Design Thinking for the Planet

Circular thinking — from economics to design – is reshaping our world. By changing our thinking we change our relationship with consumption.

Circular thinking is a way of approaching problems of design and consumption that view what we create, use, and dispose of in ways that are harmonious with nature, not against it. A growing movement has formed looking at how we can build economies around sustainable living through a design approach that sees what we consume as not just a product, but part of our natural ecosystem.

Drawing on some examples from the recent issue of the Censemaking Innovation Newsletter we look at this evolving approach to design, design thinking, and sustainable innovation.

Circular Economy

Architecture has been one of the design disciplines that has started to grapple with the life of its products in a big way (literally and figuratively). At the recent event as part of Dutch Design Week, architects gathered to discuss the concept of the circular economy and what it means for the field of design, cities, and the future. The panel discussion provides a glimpse into how the field seeks to innovate with a smaller footprint on the future.

Why care? Architecture provides one of the greatest footprints on our planet. Buildings, the materials that go into them, the energy required to sustain them, and the uses they encourage have a significant environmental impact. Architects understand the way we design our buildings can shape behaviour for generations. Listening to what they have to say (and seeing what they are doing) can provide lessons for designers from any discipline.

Circular Design

A circular approach to product development isn’t just good for the planet, it’s necessary for business survival. This is the case that Dutch product designer Richard Hutten makes. It also means being frank about the challenges ahead and confronting some of the approaches to sustainable living that don’t work such as his view that plastic recycling is bullshit and his argument that if we don’t switch to a circular economy model our business and planet won’t survive. Hutten recently debated Andrew Morlet, the head of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation , whose circular design resources are among the most widely circulated. The debate on what we use in our design and what we create provides much food for thought.

So what? John Thackara, drawing on work of the UK Design Council, noted that 80 per cent of the environmental impact of any product is determined at the design stage. The materials and choices we make in whatever product (or service) we generate influence what and how things are done moving forward. Richard Hutten has chosen to abolish plastic from his design because it’s not sustainable. Every piece of plastic ever created still exists and adding more — no matter how we reuse or recycle it — won’t help the planet.

Learning More?

For those of you interested in learning more about the Circular Economy and what it might mean for your business and the planet Mark Kuznicki from The Moment and Christian Bason from the Danish Design Centre are teaming up to deliver a webinar on this very topic based on their recent presentation at the Service Design Global Conference. Learn what the circular economy is and how organizations worldwide are embracing this new design ethos to make a difference to the planet and their bottom line. Thursday, November 14th, 2019, 4pm (Eastern time). 

Cameron D. Norman

I am a designer, psychologist, educator, evaluator, and strategist focused on innovation in human systems. I'm curious about the world around me and use my role as Principal and President of Cense Ltd. as a means of channeling that curiosity into ideas, questions, and projects that contribute to a better world.

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