Jan 23, 2019

Circular economy, the next big thing in design 

Imagine living in a new world where you could re-design everything: from objects to houses, from business models to economic systems. The good news is: we are already living in this new world.

With all the current disruptive tools and technologies: artificial intelligence, internet of things and biomimicry – our design aspirations are limited only by our creativity. So why not challenge ourselves to re-think, re-design and re-purpose? 

This new column is our invitation to this challenge. Come along and let’s dive into the brave new world of circular economy and circular design.


Circular economy: no landfill required 

In nature, there is no landfill as there isn’t waste. In other words, materials flow in circles, one species waste is another species food. Things grow, die and return to the soil. Then the cycle begins again and is circular.

Humans, instead, live in a much linear “mode”. In fact, the dominant economy is linear as “we take, we make and we dispose of”. Therefore, no wonder landfills are ever growing and having all sorts of negative impacts on the planet. 

Instead, a circular approach to economy challenges us to incorporate the living world cyclical model where resources are kept in use for as long as possible and then retaken and regenerated at the end of their service life. 

The circular economy is based on three principles: 

  • Design out waste and pollution
  • Keep products and materials in use
  • Regenerate natural systems

| Be encouraged by Elle MacArthur Foundation video


Circular design: made to be re-made 

“Design is integral in the shift to the circular economy.” – asserts Ellen MacArthur, creator of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. She is absolutely right, we can’t talk about the circular economy without talking about circular design. 

Circular design is about creating products and services that no longer have a lifecycle with a beginning, a middle and an end. The purpose is to design products that can “be made to be made again”, as well put by Tim Brow, IDEO CEO. There will be as result less waste and more value added to the ecosystem.

| Be inspired by Tim Brow explanation

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Circular design | some examples

Let’s then look at some cases of circular design principles applied by brands and designers at the last Milan Design Week 2018 . Here some of our favourites:


Kartell Bio Chair 

The experience of Italian brand Kartell is significant as they developed a revolutionary material in the furniture industry: the Biodura.  Claudio Luti, president of Kartell, explains:

“Our recipe is based on discarded organic materials, with the addition of micro-organisms, to make a biomass similar to plastic, for a few extra euros. I have tested this material, named Biodura. The result is very aesthetically pleasing.”

The research into BIODURA™️ has led to the creation of the Bio Chair by the designer Antonio Citterio. Besides being elegant and durable, the chair in the right conditions can be biodegraded at the end of its lifetime.

|More on the BIODURA™️ and Bio chair here


3D Housing 05


Affordability, sustainability and creativity are key when we think about the 3D printed houses. These type of construction drastically reduces the waste and, by requiring less cement, it decreases the CO2 emissions originating from this material.

The 3D Housing 05 house was designed by the architect Massimiliano Locatelli and was created as a response to the growing housing crisis. The construction was built from concrete with a combination of cementitious powders, binders, and aggregates. Hence it could be demolished, pulverized, and reconstructed with the same material. 






 Ecopixel  is an Italian project by producer Claudio Milioto and designer Jan Puylaert, who have created a new way of recycling plastic based in the never-ending recyclability concept. 

What they do is recycling mono-polymer plastic, which can be melted and re-melted an infinite number of times resulting in a forever circular material. As result, the extraction of raw materials will never be needed again. 

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From linear to circular: go world

Transitioning from a linear economy to a circular one is definitely not easy. A whole new mindset for business, potentially worth around a trillion dollars according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, is currently on the rise.

IDEO and Ellen MacArthur Foundation have partnered together and created the Circular Design Guide, a guide that aims to “help innovators create more effective and creative solutions for the circular economy. Solutions that are invaluable for people, give businesses a competitive advantage, and are regenerative for our world.”

We are beyond excited and full of hope to witness and take part in the redesign of the world! 

We hope you feel the same and if you do, stay tuned and let’s explore this brave new circular world together.


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Photo Credits

Circular Economy 01 – 02Bio Chair Kartell | 3D Housing ph. Luca Rotondo | Ecopixel 01 – 02 and Spazio Rossana Orlandi

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