THE PERFECT CIRCLE. #SUSTAINABILITYISFriday 8 April
We have a problem facing us and it’s a complex one. Densely populated mature nations of the West are consuming the bulk of world’s finite resources and energy, and there is rising demand from the world’s growing and increasingly affluent population. The same number of people as the population of London is added to the world every 38 days, and a growing middle class in China and India among others is increasing the strain on these resources. If current trends continue, by 2050 we will need a second planet in order to satisfy our demands for energy, commodities and water. This, obviously, is not sustainable. Every company needs to do its bit to move towards a circular economy, aligning themselves to macro-economic objectives and designing their businesses to deliver significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and associated resource-intensive activities. This will mean moving from a linear take-make-dispose system to one that repatriates materials either technically or biologically through closed loop systems. Novel business models can extract the maximum value from products and materials by as extending their lifetime or enabling them to be re-used. They can generate new revenue, transform a business’s relationship with its customers, address future supply chain risks and take advantage of supply chain efficiencies. There is a wide variety of business models and design strategies that support circularity principles, many of which have been around for years, if not decades. Walter Stahel wrote his first paper on the performance economy a year after the first Apollo landing 46 years ago. Philips’ pay per lux (selling lighting as a service) is the most high profile CE model embodying these principles. The engineering genius Buckminster Fuller embodied many core principles in his work that are now being deployed today enabled by new technology. The antecedents of biomimicry in construction can be seen in Ove Arup’s Kingsgate Bridge design from 1963. Acknowledging and being aware of historical activity is important in understanding the technical and social applications, collaborations and investment required in the current technical, market and social context. While a circular economy is the goal, even in a linear economy it is an important strategy for companies to be resource efficient. Defra calculates that UK businesses could benefit by up to £23bn per year through low-cost or no-cost improvements in the efficient use of resources. Giraffe’s work on resource efficiency with trade suppliers, flooring and brick and block manufacturers achieved significant resource and cost saving opportunities. A one-week assessment of a flooring manufacturing plant identified annual savings of £600,000, 146 tonnes of waste and 200 tonnes CO2e. This work becomes an important part of the picture in considering environmental performance and set in train further activity towards alternative circular models. So, how do we become more resource efficient? Measuring the carbon footprint of a business as well as its products and processes is instructive for setting goals within the innovation process. Analysing carbon demonstrates that companies with stronger environmental strategies have overall higher quality management and design teams. Much of Giraffe’s work involves undertaking Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) either to guide decision making or to prove demonstrable environmental benefits of the product, processes or business model through the supply chain. Giraffe’s LCA and eco-design advice work with Virgin Atlantic Airways (VAA) won a DBA Gold Award for Design Effectiveness. This award acknowledges the commercial benefits of design and the environment. The aim of the project was to reduce the environmental impact and costs associated with the Economy and Upper Class inflight meal service within the context of Virgin’s customer experience and brand efficacy. Working with the Virgin design team, MAP design and procurement teams the project involved a detailed analysis of every aspect of the design including functional/service requirements, material type, material quantity, material density, component lifespan and recyclability. The project aimed to make changes that would reduce the environmental impact and associated costs of the meal service while leaving a lasting legacy of the value of integrating lifecycle thinking into the early stages of design and procurement decision making. This would all need to be achieved while maintaining the core design principle of cost, aesthetics, function and brand and providing an improved user experience. The project achieved the following benefits: £ 8.63 million annual saving, 4% overall CO2e reduction on inflight service Weight saving: 129kg per aircraft with a fuel saving of 762 tonnes (2,400 tonnes of CO2) a year 10% reduction in waste 52% increase in recycling 25%reduction in storage required 9% improvement in customer satisfaction. This project highlights the benefits of factoring environmental analysis and eco-design principles from the outset and that aesthetically pleasing, functional, economic designs are not mutually exclusive to an enhanced environmental performance. Read more about the project here. The circular economy should not be seen as a panacea for business survival and growth presented in a deterministic way to companies. Innovation and business renewal is an essential, yet risky activity. However, the ultimate risk for a business and society as a whole is if it fails to consider alternative resource efficient product and service models and diversify its offering and customer base. This is a central part of implementing the circular economy which will ultimately support company, regional and national competitiveness and growth. Design for a circular economy requires delivering new products and services with lower environmental impacts throughout the entire lifecycle. It also requires the delivery of innovative and competitive business models, new collaborations and products and services with new design solutions. This program requires nothing short of major cultural and behavioural shifts changes in our belief system. This, of course, is massively ambitious and has an evangelical tone. So be it.