: Kenoteq

Construction rubble is recycled into bricks for new buildings.

K-Briq® and K-Slip™

Design without compromise. The K-Briq® and K-Slip™ are revolutionary UK-manufactured low carbon, circular building materials for interior or exterior use, made from over 90% recycled construction and demolition waste together with recycled pigments, to offer a broad color palette.

Navigate via list.


Functional or aesthetical maintenance/repair of a product to restore it to its original, or upgraded or other predetermined form and functionality to resell it.

Example: BackMarket

Buys used smart devices, refurbishes, and sells them.


Calls for products or services to contribute to systems that renew or replenish themselves. This ultimately means the materials and energy that go into a product or process can be reintroduced into the same process or system, requiring little to no inputs to maintain it.

Example: Natura

Natura produces a vast range of products, including soaps, creams, and shampoos, all of which rely on the rich biodiversity of the Amazon for ingredients and materials, as well as the ‘bio-intelligence’ of the local communities. A key element of Natura’s business model is the concept of the ‘standing forest’ economy. Simply put, a tree has much more economic value standing up than being cut down. This philosophy has preserved over 2 million hectares of the Amazon rainforest and intends to increase this area to 3 million hectares by 2030.


Industrial process in which a previously used or non-functional product or component is restored to a “like new” or “better than new” state.

Example: CAT REMAN

With top-of-the-line technologies, Caterpillar inspects, disassembles, cleans, and salvages end-of-life cores before remanufacturing and reassembling them to match the OEM specifications of new Cat products.


Process of returning a faulty product to a condition where it can fulfill its intended use. Consist of no upgrade, could be part of refurbish.

Example: Briggs & Riley

Lifetime warranty and repair centers worldwide keep suitcases in use for decades, lovingly patched up.


Any operation by which a product or its components, having reached the end of their first use, are used for the same purpose for which they were conceived. This includes the continued usage of a product returned to a collection point, distributor, recycler, or manufacturer, as well as the reuse of a product following refurbishment.

Example: ihopa

Shared neighborhood tool crib: ihopa is like “Spotify for products.” With your membership, you can borrow all the products in your box as often as possible. An attractive and sustainable alternative to buying.


Reduce overall consumption and create customer value with fewer resources.

Example: Patagonia’s Don’t buy this Jacket-Campaign

On Black Friday 2011, Patagonia ran an ad campaign in the New York Times telling people, ‘Don’t buy this jacket,’ urging readers and customers to think twice before they buy. To lighten our environmental footprint, everyone needs to consume less. Businesses need to make fewer things but of higher quality.

© Patagonia

Upcycling & Downcycling

Upcycling is converting materials into new materials of higher quality and increased functionality.

Example: Freitag

Freitag is a Swiss manufacturer that produces upcycled bags and backpacks from truck tarps.

Downcycling is converting materials into new materials of lesser quality and reduced functionality. When mechanical methods recycle plastic bottles and materials, the plastic gets weaker. However, downcycling makes it possible to put recycled materials to good use still.

Example: Ege Carpets

A typical example of the downcycling process includes transforming plastic bottles into carpeting or fleece fibers and turning fleece and carpeting materials into plastic lumber products.

Navigate via list.


Process of enhancing a product’s functionality, performance, capacity, or aesthetics.

Example: Ultimaker 3D Printer Upgrade Kits

With Ultimaker Upgrade Kits you can bring the Ultimaker 2 and the Ultimaker 2 Extended to the same technical level as the new Ultimaker 2+ and the Ultimaker 2 Extended+, respectively. This allows you to upgrade your “old” Ultimaker or Ultimaker Extended to the “new” Ultimaker 2+ or Ultimaker 2 Extended+. The estimated assembly time is less than one hour.

The wording might differ…

You, your peers, or your stakeholders might use different terms and circular principles while discussing how to move forward in or in the direction of a circular economy. Actually: We are 100% certain that you and we will use different terms and circular principles. And that is fine! There is no one-and-only true definition of circular economy, and all contexts differ. But with the abovementioned examples, we can reach a shared understanding and move forward.

Let’s build a circular future.

Michael Leitl

Michael Leitl

Innovation & AI Strategy

After studying chemistry, being a long-time editor at “Harvard Business Manager”, a member of the innovation team at “Der Spiegel” and more: Michael brings a wealth of knowledge to the team and our partners.

Join our newsletter and stay informed about our latest work and thoughts

* means the field is Required

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.