Smart Material Choices

Learn to make smart material choices by asking the right questions. These steps will help you make better choices about what materials go into your products as well as their impact on the wider system.

Materials play an essential role in a circular economy, so we need them to be made of safe ingredients that can be continuously cycled. By designing products with materials that come from, and safely flow, into their respective nutrient cycles, you can be part of creating an optimised materials economy that eliminates the concept of waste. So let’s get materials savvy!



Consider what parts your product is made of (tags, zipper, basic fabric, buttons, etc.) Here’s an example of a product and the mapping of its parts:


Now, let’s look at the individual parts. Download the Smart Material Choices worksheet, and create a list of the raw materials and components required to build or manufacture your product.


Using the decision tree in the worksheet, see if you can estimate the value of what goes into your product and how smart your material choices are.


If any material(s) are not yet fit for the circular economy, ask yourself: “What would be better alternatives?” “Is it possible to meet the user need without wasteful materials?” For examples of materials that have been assessed for material health, material reutilisation, renewable energy, water stewardship, and social fairness see the Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Materials for Designers resource.


If you’d like to go next level and learn more about materials we have a few suggestions for you:


Most importantly, pick a focus and create a 'through-line' to your story. Once you have the components in place, think about how you would tell this story to someone over drinks, or to your grandmother. Is it relatable? Does it hold up outside of your industry and context?



Developing Product Passports for recovery and reuse

Maersk Line’s aim is to make new ships from used materials by designing vessels for quality recycling. To do this they developed a Cradle to Cradle Passport to identify and then recycle materials.


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The Circular Design Guide is a collaboration between the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and IDEO. To give your feedback, email us directly or join our linkedin group.

Copyright © Ellen MacArthur Foundation + IDEO 2017.