Company NewsNovember 22, 2023

Circular design: Shaping a more sustainable world

With the world facing the unprecedented challenge of climate change, our VP of Design Experience Anne Asensio explains why circular design is an imperative organizations cannot ignore.
Avatar Patrick Ball

Design solves problems. From simple engineering to complex systems to cataclysmic climate crises, it’s a powerful lever to pull when we’re in need of a solution.

And, well, we need a solution. Human activities remain the foremost cause of global warming. Countries and companies are under pressure from lawmakers, advocates and consumers to meet sustainability goals covered by the Paris Agreements and ESG objectives.

In response to mounting pressure, innovators have begun to embrace circular design as an upstream approach to addressing a root cause of today’s critical challenges – consumption – without sacrificing the value created for consumers and at the end people quality of life .

“Design can no longer be about simply creating more goods and fueling growth in the process”, said Anne Asensio, worldwide vice president of design experience at Dassault Systèmes. “Design is first and foremost about shifting people behaviors to more virtuous ones… we must understand design as fundamentally social and political. It must also be a means of creating a better society by addressing the world’s increasingly extreme challenges, mobilizing living environments in new, different and incentive ways. As the world spins out of control, only a profound shift in thinking, doing and engaging can get us back on to the road of sanity.”

Linear vs. circular economy

A circular economy is the opposite of the take-make-waste linear model our economy was built upon. It’s modeled on three key principles eliminate waste, circulate materials and regenerate nature. Instead of throwing away items when you’re done with them, in a circular economy everything is meant to be recycled, repurposed and even remanufactured.

Circular design is based on these same principles. Whereas waste, pollution and extraction of natural resources is a result of the take-make-waste approach, circularity encourages conscious choices and assessments about the entire lifecycle of a product, system or services to design waste, pollution and destruction out of the system.

At the design stage, opportunities for improvement abound to create conditions for adopting new behaviors and making better decisions, according to Asensio.

On the material side, this includes finding more efficiency in design and drawing inspiration from biomimicry. Reusing recycled materials and designing with – instead of discarding – our waste.

“Circular design is an attitude,” Asensio said. “To enable, to empower design thinking, to make the economy more circular, we need both analogic upstream thinking and data driven analytical.”

Empowering design thinking

As much as 80% of a product’s environmental impact is determined at the design phase, according to some estimates. That’s why, as the World Design Organization explains, the circular economy works “to create a system of design that considers not only the end user, but also the entire network of stakeholders and systems that are inherent to the design process, from the selection of materials to the user experience, to the end of life.”

At Dassault Systèmes, Asensio explains, we looked at the way designers, architects and inventors from around the world have sought alternative ways to design more sustainable solutions. And we’re now creating software solutions that empower creators to change the path from our present to a better future.

Moving on from the old take-make-waste linear consumption model, businesses and individuals can now decide to design with a clearer focus on usage, the ecological impacts and what happens to the product after a consumer’s finished with it

CATIA lifecycle assessment

Leveraging data and virtual tools, designers have access to more knowledge and know-how than ever before, leading to better understanding of materials, waste implications and concepts like biomimicry. Eco-design and life cycle assessment (LCA) approaches powered by tools like the 3DEXPERIENCE platform lead to designing for maximum use potential and the ability to manufacture – and, crucially, to remanufacture – in order to get the most out of the materials used.

“Consumption starts with design; the shift in consumption will also come from design,” Asensio said. “In tandem with the virtual technologies that increasingly govern our lives, design and its qualities will no longer encourage the social amnesia that comes with uncritical consumption, but instead resolve it.”

Aurora installation on CATIA LCA solutions

Circular design: at the crossroads of art and science

For companies in any industry, the quality and differentiated value they propose will always be key tenets of success. But the reality is: mass-customization is quickly becoming a reality and consumers are becoming increasingly aware of – and influenced by – a company’s impact on our planet. And so, increasingly, the perception of value has to extend beyond what a product does, to what a product is and what it becomes.

“We need to shift to a more circular economy model where we maintain the state of the world,” Asensio. “The only way is to shift the narrative but also to shift in a way that you give contribution and access to people to act, to engage, to make the change. And to make the change, they need tools. They need to grasp the digital transformation, the capability to act at the crossroads of art and science.”

Companies incorporating circular design strategies into long0term product innovation strategies will strive to alleviate the negative impacts along a product’s entire lifecycle – from the supply chain through its recyclability, reusability or disposal. It’s a “cradle-to-cradle” mentality. Thanks to digital transformation – and shifting consumer behavior – designing for increased functionality, longer lifespans, lower environmental impact and even easy repair or disassembly can today save a company money, while positively affecting the wider community.

As Asensio explains, todays focus on modeling and simulation goes beyond a simple engineering perspective and is based on actual applications and capitalizing on best practices in sustainable product design. Generating knowledge and know-how embedded into solutions supports sustainable innovation in design engineering of products and service systems.

Circular design in the real world

In recent years, companies from across all industries have begun incorporating circular design principles into their products and systems.

In the United States, Coca-Cola transitioned its green Sprite bottles to clear plastic, so they could be recycled and reborn for food and beverage storage. French automaker Renault has set up one of the world’s first circular economy factory, called the Refactory, focused on extending the lifecycle of car parts and damaged vehicles. Phone maker HMD Nokia embraced an eco-design approach with its G22 repairable smartphone that’s been designed to last as long as possible.

As more companies embrace circular design and circular economy principles, they’re taking important steps to reduce emissions and work toward net-zero. Technology, like the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, can be a powerful tool to help change the way we think, design, create and re-use. Design for disassembly, a practice embraced by product developers, is one such example.

“We have to shift the value, to rethink our relationship to the world, change the mean of the economy,” said Asensio. “It may start with material, then design, then the supply chain; we have a massive opportunity in front of us to shape our sustainable future.”

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