Making circular economy a reality: the Circulytics tool

in Sustainable Design

“What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done”
This simple statement is a true nugget of wisdom and has the widest applications, from personal productivity to company objectives. The transition from a linear to a circular economy is no different and it won’t happen until it can be properly measured.

This is why the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (opened in a new window/tab) (the leading institution in promoting a circular economy) has created CIRCULYTICS (opened in a new window/tab), a tool to finally measure the progress of companies towards a circular business model.

Note:
To know how this relates to interior design, jump to the end on the post.
For more details about how circularity is measured just keep reading.

The word Circulytics on an abstract colorful background.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Ellen MacArthur Foundation (opened in a new window/tab)

What is circularity?

Both sustainability and circularity are concepts we’re only now starting to become more familiar with. They’re not the easiest concepts though.

What makes a product sustainable?
What is a circular business model?

To start with, the answers to these questions include a variety of different aspects (raw materials, production processes...).
To make things messier, these aspects are not always easy to track from the outside (for instance, how do we know if a company uses renewable energy?).
And if all this wasn’t enough, some companies are now trying to show they care about sustainability when in reality they’re just muddying the waters (the so-called greenwashing).

In this jungle, it’s important to start making some clarity. And that’s where CIRCULYTICS comes into play.

Graphic reporting the quote: "CIRCULYTICS is now the most comprehensive company-level circularity measurement tool in the world".<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Ellen MacArthur Foundation (opened in a new window/tab)

Bringing some clarity: the CIRCULYTICS tool

The 3 pillars of a circular economy are:
 

  • design out waste and pollution
  • keep products and materials in use
  • regenerate natural systems
Graphics representing the 3 pillars of the circular economy.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Ellen MacArthur Foundation (opened in a new window/tab)

 
With this in mind, CIRCULYTICS analyses all the actions of a company – from strategy to production – and comes up with a comprehensive circularity score.

In particular, circularity is seen as a combination of two types of factors:
 

  • Enablers: the prerequisites that allow a company to start moving towards a circular economy model.
  • Outcomes: the raw materials & energy used by a company and the products/services it produces.

The Enablers of circularity

In order for a company to even start moving towards a circular model, a few elements need to be in place:
 

  1. STRATEGY AND PLANNING
    Maybe trivial, but essential, the move towards a circular economy needs to be among the company’s priorities.
     
  2. PEOPLE AND SKILLS
    The company needs to raise awareness of circular economy through the organization (eg. offering training), promote its adoption and create dedicated roles in the organization.
     
  3. SYSTEMS, PROCESSES AND INFRASTRUCTURE
    The company needs to be equipped with software and tools that make it possible to think circular. This includes tools to track materials or simulate new designs for existing products.
     
  4. INNOVATION
    Circular design needs to be at the heart of product/process development. This starts by choosing materials that are not harmful to people & the environment. And it continues designing products that can be refurbished, repaired, and disassembled for recycling. Another example would be transforming products into services.
     
  5. EXTERNAL ENGAGEMENT
    The meaning and benefits of circular economy also need to be communicated and supported out of the company itself. This includes initiating a discussion with suppliers, customers, policymakers and investors.

The Outcomes of circularity

Once the Enablers are in place, a company can start designing and offering products/services that truly support a circular economy model. In particular this relates to:
 

  1. INPUT
    Using renewable sources of energy and sourcing more sustainable raw materials (eg. waste and by-products, recycled materials, virgin materials coming from sustainable and regenerative sources)
     
  2. OUTPUT
    Measuring the total amount of waste generated by the company and promoting initiatives aimed at recirculating products and materials. This includes designing products that last, introducing take back/refurbishing programs, and recycling.

Circular economy & interior design

Last but certainly not least, you might now be wondering how this relates to interior design.

Front view of a sustainable wood chair styled with a blanket on top and a dresser with books and dry flowers on the side.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Takt (via SforSustainable) (opened in a new window/tab)

As a matter of fact, the interior design industry generates a lot of waste from a lot of different angles including:
 

  • poorly made furniture that doesn’t stand the test of time and can’t be
    repaired
  • materials that are harmful to people & the environment and /or can’t be recycled
  • impulsive purchases of trendy items that are soon discarded

 
And the list could continue…
But this situation would change if circular economy were the norm! And a circular economy model can be applied to interior design in many ways:
 

  • quality products that are made to last
  • easy-to-disassemble products that can be repaired / whose materials can be reused for new products
  • beautiful products made out of recycled materials, waste…
  • production powered by renewable sources of energy
  • leasing schemes allowing customers to rent products instead of buying them
  • and many more...
Sustainable plastic chair styled outdoors with a table on the side.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Mater (via SforSustainable) (opened in a new window/tab)

These days, the interior design industry (and many others actually) is just starting to scrape the surface of more sustainable products & processes. So you probably won’t find any perfectly sustainable/circular company out there.

But it’s still important to start identifying and supporting the companies that are trying to make a change, and tools like Circulytics can help to navigate through the crowd of sustainability claims!
Because the market always offers what consumers demand. And choosing (more) sustainable products is the only way we can hope to see more and more of them on the market. And hopefully even see sustainability become the new norm!

If you’re interested in knowing more about sustainability in interior design, you’re welcome to check out SforSustainable (opened in a new window/tab), where I curate a selection of sustainable interior design products organized in 6 categories: furniture, lighting, accessories, finishes, tableware and textiles.

Graphic of SforSustainable, showing a sustainable chair, a cushion and a table lamp.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span> (opened in a new window/tab)
Credit: SforSustainable (opened in a new window/tab)

Cover image by @aaronburden (via Unsplash)

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Comments

Don't be shy, let me know what you think!

On Lucka Berlot said:
Hi Silvia! Thank you for this article, you opened many many interesting topics and showcases. It is very inspireing to read about how other designers tackle this challenges. I will check the tool for sure. I am a designer myself, trying to implement the circular economy to my work and this will be a good checkup for sure. Keep up the good work, you got a new follower for sure! All the best, Lucka
On Silvia - DforDesign said:
Hi Lucka!
First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to share your ideas here!
I‘ll be honest, this is one of the best comments I’ve ever received! I‘m truly honoured to know this article has been inspiring and useful to you! I fully believe in the potential of a circular economy and design can do so much to make it happen! So keep up your good work too! And let’s stay in touch! :) Silvia
On Fiona Mostyn said:
Some great tips here along with useful ideas to help to plan sustainability into your business. Thanks for sharing ?
On Silvia - DforDesign said:
Thanks for sharing your thoughts Fiona! I'm really happy you enjoyed the post! :) Hope this tool will soon become widespread in many industries!

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