Transitioning towards a Circular Economy

As part of our final year at the Royal College of Art, we decided to team up and work on a year long exploration project on the topic of service design and the circular economy; and would like to take advantage of this space to tell you a little bit about it and thank Opendesk for their trust and commitment to our project.

First things first: What is Circular Economy?

The Circular Economy is a concept that describes a sustainable economy - one in which any types of waste emission, by-product, surplus, damaged or unwanted goods are seen as a nutrient or raw material for a new production cycle. This is very much aligned to how natural ecosystems behave - for example, when a tree grows it performs certain functions, yet when it dies it becomes the food for many organisms to grow on.

Circular Economy Framework

Circular Economy framework / Source

The concept of the Circular Economy is important because it presents a framework to radically change the way we design products, services, and systems. We think it’s an exciting design challenge for any designer, and it certainly has been so for us over the last year in which we have dedicated all our passion to designing circular services.

Over the last couple of years, we have been perceiving growing momentum around the topic - from political endorsements to many companies are adapting existing or adopting new business models inspired by it. There have even been celebrity endorsements - such as Leonardo DiCaprio giving it a platform during his Oscar acceptance speech! We’re glad to hear so many powerful and influential people talking about one of the biggest problems we face as a society: our planet and our current habits that are destroying it.

As designers, this topic has truly influenced our beliefs and our design ethos. We firmly believe that as designers we hold a great responsibility. Designing beautiful or useful things is great, but the thing we notice most is that designers do not necessarily think about the end-of-life stage of the products they create. For us, the end-of-life of any product should be an integral part of the design process - and we think it’s time to take that kind of responsibility when we design.

In order to move towards a Circular Economy, we need a platform for openness and transparency of information - and we see that Opendesk very much embodies this idea. We’re witnessing a new industrial revolution, with new technologies paving the way for a more democratized manufacturing and design process.

We also saw that Opendesk is already contributing in some ways towards circularity. And the simple fact that users are able to have their items produced locally and on-demand already disrupts in several ways, including:

  1. Costly, timely and CO2 heavy shipping of materials is reduced or eliminated.
  2. Through producing only what is needed, waste is reduced.
  3. Lead times are 2-4 weeks compared to a 8-12 market standard.

Taking the Opendesk business model as a start we wanted to see how we could make it contribute even more to the Circular Economy. We focused on 3 subjects:

  • Origin transparency, to tell the story behind each Opendesk product (we call it the “storytelling platform”)
  • Alternative services, such as Care, Aftercare & Repair of Opendesk products
  • Exploring a second hand market for Opendesk products
Circular Economy by Andrea and Mariana talking with Scarlett and Cecile from Opendesk

We’ve designed a set of prototypes for each of these interventions, and we will be presenting them at our final exam and during the Show at the RCA during 26 June - 3rd July 2016.

Andrea and Mariana working on their Circular Economy project
Presentation of the Circular Economy project by Andrea and Mariana

Today we would like to introduce you to the first one: the storytelling platform that allows users to see where their product was made, who designed it, and possibly in future who owned it before them. It’s like the ‘Birth Certificate’ and family album for your desk all in one easy to find location.

We’re happy to introduce this - and look forward to seeing where the future lives and stories of Opendesk products will take us in few years time.

First storytelling page

If you would like to contact us with questions/comments regarding the project, please feel free to do so:

Andrea Fischer

Mariana Pedrosa

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