Going Circular

Event: LOOP Circular case studies, webinar series in May and June 2020

A couple of months ago I participated in a circular design workshop, where I became acquainted with the key concepts of circular design. As the topic was really interesting, it was inspirational to find a webinar series with presentations of concrete cases how to move from linear to circular economy in practise. Webinar series was provided by LOOP which is a Nordic Innovation ecosystem with interest in making companies go circular. It was founded in 2018 as a cooperation between Avanto Ventures, Sitra and Nordic Innovation, and the network is continuously expanding. As circular economy demands partnerships and collaboration, LOOP ecosystem is a response to those demands.

The webinar series, which included four webinars, was held during May and June 2020 and all the cases were extremely interesting and highlighted well different aspects that must be taken into consideration in circular design – for example new business models, importance of collaboration and role of ecosystems. In this blogpost I will go through briefly three cases: case Fiskars Vintage, Omocom and TotalCtrl. In addition to shortly explain the cases, I will focus especially on discussing my main takeaways from the circular design point of view.

Circular into profitable business – Case Vintage from Fiskars

In the first webinar Nora Haatainen, Director, New Business and Growth, from Fiskars Group described how Fiskars Group, an old consumer goods company, has started to create value to the customers through new business opportunities in the circular economy. Fiskars Group has set sustainability targets, which aim to find ways for reusing, reselling, and recycling their main brand products. It was really interesting to hear how a company with a long history of manufacturing moves towards circular economy.

The project that Haatainen explained in her presentation was about one of Fiskars’ main category, tableware, and considered especially brands Iittala and Arabia. The purpose was to find out specifically what kind of aftermarket business opportunities there exists from circular economy point of view. Focusing on the smallest circular loop – reusing and reselling – is logical from the profitability perspective because it retains the value the best way as the products do not demand processing. As any business projects, also circular business projects must be profitable and valuable to the customer in order to be successful in the future. For this purpose, key performance indicators were specified right in the beginning of the project, defining aims for the business perspective as well as customer perspective (Picture 1).

Picture 1. Key performance indicators (Slide from the presentation of Haatainen)

It was interesting to hear the different steps of design process, how it proceeded from ideation, hypothesis creation and co-designing with the customers to business simulation and in the end, selecting four most potential service concepts for piloting. The first new service concept from the project – Vintage Service – is already normal business for Fiskars Group. It allows people to buy and sell old and used Iittala and Arabia tableware products through Fiskars Group’s own retail channels. Currently Fiskars Group has done piloting for another service concept, Arabia Tableware Service, which is a subscription-based tableware service.

For me, the presentation showed well that it is possible to move from linear to circular business models, but it also became clear that there are many challenges along the way. The first challenge is to look beyond the linear model – it requires a fundamental shift in thinking, because circular design demands overcoming the dominant industry logic. Another challenge is to remember that having a circular business model is not good enough, it must work also in practice. Based on the experiences from the project, Haatainen emphasizes the importance of the core team: they should have different kind of skills, a lot of can-do attitude, and they must be empowered. Another advise is to start piloting as early as possible in order to get things to move on – endless discussions will not take you anywhere.

Circular economy demands new solutions – Case Omocom

The other speaker of the first webinar was Ola Lowden, a Founder of Omocom, a Swedish digital insurance solution start-up. The story of Omocom began when the founders worked for Swedish government as digital trade experts and they interviewed big insurance companies about their capabilities to answer to the demands of new consumption types of sharing economy. They found out that insurance companies were not able to adapt their offerings to these new requirements. It became clear that moving towards sharing and circular economy requires a new kind of insurance model, which encourages people to share their belongings.

Based on this, Omocom created a digital insurance solution for sharing platforms. Having an insurance is important for sharing platform providers, as it builds trust between people who do not know each other beforehand. Also, even if damages happen, insurance keeps customers satisfied and willing to continue to use the sharing platform. In the solution, Omocom does collaboration with insurance companies who bear the insurance-related risk, while Omocom takes care for example development of software and insurance solutions.

From sharing and circular economy point of view the founders of Omocom found traditional insurance challenging especially for three reasons (Picture 2).

Picture 2. Challenges with traditional insurance and circular economy (Slide from the presentation of Lowden)

The first challenge with traditional insurance is the model, as the focus and responsibility are only on product owner, not on the product user. This kind of model does not encourage people to share their belongings, especially with strangers. The answer from the Omocom solution is to focus also on product user and provide short-term insurances that are suitable for renting and sharing. The second challenge is that insurance companies are highly dependent on data. If they do not have enough data for risk calculations, they are not willing to take the risk. Omocom deals with this challenge by collaborating with sharing platforms, and based on the data that they provide, Omocom has developed their own risk calculation algorithm, which can be used for risk assessment. Third challenge is that some of the services from insurance companies are still analogue, which makes them quite slow and inflexible, and digital solution responses to these challenges as well.

I think that Omocom is a good example of how moving from linear economy to circular economy creates new business opportunities. There is a need for new kind of solutions and business models, which answer to the demands of circular economy. Also, it clearly showed that in order to make a successful circular business model, it must be a part of an ecosystem of circular business models to ensure the circular flow of resources. This means, that when designing circular business models, the focus should be also on systems level.

Preventing food waste with technology – Case TotalCtrl

The topic of the last webinar was food waste, which was extremely interesting subject for me, as food and eating have been the subject of many of my work projects. From circular economy point of view, the food waste problem is enormous, and solving that is really crucial in the future. Charlotte Aschim, the Founder and CEO of Norwegian start-up TotalCtrl, gave a presentation of how their solution – food waste prevention software called TotalCtrl Restaurant – is tackling the problem in restaurant context (Picture 3).

Picture 3. TotalCtrl Restaurant (Photos from the presentation of Aschim)

The food waste problem became familiar to the founders of TotalCtrl already when working at grocery stores as students. Based on their own experience and later when doing collaboration with different restaurants, they noticed that food waste problem was due to the fact that many restaurants did not have a proper control over their food inventory. The result from this is that food expires quite easily and finding out how much food and what kind of food there exists in storage requires a lot of manual work. It was understood that there is a demand for an easy-to-use digital solution, which helps restaurants to know what kind of food they have in their storage, in which storage it is and when it is going to expire.

Based on the experiences with TotalCtrl Restaurant so far, it seems that it is possible to diminish food waste even up to 85%. In addition, the solution saves time and money, as it simplifies daily routines. For me, TotalCtrl was a good example of how going circular actually can go hand in hand with profitability. Also, it shows that sometimes with right kind of technological solution, it is possible to take a huge step in business and in profitability.

From the perspective of service design, it was interesting to hear the importance of observation in developing and designing the digital solution. Aschim mentioned that although restaurant staff answered to several questions during development work, many things that were important from the perspective of food waste did not come up until doing observation days in restaurants. It seems that many restaurants have inefficient everyday routines, that are taken for granted, and recognizing these could provide opportunities to improve business.

Above I went through just some of the cases which were presented in LOOP webinar series. If you are interested to know more concrete examples from circular economy and circular design, there is a possibility to join to LOOP digital ecosystem where all the cases are available.

Author: Erika Niemi-Vanala

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