How design thinking can make the circular economy a reality

How design thinking can make the circular economy a reality

Design isn’t only about products – it can be applied to systems, too. Here, three design thinkers discuss how the right approach can accelerate the transition to a circular economy


PODCAST: Design thinking and the circular economy

How creatively applying design can save our planet

How can design thinking change business models, production models and banking to make an impact on how we use resources and change our world for the better? Three design thinkers share a roundtable discussion on how the circular economy and design thinking go hand in hand.

Listen to the podcast to find out more.

Design is a crucial tool in making the circular economy happen. Not only will it help us rethink products and how they are made, it will also help us re-shape systems in business and beyond. 


“With the circular economy, we’re thinking about designing organisations to support their desire to have a circular impact”

Chris Grantham, Circular Economy Executive Director, Ideo

Chris Grantham, Circular Economy Executive Director at Ideo, says: “When we think about the scope of design, that has drastically shifted. With the circular economy we’re thinking about designing organisations to support their desire to have a circular impact.”

This idea, of more broadly applying design, is called design thinking. Applying design thinking could change an entire business model, including KPIs and how a company measures its value.

It could also mean redesigning how a business is owned and governed. This can allow companies to capture and create value differently.
Design could also reimagine industry – breaking down competitive barriers to build co-operative chains of creation, which squeeze every bit of value out of resources to help counter environmental catastrophe.

Alice Bodreau, Strategic Partners Manager for Europe at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, says: “Circular design is a very important new way of applying design methodologies. But it is at its most powerful when you apply it with a business-and-systems thinking cap on as well.”

Alice cites French sporting goods chain Decathlon’s new rental model as an idea that has sprung from this new way of thinking. “It is much easier for me to rent a tent to go camping once a year than to buy one. At the same time, for companies like Decathlon there is an economical interest in those models.”

The rental model means companies must think about products in a different way. Under a rental model, for example, mass market products have to be designed and manufactured for longevity rather than for the highest profit margin.

As the first financial services strategic partner of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Intesa Sanpaolo has thought a lot about the redesign of systems. Fabio Salierno, the bank’s Head of Service and UX Design, says: “Circularity can be considered a kind of framework that enhances features that are in the design thinking mindset. And it adds some new opportunity for the design of new services.

“When we design services, we try to apply a systemic approach. We take into account the reciprocity of any exchange; we try to consider elements from other systems that could give new value for our services.”

 Intesa Sanpaolo’s most recent business plan, from 2022 to 2025, includes a significant contribution of €115bn towards society and the green transition, of which €8 bn of new lending allocated to the circular economy.

The bank has also launched an entirely digital bank, Isybank, to improve systems, reduce waste and give better outcomes for customers.

Listen to the podcast to learn more from Chris, Alice and Fabio about design thinking and the circular economy.

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