The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by Arthur ten Wolde, De Groene Zaak; and Anne Raudaskoski, Ethica.

Design plays a crucial role to accelerate and mainstream the circular economy. In the light of the renewed “Circular Economy Package” about to be proposed by the European Commission, a joint report by De Groene Zaak and Ethica, “Boosting Circular Design for a Circular Economy” explores how an EU Directive could foster circular design and circular business models.

No matter how intelligently waste gets handled, design will either enable or hinder maintenance, repair, sharing, reuse, refurbishment, take back, disassembly, remanufacturing and recycling. Fostering circular design requires an approach fundamentally beyond the scope of the existing Ecodesign Directive. This directive aims to improve efficiency through minimising negative environmental impact, in other words being “less bad”. A circular approach, on the other hand, focuses on maximising a positive, regenerative footprint, i.e. on “being more good”. Also, circular design forms an enormous economic opportunity rather than an environmental issue.

A directive furthering circular design should be based on long-term value creation, business logic and maximising positive impact, while avoiding red tape. It should be based on minimum requirements, amplified by Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes, accompanied by mandatory motivation of measures (not) taken, programmes on awareness and capacity building, and guidelines and support for research and innovation. Differentiation of EPR levies down to product and company level is needed to incentivise companies towards circular business models.

In addition, the scope of the directive should be extended from energy-consuming and energy-related product groups to cover all products and services. Finally, circular design requires a systems approach: it’s cross-organisational, cross-sector and deals with whole value chains.

Our report briefly reviews and explains these measures, giving some examples of businesses that are making the transition towards a circular economy. It shows the possibilities of a circular design approach as an improvement on the ecodesign directive. We hope this report will stimulate and enhance the discussion on this subject and reap the fruits of the circular economy in terms of new jobs, financial returns and resource resilience by accelerating circular design.

The report “Boosting Circular Design for a Circular Economy” can be downloaded here.


De Groene Zaak is the leading Sustainable Business Association in The Netherlands, uniting over 200 leading companies and forming the Dutch Chapter of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

Contact: Arthur ten Wolde, +31613196238,

Ethica is a Finnish business development consultancy specialised in circular economy. Ethica’s Design for Circularity (D4C) framework brings circular thinking into the core of business strategy and R&D.

Contact: Anne Raudaskoski, tel. +358 50 3410 881,

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  1. The concept of circular design is at the heart of circular economy. When every product has a circular design we will have a circular economy.

    The proposed requirement of transparency seems especially powerful. When producers must report publicly on the circularity of their products and their plan to support this, many will think about it for the first time and discover valuable new innovative options. Transparency needs a suitable cross-sector cross-issue product-level indictator; I would suggest BlindSpot Think Tank’s ‘waste-risk’ as the most robust currently available.

    The other powerful proposal in this report is publishing official guidelines for circular options for products and companies. Showing what’s possible can help tremendously when people are fully-occupied seeing the current reality.

    The handling of ‘red tape’ may need further work. I wouldn’t support removing red tape from activities such as turning incinerator fly ash into raw materials. The challenge for red tape is to generate more innovation than it suppresses. As an example of suppression, past EPR schemes have built a huge infrastructure for shredding used products that could otherwise be designed to last, to be repaired or to be remanufactured. An important principle for achieving regenerative impact would be to let innovation thrive throughout the whole society, rather than to fossilise it in red tape that unintentionally restricts what happens. One way forward would be to use circular economics to make markets drive circular design,

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