I participated on 19.5.2020 in an online event “Accelerating the shift to circular” hosted by Livework studio, a global service design company, and Metabolic, a Dutch consulting company focused on sustainability and circular economy. The topic of the event was exploring the synergies between service design and industrial ecology, and the importance of moving towards a circular economy.
As we are going through a global pandemic, we are starting to see the long-term impact it has on business. Add to that the environmental crisis that carries even more severe and more long-term impact, and it’s clear that there is an immense urgency for a change to happen.
Companies need to reconfigure their value proposition. In the end, it’s organisations that manage to do so in a sustainable way that will thrive.
From linear to circular
“There is no such thing as a sustainable product. There can only be sustainable product-service systems.”– Pieter van Exter, 2020
Pieter van Exter from Metabolic talked about the current linear system and the importance of moving to a circular economy or “circularity”.
Linear system is “take – make – dispose”. It’s about taking the raw material, making the product and in the end disposing of it as waste. Circular economy aims to eliminate waste and the constant use of new resources, hence making the life cycle circle.
Van Exter explained the simplified four-step-process of moving from linear economic system to a circular one. The four-step-process starts with analyzing the current state and identifying root causes throughout the whole product life cycle. In step two you set goals and think about the overall vision, not just the financial gain you can get from the product but all the key elements such as social impact, biodiversity, materials, etc. The third step is about identifying interventions and leverage, and figuring out how to get to your goal. Last step is implementation which includes developing business cases and engaging stakeholders.
Van Exter highlighted that throughout the whole linear to circular -process, you should constantly iterate and re-think your solutions. The key question you should always ask from yourself in every step is: “do we actually need this?” In short, should we try to make a bamboo version of a plastic straw, or should we rethink the need to even have straws in the first place?
From “can we make it” to “should we make it”
Sanne Pelgröm from service design company Livework studio talked about the evolution of service design and how to design with circular change in mind.
It is important to move from designing for individual needs to designing for the collective. The question in mind should move from “can we make it” to “should we make it” and “can the ecosystem handle it”.
In his work as a service designer, Pelgröm explained that when designing with circularity in mind, you take three aspects into consideration: customer, organisation and the chain collaboration, while simultaneously moving towards a new behavior in all three areas. The key is not just designing a service, but a service process.
Pelgröm also introduced an outline of the journey change in all three sections:
In customer segment, the goal is for the customer to evolve from detached consumption to engaged relation with the company.
In organisation level the design is about the general transformation from product oriented approach to more service oriented, essentially moving from cost driven to value driven. In order to do that, it’s important to understand the organizational dynamics: the culture, strategy, processes, etc.
The chain collaboration aspect brings a new layer of dimensions. The goal should be to move from efficiency oriented system into a collaboration oriented. Collaboration could be for example between sectors: two industries sharing cycles can unlock solutions and have a major impact in the overall chain.
Customer in mind
Van Exter reminded that throughout the whole process, you should never forget about the actual end user: the customer. He gave an example of Pepsi’s new type of bioplastic they developed for the packaging of a bag of chips. The product ended up being banned due to being too loud, over 95 decibels.
Pelgröm was asked in the event how to keep circular thinking through the design process, and whether there are specific tools that help you come up with sustainable solutions. Pelgröm recommended that instead of looking for specific tools, you should reach to specialists and involve them in the process and let them contribute. Balancing all aspects early on before it becomes too technical and complicated is key.
The event tackled interesting points about service design, its future and circular economy. There are still a great number of challenges in this area, for instance the majority of companies haven’t stopped thinking in terms of indefinite economic growth, and most targets they have are very much growth-related. Change is never easy and it can’t happen in only one area, but cohesively all around.
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