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Designing, making and re-making

Jesse Putzel Jesse Putzel 30 Oct 2013

“Designing, making and re-making for a circular economy” was the theme of a recent event I attended at the Design Museum. Run alongside the ‘#Future is here’ exhibit, the event was part of the on-going work of The Great Recovery, a collaboration between the Technology Strategy Board and the Royal Society of Arts. Their aim is to increase collaboration between those responsible for different stages of a product’s life and to create initiatives which move us towards a circular economy.

One clear theme emerged: we need to ‘start with the end in mind’ and make sure designs are better informed by those who have to deal with products over their life. This means working together with designers, material experts, manufacturers and resource managers.

The panel of speakers, which included all of the above, agreed we should be asking more questions to inform our designs and be prepared to change tact. Designer Chris Sherwin explained how Seymour Powell re-designed a new packaging product after testing with recycling companies showed it couldn’t be recycled. Nick Cliffe from Closed Loop Recycling demonstrated how incremental changes made to the design of milk containers (putting less colour in bottle tops, shrinking labels and changing adhesives) has helped improve their recycling rates significantly.

‘#The Future is here’ exhibit showcased a range of innovative concepts, which all demonstrate the sort of thinking and approaches that are needed.

A shoe from Puma’s ‘InCycle’ collection is made from a mix of organic cotton, linen and a biodegradable plastic to allow it to be used, recycled and composted, helping to deal with the millions of shoes sent to landfill each year.

The Agency of Design showcased their ‘connected’ LED lighting which allows the manufacturer to keep track of the product through its whole life and makes it easy for users to return key components for replacement.

The ‘connected bulb’ from Agency of Design a new ‘circular’ LED concept

Also on show was a redesign of the common toaster… with three different designs to showcase design for robustness, easy and efficient repair and easy recapture of materials, all recyclable and all designed to maximise the value of materials.

The ‘optimist toaster’ from Agency of Design, built to last and continuously recyclable (with a counter to track the rounds of toast it’s made over its long life!)

There are already some great examples of new building products taking a similar approach. The Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Prize has shortlisted some amazing products, from mushroom insulation which can be ‘grown’, bricks which use bacteria to produce a natural cement, to bio-based paints which actually try to clean the air, rather than pollute it (use the link above to watch a video about each).

While the materials sector is making great strides, we need a greater focus on design for easier deconstruction and procurement models that help realise the value of materials over their life. For this, we need more collaboration between designers, contractors, suppliers, end users, and ‘users at the end’ e.g. the demolition and resource management industries.

At BAM, we’re starting to do more on our projects. We continue to reclaim and re-salvage valuable materials wherever possible, we’ve developed a material re-use scheme for projects to share surplus materials with each other and we’re working with suppliers to specify more sustainable materials and those that can be taken back for reuse or recycling at end of life.

Salvaging bricks at our Acton ARK Primary School Project

We also recently became members of The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Circular Economy (CE100 companies) – a three year programme aimed to promote circular economy thinking by collaboration across different industries, which will inform our strategy going forward.

Jesse Putzel is a Senior Sustainability Manager at BAM.



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