Circular Design 101: Principles and Best Practices for Creating Sustainable Products

July 9, 2024

"Circular Design 101" introduces key principles and best practices for creating sustainable products. The post outlines five principles: design for longevity, repair, disassembly, recyclability, and biodegradability. It recommends choosing sustainable materials, minimizing material diversity, creating modular designs, using standardized components, and optimizing manufacturing processes. A case study of Evergreen Labs' Glassia Water demonstrates these principles in action. The article emphasizes collaboration, customer education, and iterative implementation, concluding with a look at future technologies in circular design and a call for sustainable product creation and consumption.

In today's world, where environmental concerns are at the forefront of global discussions, the concept of a circular economy has gained significant traction. At the heart of this innovative approach lies circular design – a methodology that aims to create products that are not only functional and aesthetically pleasing but also sustainable throughout their lifecycle. This blog post will explore the key principles and best practices of circular design, offering insights from our experience at Evergreen Labs.

  1. Key Principles of Circular Design:

a) Design for longevity: The first principle of circular design is creating products that stand the test of time. This involves using durable materials and robust construction methods to ensure products remain functional for as long as possible.

b) Design for repair and maintenance: Products should be easy to repair and maintain, extending their usable life. This principle encourages the use of standardized parts and accessible components.

c) Design for disassembly and reassembly: At the end of a product's life, it should be easy to take apart. This facilitates the reuse or recycling of individual components.

d) Design for recyclability: When a product can no longer be repaired or reused, its materials should be easily recyclable. This principle involves choosing materials that are compatible with existing recycling systems.

e) Design for biodegradability: For certain products, designing them to safely biodegrade at the end of their life cycle can be an environmentally friendly option.

Photo credit: Fastcompany
  1. Best Practices for Implementing Circular Design:

a) Choose sustainable materials: Opt for materials that are renewable, recycled, or have a lower environmental impact. At Evergreen Labs, we've found that bamboo, recycled plastics, and organic textiles often make excellent choices.

b) Minimize material diversity: Using fewer types of materials in a single product makes it easier to recycle at the end of its life. This practice also often simplifies the manufacturing process.

c) Create modular designs: Modularity allows for easy replacement of parts, upgrades, and customization. This approach not only extends a product's life but can also enhance user satisfaction.

d) Implement standardized components: Using standard parts across product lines or even industries makes repair and recycling more straightforward.

e) Optimize manufacturing processes: Efficient production methods that minimize waste and energy use are crucial for truly sustainable products.

Photo credit: Ellen Macarthur Foundation
  1. Case Study: Glassia Water by Evergreen Labs

At Evergreen Labs, we've put these principles into practice with our Glassia Water social enterprise. This pioneer in innovative, scalable water refill facilities is designed with circularity in mind from the ground up.

a) We chose glass as the primary material for bottles due to its durability, reusability and infinite recyclability. This packaging type also replace single-use plastic bottles having a direct environmental impact.

b) The refill facilities are constructed using standardized, easily replaceable parts, facilitating easy maintenance and repair. We've also partnered with local technicians to ensure our stations can be serviced quickly and efficiently, adding both longevity and community value to our system.

c) The modular nature of Glassia Water facilities allows us to adapt and upgrade them as technology improves, significantly extending the system's lifespan.

d) Local services and local products: By only servicing clients within a 50 kilometer radius we can ensure our business model remains feasible and has the minimum environmental footprint.

By designing a system that eliminates single-use plastic bottles altogether, Glassia Water demonstrates how circular design principles can be applied not just to products, but to entire service models. This approach has allowed us to create a solution that is not only environmentally friendly but also economically viable and socially beneficial.

Photo credit: Glassia Water
  1. Practical Tips from Evergreen Labs' Experience:

The Future of Circular Design:

As technology advances, we're seeing exciting possibilities for circular design. 3D printing is enabling on-demand production of spare parts, while AI and IoT are helping to optimize product use and maintenance. At Evergreen Labs, we're exploring how these technologies can further enhance our circular design practices.

Circular design is more than just a trend – it's a necessary shift in how we approach product creation and consumption. By embracing these principles and best practices, we can create products that not only meet consumer needs but also contribute to a more sustainable future. Whether you're a designer, manufacturer, or consumer, you have a role to play in the circular economy. Let's work together to close the loop and create a more sustainable world.