Designing with the end in mind

Sustainability and technology need to work together on climate action, but how is design involved in this collaboration? Nic Parmaksizian, CEO of Designit, talks to Fahmida A. Bangert, VP of Sustainability at ITRenew, on common barriers to circularity and how design can help overcome them. Rewatch the interview here. Short on time? Read the summary here.


Nic: What are the key benefits of circularity?

Fahmida: Circularity is a delivery mechanism towards sustainability goals and ESG metrics. The main benefit is reducing your overall environmental footprint. We've found that circularity shrinks the whole carbon footprint pie, not just the section of the pie you are working on. There is better reuse, fewer emissions (especially scope 3), and less waste all-around. This leads to lower costs of ownership but also lower barriers to entry, which has enormous social benefits. Considering that 40% of the world is not connected to the internet, and the market for technology, communication, information and data is continually growing, we need solutions for common universal access that reuse, repair, decommissioning and elimination of e-waste can create. In sum, circularity reduces resources, equalises costs and creates more access and community.

Nic: Why should companies consider circularity now?

Fahmida: We're at a point where we need to respond to the changing climate. Fast. So we need processes that eliminate waste and accelerate our decarbonisation process. Circularity tackles both at the same time because of its key principles. It simply designs waste out, through its business processes, by keeping items in use for as long as possible while allowing for regeneration to happen in the meantime.

Nic: What are the most common barriers and how can you overcome them?

Fahmida: The barriers to circularity are often the same as the barriers to sustainability. Companies don't know where to start, how to measure, where to go, or how to connect it with their business. But circularity has additional barriers because it is an acceleration tool, and there is more anxiety about the performance of reused/repaired/decommissioned products. There are also bottom-line considerations. I think the best way to overcome barriers is by showing people it works and that it's worth doing. Sustainability is an interdisciplinary field of study. I've been a sustainability practitioner for 18 years now, and before that, I was in higher education for 15 years. Practitioners like me are proving over and over again that the quality and performance are the same, if not better, with a circular mindset. Besides, today's consumers do want environmentally responsible products and services, so the final demand side is very well aligned with taking climate action and being responsible ESG reporters.

Nic: Why does design matter for circularity?

Fahmida: It matters hugely. If all the product designers in retail or manufacturing designed with the end in mind, everything would change. Designers are already the heroes of the world these days, but imagine if all IT servers, clothing, carpets, cars, and all other products would loop back? We would eliminate all waste. Paying attention to the metrics from the beginning would mean we don't end up with something that we have to worry about later. That is why designing with the end in mind in the future.

Want to learn more about the intersection of technology and sustainability? Watch 'ISG Xperience Summit: Sustainability through technology' here.