The model of a closed-loop economy (also called circular economy) is an attempt to get away from the linear scheme characterized by mining – production – consumption – disposal. This model has caused resources to gradually run out and has led to the current ecological and climate crisis. Hence the calls for categorical change in favour of a closed loop, with material being used as in the natural environment, where nothing is lost in the circulation of matter. According to this concept, we do not produce waste but raw materials and things which can be reused or passed on. The chain starts with design and is followed by production, packaging, delivery, storage, distribution, use and disposal. The aim of the circular economy is to maintain the highest quality and functionality of products, materials and resources for as long as possible by constant regeneration cycles of recycling and renewal. This is a complex process and closing of the loop (or opening it) is influenced by each and every one of us by taking decisions associated with production or purchasing (or refraining from purchasing) of particular products and services. The basic aim of the closed-loop model is not only satisfying the needs of humans but also a fair division of resources without abusing the natural world and the biosphere.
> It is interesting to read ‘Material Flow Analysis’, in which DGTL festival treated its own event as an example of a ‘closed-loop’ event, testing how it could modify its production processes in subsequent editions in an attempt to implement the circular model > DGTL/ Material Flow Index
Principles. Sustainable design takes the whole cycle of a product into account, from the beginning to the end (cradle to cradle), and each stage in a product’s life includes ecological criteria. Although the principles of sustainable design may seem to be a restrictive necessity, in reality it offers an opportunity to make higher quality products and supports creativity and innovative thinking.
Below you will find a few simple aspects, although quite demanding in practice, which should be taken into account with sustainable design:
– fewer materials (before you purchase something new, think about reusing the existing resources);
– ease of recycling (easy dismantling, option to separate materials)
– type of material (it is best if there is one type of material or various biodegradable and natural materials);
– durability (maximum product life);
– multi-purposefulness (ability to be reused, repaired, multiple applications, recyclability)
– efficiency (adjustability to function and scale, e.g. designing exposition infrastructure for a – touring exhibition so that it fits in the smallest means of transport possible, can be reused and efficiently stored);
– innovativeness (ability to optimise the product);
– cohesive eco-message (propagating the idea of sustainable design through a product which validates the idea).
These general principles are accompanied by more detailed regulations, which result from the standards associated with introducing sustainable products on the market. The main certificates and standards for this area worth remembering include Cradle to Cradle (C2C), ISO 14062 and ISO 14001.
Transferability. Sustainable design translates into subsequent elements of the product cycle: sustainable packaging (minimising packaging, ethical production, recyclability), supply chain (shortening of the transport route, using local manufacturers and suppliers), storage, distribution – to utilisation and disposal (as long as the product cannot be reused after completing the circle). In order to take care of these aspects, it is worth investigating the process of utilising materials and services within your own organization – what ‘comes in’, what ‘comes out’, who makes decisions about what to order or buy, when, to what extent and how it is used, plus what happens next. Pay attention to the characteristics of individual contractors, service providers or producers – and choose those who can demonstrate an appropriate environmental policy. It is worth applying a clause on sustainable environmental and social development in public procurement, emphasising mandatory requirements, e.g. using local resources or products from sustainable sources. Similar provisions should also be included in contracts.
Ecological certificates are also an important factor confirming the compliance of products or services with ecological standards. However, since there are many certification systems on the market and sometimes you can fall under the spell of a marketing eco-stamp rather than real, reliable verification criteria, it is important to remain vigilant and, if necessary, resort to proven and reliable certificates (example list below). It is also a good idea to refer to responsible purchasing guides in order to choose brands that have a positive impact on people, the environment and the planet.
Another important aspect of ‘translating’ the principles of the closed loop into practice is constantly strengthening the ability to use materials responsibly (how to choose, what questions to ask, how to support the idea of resource circulation) among the staff, artists, suppliers and the audience. Internal training may serve this function inside organisations, while workshops associated with repair, renewal, regeneration and recycling instead of buying new may fulfil that role for our audience.
> Familiarise yourself with examples of eco-certificates
> Ethical Consumer Guide
> Eco consumer guide, source: Fundacja Kupuj Odpowiedzialnie (Buy Responsibly Foundation)
> Get inspired: read the Lessons from the Great Recovery 2012-2016 report demonstrating how to apply the principles of the circular economy to designing and production, source: RSA
> A lot of valuable advice on eco-design, model of circular economy and tools for applying it in the creative sector can be found on these websites: Sustainability Guide, Circular Design Guide