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Designing resources better

Date: 6/09/2013 | Author: Adrienne Robins

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Quantum Public Relations director Adrienne Robins says now is the perfect time to get the design community involved in resource efficient processes

Design is increasingly taking centre stage when it comes to the use of secondary commodities. But while designers and policy makers develop solutions that turn the circular economy from rhetoric to reality, we can’t forget that for some it’s simple initiatives and advice that can drive real change.

While many designers, architects and product developers have been committed to waste minimisation, resource efficiency and closed loop manufacturing for years, the circumstances are now better aligned than ever before for an increased level of design input and uptake.

Combine consumer awareness with under pressure supply chains, environmental targets, and advanced technological understanding and capability and you can see why this really should be the circular economy design era.

And there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that designers are really getting on board with their circular economy role. When the Associate Parliamentary Design and Innovation Group (a cross party group considering and advising on design policy) published its top ten most interesting design projects of 2012/13 it was good to see The RSA’s Great Recovery project highlighted.

Also interesting was the fact that a number of the other projects within the top ten incorporated circular economy factors, such as product life extension and end of life consideration within their design as standard.

One of the top ten projects, nominated by the BDI (the trade body for Industrial Designers) was an innovative wheelchair system, called Chair 4 Life. Designed by Renfrew Group, and commissioned by the NHS, the Chair 4 Life is said to improve quality of life for disabled children and young adults.

Compact and lightweight, the modular design allows the seat to grow with the child and be easily adapted to changing requirements, so reducing the need to regularly renew the entire wheelchair, so reducing waste and the requirement for new material resources.

Extending the lifespan and usefulness of a product is clearly key to getting maximum resource value. If you haven’t yet seen the top ten, it’s worth a look and can be found at:

Another source of circular economy inspiration is the recent list of projects that have been approved for funding under round two of The Great Recovery’s and Technology Strategy Board’s “New Designs for a Circular Economy” feasibility competition.

Projects cover a variety of end markets and technologies ranging from DIY (the launch of DIY power tool rental systems and paintbrush recycling solutions) through to marketing (the potential to recycling 1.1 million tonnes of plastic advertising banners a year) and technology (the replacement of indium materials in touch screen displays to improve recyclability).

If you’re looking for something to read on your tablet by the pool – then you can download the full project details from (details are on the blog page).

While there’s a lot of great work to get excited about, we need to ensure that design feasibility studies become reality. That requires engagement with and buy-in from manufacturers, retailers and end users. Unlike the design and policy sectors, these are all audiences who prefer to hear about concrete, practical advancements which deliver lifestyle improvements and tangible (quick) return on investment.

This week I’ve been discussing the resource efficiency commitments of the retail sector; one thing is clear – resource efficiency is a top priority.

However, there is a wide spectrum of activity and levels of progress ranging from those who have made significant advancements to those who are only just starting to make improvements.

Importantly, I wasn’t just speaking to those retailers (and retail environments) that are traditionally associated with progressive environmental programmes.

These were brands, big and small, whose activity is impressive but somewhat under the radar.

When asked about how designers could help them to advance their resource efficiency programmes further, they were hopeful that by working more closely with design teams new and valuable initiatives could be brought to market.

However, they stressed that within the retail sector it’s sometimes the simple solutions that can effect an important change. For one retailer the simple act of putting a padlock onto the recycling bin (and making the manager responsible for the material quality) delivered outstanding results. Sharing simple stories such as these, alongside information on science-led innovation, will ensure that we engage at all levels.

Novelis Every Can Counts


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