The Interreg project Ecodesign Circle successfully introduced ecodesign thinking and acting to design centres and numerous design companies in five countries around the Baltic Sea, as well as to the Bureau of European Design Associations - a strong move towards a circular economy in Europe.
Eco-design is design for a circular economy
Eco-design is one way to move our societies towards a circular economy. An eco-designed product is designed in a way that it lasts long, can be easily repaired and at the end of its life, it can be rapidly disassembled and its materials can be managed through existing recycling systems without leaving behind harmful waste. Eco-design items of today are by and large non-technological, often mass products for everyday life, e.g. plates, pillows, clothes or benches.
Eco-design knowledge needs to be translated into business reality
Until recently, eco-design was only sparsely applied. Small and medium sized enterprises are focused on traditional linear business models in which products are short-lived and materials are typically discarded as waste. However, know-how concerning the environmental impact of products, how to assess the impact and how to reduce it is available. The challenge is to translate environmental science into business reality.
Professional networks for design can make the difference
Design centres from five countries around the Baltic Sea got together with environmental scientists to expand their eco-design expertise and to promote the use of eco-design among their national networks of design companies. Design centres are typically non-profit networks or associations for design professionals. Most design centres lacked the instruments to support their affiliate companies in eco designing innovative products. The design centres’ primary aim was to introduce and expand the use of eco-design among designers and bring it into the core operations of companies.
Design Centers developed tools and broadened their offers
By collaborating with environmental scientists, the design centres of Germany, Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Poland gained in depth knowledge of eco-design. Together they conceptionalised a splendid travelling exhibition on ecodesign for major design events that reached more than 20.000 visitors in six countries. Together they compiled material for an online training platform, the sustainability guide, which is now publically available. And together they coached selected companies in identifying their opportunities in circular economy. Some of the design centres – e.g. in Estonia and Finland – established services developed in the Ecodesign Circle project as part of their regular offer and secured national funding to continue promoting eco-design.
Small and medium sized companies were propelled towards sustainability
Ecodesign Circle involved 26 selected companies from Estonia, Finland, Lithuania and Sweden to test the newly developed business development tools of eco-design audit and eco-design sprint. The companies ranged from manufacturers of leather bags, of bedding, and of outdoor travel equipment, to developers of packaging solutions and of outdoor furniture to a construction company. In the audit and sprint processes, international teams assessed the ongoing businesses, trained the companies in eco-design thinking based on the jointly compiled sustainability guide, delivered consultancy, guided the design of prototypes and helped the companies pilot new business concepts. The SMEs thus pro-actively explored the possibilities and business models of the circular economy. Five companies invested in total some EUR 300.000 into a transition towards circular economy, namely into creating the position of a sustainability manager, into exchanging materials and the location of production, into changing towards a renewable energy source, into prototyping and even into developing new, circular services.
Eco-design anchored among designers on the European level
Ecodesign Circle reached beyond the countries involved as it anchored eco-design in the Bureau of European Design Associations (BEDA). BEDA is a Brussels based non-profit organisation that represents designers from industrial design and interiors to digital design. Due to the Ecodesign Circle project, BEDA has embraced eco-design as a new thematic cluster, i.e. a transnational network designated to bundle knowhow and competences in the field of eco-design. Via the BEDA network, the Ecodesign Circle results can spread across Europe.
The follow-up project EcoDesign Circle 4.0 goes beyond products by targeting services for a circular economy (e.g. car-sharing) and spreads the knowledge gained in a train the trainer package. With EUR 1.54 million of support from the European Union, the Interreg project Ecodesign Circle made a great solution towards a greener Europe, ecodesign, common practice in design centers of five countries around the Baltic Sea.