september 24, 2020
We are in the middle of an exciting shift from traditional product design with a single user in focus to designing for a network of connected users on a global scale. Meanwhile facing a common challenge, to take better care of the globe.
Our current system is not viable for businesses, people or the environment and we need to redefine it. This is where the circular economy comes into play. This summer the Swedish government presented a national strategy for a circular transformation, and we see how large companies are adopting circular models into their businesses.
All of us design the future
The circular economy does not blame our current way of operating but suggests new ways of thinking. It is not about what we can’t do, but what we should do instead. Important decisions are made during the design phase that will influence not only how a product is made, used, and distributed but also how it will fit into the greater systems that it is part of. Circular design is not a matter only for people with design in their title, it is much broader and suggest collaboration between multiple disciplines to come up with more efficient solutions. Think of it as a framework of mindsets, methods, and tools for redefining strategic decisions at the early stages.
Circular design is not a matter only for people with design in their title, it is much broader and suggest collaboration between multiple disciplines to come up with more efficient solutions.
Circular consumption through the lens of the user
When talking about circular design, focus is often put on production, material flows and change of business models. But to transition to a circular economy, changes in consumption behaviors are equally important. Anneli Selvefors and Oskar Rexfeldt, researchers at Chalmers have developed the USE2USE Design Toolkit which focuses on circular consumption from the user’s perspective. Valtech is one of five partners in the ongoing research project - Design for Circular Consumption where we try these tools to see how they are relevant for our clients.
We kickstarted our collaboration with the first workshop last week, in which 30 colleagues from all disciplines were exploring some of our customers' businesses to understand challenges and find new opportunities for circular consumption.
Constraints build creativity
Limitation is a beautiful thing. We seem to be more creative if forced to solve things within certain boundaries. When a product ends up in landfill, we do not only waste the material it was made of but also all the energy used in sourcing, manufacturing and distribution, as well as the hours of labor put into making it.
“Waste is a failure of the imagination,” says Douglas Mc Master star chef and zero waste evangelist in his inspiring TED talk. Mc Master is pushing the limits by having completely removed the bin in his Zero waste restaurant Silo, making sure that every little thing that comes into his restaurant is turned into value, literally nothing goes to waste.
The Swedish brand Lifelong, were determined to eliminate the need of single-use plastic in their packaging and are now selling beauty products as a dry concentrate delivered in flat bags made of cellulose material. As a bonus, a dry formula means avoiding unnecessary shipping of water, when we in Sweden have perfectly fine water in our taps at home. Lush are selling soap, shampoo and conditioner in solid form completely removing the need for packaging and Unwrapped are delivering food in reusable containers. These are three Swedish examples of companies rethinking conventional products to eliminate waste.
Your future customer cares
The future generation expects brands to take full responsibility by acting sustainably. As an example, young Swedes think that companies have a greater responsibility than politics or society do (Ljung & Ungdomsbarometern, 2019). The same study shows that 1 of 2 would actively abandon brands that they don’t consider sustainable.
1 of 2 would actively abandon brands that they don’t consider sustainable.
Meanwhile, 80% of Swedish consumers state that what and how they consume is part of their identity, and circular consumption patterns increase in popularity. 1 out of 3 are saying they will buy more second hand, and 1 of 4 that they will rent things more often in the coming year (Svensk Handel, 2019).
We have seen three large Swedish companies presenting circular options as a complement to their usual business strategy only in recent weeks. IKEA started by making the promise of becoming a circular business by 2030 and initiated a strategic partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The latest news about the opening of the first-ever IKEA secondhand store in Eskilstuna quickly spread in Swedish and international press. Clas Ohlsson just declared that they are now starting a rental service of tools in all of their stores, and Beijer Byggmaterial revealed the news that they will give a second life to old bricks. These three examples show that things are starting to happen and that changes are driven by the request of customers.
“Sweden is a strong innovation nation and we are receptive to new technology. These are important basic preconditions for succeeding in the transition to a circular economy.”
Policymakers are on it
The Swedish government has set the goal of Sweden becoming the world’s first fossil-free welfare country, and a national strategy for a circular transition was released this summer. “Sweden is a strong innovation nation and we are receptive to new technology. These are important basic preconditions for succeeding in the transition to a circular economy.” The role of the government is to create preconditions for that transition, by policy instruments that promote innovation and circular business models.
A circular economy holds great potential for Swedish companies in terms of increased competitiveness, secured supply chain, effective resource handling, risk minimization, innovation, digitalization and revenue.
The role of digitalization
Digitalization is one key enabler for shifting to more circular businesses. E.g. by turning products into services or by facilitating re-use or sharing of products through collaborative platforms. Digital solutions also enable tracing of materials and increased information to customize products and optimize processes and production.
Tech, user experience, and business design are at the core of what we do at Valtech. We help our clients redefine how to create value for their customers through the latest technology. We have an important role to play in the transition to a circular economy. Feel free to reach out if you are interested in learning more about circular design and explore your circular opportunities together with us!
User experience research & design