Circular Economy Primer

the circular  economy by disrupt design

SHIFTING TO CIRCULAR SYSTEMS

The circular economy is a $4.5 trillion opportunity. It’s a new way of looking at the relationships between markets, customers and natural resources, leveraging innovative new business models and disruptive technologies to transform the current “take, make, dispose” economic model.
— World Business Council for Sustainable Development

It’s exciting when movements catalyze and bring together many great ideas. That is exactly what the Circular Economy Movement is doing. An overarching umbrella concept, it is used to describe the rapid, intentional shift from a linear take-make-waste economy to a circular one that values resources from pre-extraction to post-disposability.

Companies and governments around the world are embracing and integrating the many theories and approaches of the Circular Economy. Reports demonstrate the economic validity of this transition and the opportunities that designing products for circularity offers.

The circular economy aims to eradicate waste—not just from manufacturing processes, as lean management aspires to do, but systematically, throughout the life cycles and uses of products and their components.
— Mckinsey and Company, 2016 report on the Circular Economy
from linear to circular economy

There are several key approaches that make up the Circular Economy, but the most important are:

  • Turning products into product service systems (PSS) that maintain value across the entire life of the product
  • Taking a scientific life cycle approach to understanding the impact of design and production decisions
  • Looking to nature for solutions through Biomimetics and natural principles
  • Understanding and working within the two main nutrient cycles: biological (things that degrade and contribute back to nature) and technological (things that go back into a production cycle)
  • Using systems thinking to understand feedback loops and dynamics while also avoiding unintended consequences
  • Viewing circular systems as regenerative, which means they offer positive elements back to the system rather than detract from it and destroy
  • Maximising effectiveness and efficiency of materials and resources through design, known as eco-design strategies or sustainable design principles 
 

Leyla Acaroglu explains systems thinking for the Circualr Economy at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's 2017 Summit in London. 

Looking beyond the current “take, make and dispose” extractive industrial model, the circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design. Relying on system-wide innovation, it aims to redefine products and services to design waste out, while minimising negative impacts. Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, the circular model builds economic, natural and social capital.
— Ellen MacArthur Foundation

The concept of the Circle Economy has been around since the late 1980’s, but right now is blooming into a global economic shift that will significantly change the way we do busines, consume products and design systems. The World Economic Forum and the European Commission have platforms and mandates to advance the Circular Economy. 

 
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is transforming entire systems of production, distribution and consumption. Unprecedented levels of technological innovation are giving rise to new models of consumption – products and services – including where and how they are being accessed. This transformation will create significant economic opportunity across developed and emerging economies with the arrival of new business and operating models.
— World Economic Forum
 
How do we sustain economic growth in a world of finite natural resources and a growing population? With natural resources becoming ever more difficult to obtain and our industrial processes exponentially impacting our environment. Our future economies, by necessity will have to mimic the Earths Natural systems.