Sustainable product design principles allowing the user to actively contribute to a circular economy ?

Design principles / strategies involving users ?

Sustainable Strategies Cards from Punctuate design Studio
@Punctuate design Studio - Sustainable Strategies Cards

Multiple strategies rejecting linear take-make-waste economies are emerging across different platforms, industries, and scales all around the world. Within these initiatives, regenerative models are encouraged through a circular economy. These strategies are characterized by wasting as little as possible materials and resources all while reducing - and ideally eliminating - unnecessary polluting waste. 

Some of these strategies come as part of a methodology to be adopted by enterprises (e.g. 5 R’s methodology), others can be applied directly to the company’s design process itself (e.g. sustainable design principles), whilst others call for user participation and contribution to fully function.

Within these types of sustainable strategies, the consumer feels actively involved in the circular economy model and can be even considered as a participating  partner in the process.

In this article, we will highlight a few sustainable strategies involving user participation

We offer some insight on how the consumer can be integrated into a sustainable business strategy through user-centered initiatives and services.

SERVICE KITS

Not all products and services are robust, and most of the material elements that surround us undergo sudden changes which lead to wear and tear, malfunctioning, and breakage. 

Providing the user with the right tools, instructions, or spare components to remedy those frustrations can be of great value, both to the user themselves, but also within a no-waste circular economy.

Offering service kits can be an effective and valuable way to provide solutions to independently troubleshoot and fix problems within the use scenario. 

Sometimes referred to as maintenance kits, these types of services are seen to add value to the overall product experience all while reducing the product’s ecological impact through the reduction of waste or the extended lifecycle. With service kits easily available, or handed-out free of charge, the user feels empowered and motivated to better understand the issue, and is enabled and invited to swiftly fix it.

Examples:

Nendo’s easily repairable soccer ball
@my football kit from Nendo, for Molten - Photographer: Akihiro Yoshida

Nendo’s easily repairable soccer ball

Soccer - also most commonly referred to as football - is the most popular and widespread sports on a worldwide level. In an effort to make this universal game easily and continuously accessible to children, particularly in impoverished communities, design studio Nendo proposed a simple to assemble and repair football kit. Inspired from the structure of a traditional Japanese woven-bamboo ball, the football can be assembled using 3 types of components from a total of 54 elements made of recycled plastics and resins (Nendo, 2022). These parts can then be easily replaced when and if damaged without relying on an air pump.

Lastly, the shipping packaging is flat packed thus saving on shipping costs, and the packaging sack was designed to be used as a transport bag to carry the ball around throughout its prolonged lifecycle.

https://www.nendo.jp/en/works/my-football-kit/

Patagonia: a trailblazer in DIY repair services

Patagonia: a trailblazer in DIY repair services

Leading brand in activewear Patagonia encourages replacing damaged gear before discarding and replacing. To fulfill this, they offer repair services to their customers in most of their retail stores under their product warranty. 

More interestingly, they offer DIY repair tutorials, as well as recommended materials and techniques to repair holes and tears, all while continuously reassuring their customers that applying these DIY repairs do not affect their warranty.

 Patagonia thus aim to empower their customers to learn how to repair damaged articles all while encouraging them to share their success stories via social media.

https://www.ifixit.com/Patagonia/repair-and-care

SPARE PARTS SERVICES

When it comes to artifacts which are subjected to harsh environments and conditions within their lifecycle, excessive signs of wear-and-tear and breaking points are very common. In fact, these malfunctions are usually anticipated by both the supplier and the user. The defaults are an accepted part of the artifact’s journey, and users are usually aware that at one point, something will need to be either maintained or replaced.

Spare parts services have been introduced and used for a while in some applications (e.g. heavy machinery, electronics, etc.). However, they are less common in other applications (e.g. furniture, fashion).

Therefore, providing accessible and readily-available spare parts services for those niche domains can be of high value. On the one hand, the user feels encouraged by the brand, organization, company, or enterprise providing the product or service to extend the life expectancy. 

Offering the possibility to order a range of replacement parts, or a service to replace damaged parts, is seen to add value from a user experience standpoint.

Examples:

Bang & Olufsen’s circular products and services

Bang & Olufsen’s circular products and services

Following their new Cradle to Cradle certification, speaker design company Bang & Olufsen reinforced their commitment to sustainable design. 

In fact, they are constantly improving the design of the speakers by promoting modularity (link to other article) with circularity in mind: the customers are enabled to disassemble the product, order spare or replacement parts through the company’s website, and replace the desired pires (Bang-Olufsen, 2022). This can be done in order to upgrade, update, customize, or repair the product parts. 

These types of services are known to offer flexibility and easily-accessible services which can cater to the different  user needs and expectations.

https://www.bang-olufsen.com/en/ca/story/cradle-to-cradle-certification

Sustainable Strategies article from Punctuate design Studio - Fairphone example

Fairphone

Tech company Fairphone provides sustainable cellphones that are designed to be easily repaired and upgraded to  elongate their lifecycle. 

They offer support to keep the software up to date, but more interestingly, none of their phone assemblies are glued. This means that every phone can be disassembled with a standard screwdriver, and damaged or obsolete parts can be put apart, replaced, and put back together with ease. 

They offer a wide variety of readily-available spare parts which can be ordered through their website and delivered to the customer’s doorstep (Fairphone, 2022). This reflects perfectly a design for disassembly (link to other article) design strategy, along with the services put in place to have access to the replacement parts needed.

https://shop.fairphone.com/

TAKE-BACK SYSTEMS

Put products/components/materials back on a new loop of use through collecting them from users either at end-of-life or during first lifecycle to extend it

No matter how hard we try to extend an artifact’s life expectancy, there will come a time where they reach the end of their service life. 

Multiple sustainable actions can be taken once the product has reached the end of its life. Another solution is putting in place take-back systems where the manufacturer or supplier retrieves the artifact.

These take back systems are of high value for the user who appreciates the brand’s eco-consciousness. But more importantly, these systems are of high economic value for the supplier, manufacturer, or brand themselves as they can increase their efficiency all while reducing costs. This can be achieved by reusing, repurposing, or refurbishing their used products. 

In that sense, companies can reinject repurposed resources into their process at a lower cost all while reducing the generation of unnecessary waste filling up our landfills.

Examples:

Sustainable Strategies article from Punctuate design Studio - Recycle my electronics example

Sony Take Back Program

Recently, tech giant Sony have announced their partnership with various electronics recycling associations across different countries. 

With their collaborators, they are putting in place take-back systems where electronic parts and products can be recycled by their users once they have reached their end of life (Sony, Electronics Recycling Program, 2022). 

Depending on each customer’s location, Sony offers a service to locate the closest collection site where unwanted electronics can be left to be properly recycled, reused, repurpose, or disposed of safely.

https://www.sony.ca/en/electronics/electronics-recycling-program

http://recyclemyelectronics.ca/

Benchmark furniture Take Back Scheme

Benchmark furniture Take Back Scheme

Furniture manufacturer Benchmark has been collaborating with some of the world’s leading architects and designers to create their furniture collections. 

Recently, they have been focusing on showcasing adaptability and sustainability in their new lines, working with natural biophilic materials. 

Using non-toxic materials has proven to offer multiple advantages going beyond the pleasing aesthetics of natural finishes: through their Take Back Scheme, Benchmark offers a service where furniture can be returned to them once the customer judges it has reached the end of its useful life. 

Through that system, the returned furnishes are refurbished, repurposed or donated to charitable enterprises thus contributing to a circular economy.

https://www.www.lab.rockwellgroup.com/projects/sage-collection-for-benchmark

At Punctuate we have a team ready to help you on this challenging journey! Contact us here or at thibault@punctuatedesign.com

Tara Harb
Strategist & Industrial designer
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