Circular Strategies

Are there different or better ways to meet user needs by applying circular strategies?

In this workshop, you will redesign an everyday product by reflecting on the functional and emotional needs that it serves and using the circular strategy cards to brainstorm new solutions that are better for people and planet.

Tips: Great for any audience.

Minimum time: 1 hour

Assets: Workshop Presentation, 6 circular strategy cards, A3 printable worksheets, facilitator notes

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Circular Ventures 

In a circular economy, the most interesting opportunities may lie between organisations. Tapping into them will require a collaborative approach. "How might we scale circularity by leveraging the combined strengths and weaknesses of our organisations?"

In this workshop, you will put on your entrepreneur's hat to design a new circular joint venture based on your group's shared superpowers.

Tips: Works best with a diverse group coming from different companies or organisations. 

Minimum time: 2 hours

Assets: Facilitator guide, presentation, A5 challenge cards, A6 superpower cards

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Circular design brief for students

The Circular Design Case challenges students to take their first steps on the journey of creating products, services and systems for the circular economy. Participants choose an everyday object and rethink the system surrounding it - from creation to use and beyond. Once they have mapped the system, they identify intervention points to make their objects more circular – and finally frame their own design challenge.

Tips: Great for a group of at least 10 students.

Allow: 8 (MA students) to 12 hours (BA students)

Assets: Learning journey, Submission template

>> Download Google Presentation

Safe & Circular Product Redesign

Designers play an essential role in choosing materials that are fit for the circular economy. Not all materials are suitable for use in circular products because they contain chemicals of concern that may be polluting or potentially hazardous for humans or the environment.

Through this product redesign workshop, you will obtain an understanding of the implications of integrating safe and circular materials choices in the design process. You’ll explore a number of strategies for replacing and designing out chemicals of concern.

Tips: Works best with a diverse team coming from different backgrounds.

Minimum time: 1.5 hours

Assets: Presentation, worksheet, strategy cards

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The evolution of design thinking

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, explains how the design process is evolving to support the circular economy.

The power of feedback mechanisms

Tim Brown on why embedding feedback into your design is crucial for the circular economy.

Adopting a systems mindset

When designing for the circular economy, we need to get comfortable with the idea of zooming in and out.

Design for the circular economy

Tim Brown explains the circular economy and why designers need to get involved.

Find your circular opportunity

Designer Karoline Kirchhübel explains how to get started with the method 'circular opportunities'.

Get started with the Circular Design Guide

Tips for getting going with the guide.

Expanded user-centredness

Tim Brown makes the case for a new way of looking at users and stakeholders.

Case studies

G-Star RAW

G-Star RAW

G-Star RAW introduced the World’s First Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Gold Denim fabric as part of their Most Sustainable Jeans Ever which represents a holistic approach to sustainable denim design.




Materiom is an open-source online platform that offers “recipes” for designing with locally abundant biological materials.




Tarkett® has removed man-made Perfluorocarbons (commonly called PFCs) from all of its Tandus Centiva®-branded soft surface products and replaced them with a natural soil repellent.




Keen, a values-led, family-owned footwear brand, set the design goal to eliminate chemicals of concern from their watershed.


Ben and Jerry’s

Great brownies with a greater mission

The brownies in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream are made in a bakery that provides jobs and training to low-income residents of its local neighbourhood in New York. Photo credit: Mindmatrix


Tesla (Org)

Aligning personal and organisational purpose

Working for Tesla isn’t about the pay or the 'sexy' cars - it’s about meaning. “Accelerate the transition of sustainable transportation” isn’t taken lightly when it comes to the dedicated employees Tesla hires.


Thomas Leech

Learn, explore, learn some more

Royal College of Art student Thomas Leech used his studies to explore and prototype the use of leather offcuts to create a range of sustainable shoes for children. Image © Thomas Leech


Open Compute Project

Open source – the ultimate partnership

The Open Compute Project believes that openly sharing ideas, specifications, and other intellectual property is the key to maximising innovation and reducing complexity in tech components.



Performance, safety, and styling

Tesla understands what its customers want. They focus on the things that appeal to the car-driving masses: performance, safety, and styling. The fact that it uses no petrol is an added bonus.



Structure your thinking

Brainstorming isn’t just a free-for-all. To get the best out of the team follow’s simple rules for encouraging collaboration to get the ideas flowing.


Toaster Build to think

Build to Think

The Agency of Design built out three different versions of their toasters to test and understand the implications of material usage and ease of creating the most effective model for circularity.



Starting small with a big idea

A collaboration between architect Thomas Rau and Philips resulted in a successful bespoke light as a service model. Philips, who maintain control of the lighting, are now refining the business model for wider use.


Adidas + Parley

Storytelling to engage

Adidas + Parley created running shoes made of recycled ocean plastic. They made an engaging video and encouraged those who wanted a pair to post on Instagram about their shared commitment against single-use plastic.



Fix it before it fails

Rather than fixing equipment when it fails, Caterpillar’s technology monitors and receives feedback from equipment while in use to anticipate repair needs.



Internet enabled pay-per-wash

Bundles uses Internet of Things technology to provide customers with a pay-per-wash service on washing machines. They also maintain and refurbish their machines to prolong their lives.



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.



Circular children's clothes subscription service

Vigga offers a clothing service for children that does not require ownership. When your child outgrows their clothes, you simply send them back to receive the next parcel of neatly folded clothes, in the correct size.



Closing the loop on textile waste

Steelcase created furniture using a closed-loop system of recycled textile waste which was turned into new materials. This meant collaborating with all parties along the supply chain. Photograph: Designtex



Save hassle. Save money. Save the planet

Customers of Splosh subscribe to receive pouches of concentrated cleaning products which either safely dissolve as part of the product or can be sent back for refilling.



Moving mobility from product to service

Customers of Riversimple pay an all-encompassing monthly fee for affordable eco-cars, produced in distributed manufacturing facilities based near the markets they serve. Image by Riversimple/Dezeen



“We helped Opendesk become even more circular”

Opendesk creates open-source digital designs that can be downloaded, customised, and produced locally. RCA grads Mariana Pedrosa and Andrea Fischer found opportunities to make their business model even more circular.



Always in beta

As one of the best known open-source operating systems, Linux operates in perpetual beta as it changes and grows constantly through the inputs of its users.


Mud Jeans

Pioneering jeans for life

Mud Jeans provides organic cotton jeans to customers through a leasing model. The company repairs them when needed or recycles the material to create new jeans.



A better phone is a phone made better

Fairphone has turned a traditionally linear product, a mobile phone, on its head with the world’s first repairable, modular smartphone that is made up of responsibly sourced materials. Image © Fairphone



Growing alternatives to petroleum-based packaging

This innovative biomaterials company created mushroom-based protective packaging products like Myco-foam to replace plastic foams such as Styrofoam.



Biological Cycle

Consumables in a circular economy are made from biological nutrients that are non-toxic and possibly even beneficial to the biosphere whence they are returned after being consumed.


Biomimicry is learning from and then emulating nature’s forms, processes, and ecosystems to create more sustainable designs.


The biosphere is the global ecological system comprising all living beings and their interactions, including with, for example, the atmosphere. It is the global sum of all ecosystems.


Cascading materials and components means making use of them for another purpose once they reach their end-of-use phase, thereby extracting value from stored energy and material coherence. Along the cascade material order declines as entropy increases.

Cradle to Cradle

The Cradle-to-Cradle concept and certification process, developed by William McDonaugh and Michael Braungart, is a design philosophy that considers all materials, both technical and biological, to be nutrients for the system. It focuses on the design of effective products with a positive impact. For more see:


The flow of a non-renewable resource is the rate at which its finite stock (or known reserve) is depleted. The flow of a renewable resource is the rate it is used in (or degraded by) the economy; when its flow rate exceeds its regeneration rate the stock starts to degrade.


A system is regenerative if its processes are able to renew or regenerate the sources of materials and energy that they consume. Regenerative design is associated with the Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies in California (


In the technical cycle surplus energy is used to create order in matter so as to be able to build infrastructure, tools, and products. Processes such as remanufacture restore this order, using less energy than would be needed to start from scratch.


The stock of a non-renewable resource such as a metal ore or fossil fuel is finite outside geological timeframes. The stock of a renewable resource such as a forest or soil can be regenerated. In a circular economy stocks of both types are managed.


A system is a set of interacting components forming an intricate whole. The circular economy is particularly concerned with complex adaptive systems (such as the global economy and the biosphere), which have features like emergent behaviour and self-organisation.

Technical Cycle

Technical materials (nutrients), such as metals and most plastics, are not suitable to be safely returned to the biosphere and so are designed from the start to enter the technical cycle, consisting of loops of repairing, reusing, remanufacturing, and recycling.

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 2017, 2018