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Redesigning value

Take a close look at how we need to rethink value - and how we generate it - in a circular economy.

In a linear economy, little consideration is given to post-use. Value is often generated by selling goods to users, and those goods are rarely seen again. In a circular economy, value is created in a different way – through multiple cycles and cascades – and this implies a change in how we design business models, products and services. Let’s have a look at some of the ways value is created and how that impacts design.

The power of the inner circle It’s no accident that the loops in the technical cycle are ordered in the way that they are. The smaller the loop, the closer the product is kept to us, the user. The closer the product to the user the more profitable the activity. Repair, for example, is more profitable than remanufacturing, which in turn is more profitable than recycling. This is because there is less change and loss of embedded energy in the inner loops, so it costs less to achieve.

In 2012 Renault’s remanufacturing facility, at Choisy, in France registered a €100 million turnover. It’s more profitable than any of their other factories.

Remanufactured gearboxes are produced using 80% less energy, 88% less water, and 92% fewer chemicals than a factory producing new parts. Renault sells them with the same warranty as a new gearbox, but 30 – 50% cheaper.

The automobile industry is highly dependent on raw materials and certain precious metals. Keeping these within the system through a feedback process doesn’t only increase Renault’s returns and have positive outcomes for the environment, but it also reduces their exposure to the risks of supply and price volatility of raw materials.

Additionally, customers receive a better product at a reduced cost and the facility has created over 300 skilled jobs locally.

The power of circling longer This refers to maximising the number of consecutive use cycles (be it reuse, remanufacturing or recycling) and/or the time in each cycle. The greater the number of cycles, the more utility and income can be generated, and fewer virgin materials and energy inputs are required.

Did you know that in the first two years of life an average child needs 280 pieces of clothing, most of which are worn only for about two or three months? As a result, vast amounts of kids’ clothing ends up in landfill, losing value and creating adverse environmental impact. Circos have introduced a subscription model where members pay a monthly fee to access a range of high-quality clothing from different brands, delivered to the door. Clothes are returned when outgrown, and either cleaned and reused; or worn-out garments are recycled into something new. Clothing businesses are therefore incentivised to make higher quality, more durable clothing for the customer, since more revenue can be made through multiple cycles and reuse. This has the benefit of reducing the environmental impact and resource requirements associated with clothing young children.

The power of cascaded use This refers to creating additional opportunities across the value chain for products, components or materials to generate more value, before being returned to the start of the cycle – typically in the biological cycle.

Agriprotein, for example, takes organic waste, which is expensive to dispose of and leads to harmful methane emissions, to make high-quality protein animal feed. They use the remarkable nutrient-recycling capacity of the black soldier fly larvae to create high-quality protein in a very short time. Currently, animal feed is highly dependent on the aquaculture sector and finite resources leading to environmental degradation. What makes this particularly smart is that the residual material from the conversion process also creates a high-quality compost that can be used to regenerate soils. The result? A healthy revenue stream, reduced carbon emissions, regenerated farmland, and reduced pressure on wild fish stocks.

The power of pure circles Products that contain pure of materials, rather than a mixture (in terms of material choice or how they are combined) are easier to handle, repair, remanufacture or recycle. Additionally, designing out toxins makes products and materials safer to handle, whilst often meeting increasing legislative obligations. Niaga®️ has developed a range of production technologies for a new generation of medium-life ‘bulky’ products such as carpets and mattresses. These are difficult to recycle and contain more toxic chemicals than you can imagine. Because of this they often end up in landfill, which is a risk to human health and the environment. Products made with Niaga®️ technology can be recycled back into the same product. In addition to non-toxic, easily recyclable mono material components, they were able to design an adhesive that decouples ‘on demand’, making modular design maintenance easy. By leasing these 100% recyclable products, a profitable recycling industry could flourish, eliminating local waste issues and global demand for virgin materials at the same time.

The circular economy prompts us to ask, ‘how can we do more with what we have?’ Are there more flows that we can facilitate, more income streams that we can generate?

Can you think of any examples that fit one of these ‘powers’? Share them with others in the chat forum.

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Circular Economy: The Big Idea

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