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What do we mean by the circular economy?

The circular economy is a model that minimises the waste of energy and resources in industrial processes. It is a model based on re-using, repairing, refurbishing and recycling products and materials – as opposed to the current ‘take-make-dispose’ approach to production and consumption.

What is the designer’s role in bringing about a circular economy?

Studies show that more than three out of four decisions influencing the final choice of materials and manufacturing processes are made during the design phase whilst over 80% of the ecological and economic costs are made before the object is actually created. Design has a pivotal influence on the way that products and services are made and used – it is therefore a crucial element in a shift towards more resource-efficient economy.

How we created a design action plan for Scotland

Ahead of the European Commission’s new circular economy strategy, the Scottish Government has shown a desire to accelerate progress towards a more circular economy through the actions put forward in their report 2013 report Safeguarding Scotland’s Resources. However, until now a considered assessment of the role of design in this movement to a circular economy in Scotland has not been made.

Between February and April 2015, PDR worked with the Design Council to develop an action plan ‘Design for a Circular Economy’ for Zero Waste Scotland.

PDR and the Design Council adopted a design approach to jointly developing the action plan with key stakeholders through an assessment of user needs and two co-design workshops.

Building a map of stakeholders

A range of stakeholders representing industry, the design sector, policy, academia and the third sector were brought together in a collaborative process to jointly develop the action plan that is tangible, realistic and corresponds to market and policy needs.

As part of the process, a stakeholder map was created to provide a snapshot of design, industry and education initiatives in Scotland. It informed the selection of participants for the interviews and workshops to provide insight from the design sector, enterprises, education and policy.

You can download the stakeholder map here — Design for Circular Economy: Stakeholder Map [PDF]

Developing the 12 action points

Based on the interviews and workshops, the actions were refined into a shortlist submitted to a peer-review panel for scrutiny. The result was 12 actions divided into four thematic areas:

  1. business support and finance
  2. skills and education
  3. promotion and awareness
  4. policy and regulation

You can download a summary of the action plan here — Design for Circular Economy: Actions [PDF]

The challenge is to bring circular economy principles into existing education and policy interventions so that it is not seen as an add-on but an integral part of how companies think about design. For this to happen it’s essential to build both capability in the design community and appetite amongst businesses to innovate in the design and manufacture of products and packaging.

The case for a circular economy

The circular economy not only benefits the environment, it offers an opportunity to achieve greater efficiency and competitiveness by turning waste into a resource. It creates high value jobs doing the design work necessary to develop new processes and products that take advantage of recycled materials that can be used again and again.

Moving to a circular economy is not only possible, it is profitable, but that does not mean it will happen without the right policies

Janez Potočnik
Former EU Environment Commissioner

The new European Commission’s roadmap to Circular Economy Strategy recognises product design as an important area of intervention. The action plan gives Zero Waste Scotland an opportunity to champion the circular economy within the design for innovation policy agenda and place itself at the forefront of a resource-efficient economy movement.