Safe & Circular Material Choices

What materials should we use to create things?

Circular design encourages us to rethink business models, how we make products, and to consider the system surrounding them, but we also need to think about the materials we use. Whether it’s improving the safety of users or ensuring that resources can be used again and again - it is clear that materials matter.

Not all materials are fit for a circular economy. Some contain chemicals that are hazardous for humans or the environment. Additives are often unintentionally used or used for performance reasons - such as colouring, flexibility, or durability - but there are ways to design them out. If you can choose materials that are safe and circular, you can build a better offering for your users, while ensuring that the products and services you create fit within a circular economy.

Our goal is to help you as a designer make positive materials choices. The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, together with design professionals, have collaborated to develop practical resources to assist you in making these choices and designing for a circular economy.

This project was funded by the MAVA Foundation.


This advanced series of methods has been created for designers, entrepreneurs, and innovators to take their material choices integration to the next level. Together they show how to rethink the design process to integrate safe and circular principles from the very start.

Since choosing safe materials should be considered throughout the design process, rather than as an afterthought, each method corresponds to one of its key stages: understand, define, make, and release.

Start your safe and circular materials journey now by exploring one of the methods, or take a look at the Safe & Circular Strategy Cards:


3rd October 2018

In this webinar, we asked design professionals and experts from industry to give their take on the role of designers in the development of safe and circular design. What skills and knowledge are required from designers to ensure materials are kept in use without causing waste and pollution?


Joe Iles (Host)

Joe is the Editor in Chief of Circulate, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s source for thought-leadership, commentary, and case studies on the circular economy.


Charline is leading the development of C&A’s circular economy strategy, which includes sustainable materials and sustainable products, globally.

Alysia Garmulewicz

Alysia is a founder and director of Materiom, an open platform for biomaterial recipes made from locally abundant ingredients and also an Associate Professor of the Circular Economy at Universidad de Santiago de Chile.

Mike Werner

Mike is Google’s Lead for Safer Chemistry, where his mission is to eliminate toxic chemicals from consumer products and drive higher environmental performance and sustainability of product design. Mike recently co-authored a paper with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation on the role of safer chemistry.

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