Circular Design Series

SAP and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation came together to discuss the global circular economy. Brands, independent designers, experts and activists joined forces to discuss how they have made the Circular Economy central to their work. In the frame were topics of plastics, fashion and food.  

Plastics: A discussion on the impact of plastics and how design can help shape a circular future where there is no such thing as waste.

There is no question about the magnitude of the problem that is plastic pollution, especially in the wake of COVID-19 and the rise of single-use plastics. “I think the pandemic has shown us that change can happen really fast,” says Enviu’s Anne Poggenpohl, putting a positive spin on the subject. “And that we're quite adaptable. Now we have to build a lot more resilience within our way of designing, and approach it more holistically.” 

Safia Quershi, CLUBZERØ Founder & CEO, agrees. “It is a fantastic brief and a great opportunity. I think designers should be – more than ever before – attuned to developing products that have an end of life high probability or consideration put into what is going to happen to your designs. Thinking about not just a product, but how this product exists in the system. On the consumer side, how do you make this available? And how do you make it super easy and effective and exciting to use?” Both Poggenpohl and Quershi work towards practical business solutions to the global waste crisis: Poggenpohl by helping build companies that address social and environmental issues; Quershi by creating truly sustainable, zero waste alternatives for food and drink packaging.

Rethinking the system – and using design engineering and science to do so – is absolutely integral, adds Paul Priestman, Chairman of PriestmanGoode.

“Recycling must be seen as the last resort. It’s all about rethinking systems to stop waste being created in the first place.” 

Modularity, he suggests, along with design for disassembly and the use of mono materials which can be readily repurposed, are key to designing for longevity. “So you can take some elements out of it, but the main product remains and can be kept useful for longer,” he explains. “The last thing is future proofing of course, because if you can think ahead and we're designing products that won't come into service for five years, and we have to think about what the world will look like then.” 

“You have some very well intentioned professionals, whether design professionals or business professionals that simply don't have visibility into where the waste is occurring,” adds E. J. Kenney, SAP’s Senior Vice President and Global Head of Consumer Products.

“They don't have the tools and the technology to be able to affect change in the moment to be able to prevent future waste.” Thus, he says, digital technologies have a vital role to play in enabling and accelerating the realisation of the circular economy. 

“At the root of the problem is the transformation from linear processes to a networked and circular flow,” explains Kenney.

“Companies realise they have to cover the entirety of their value chain, not just simply what happens in their four walls. And this simply cannot be achieved with yesterday’s siloed ‘in-my-four-walls’ kind of thinking. It requires much more intelligent systems; systems that can sense and respond across company [and geographic] boundaries at scale.

These systems also have to unite business partners together with new levels of transparency, building new levels of trust, and in a way that allows businesses to face the increasing regulatory environment, especially as it looks at obligations around packaging and plastic taxes.”