Design + circularity: a perfect match

Design + circularity: a perfect match

The circular economy model requires a new approach to design. Are we ready?

Interaction and transformation are the actions that guide Café+, the internal initiative of CBA B+G – a space to think about sustainability, diversity, inclusion and many other urgent matters. Last month, our guest speaker at Café+ Circularity, was Fabio Sant’Ana, Braskem’s Specialist in Market Development of Packaging for Circular Economy and Consumer Goods.

The almost two-hour chat was attended by a room full of inquiring people, who were eager to learn what the designer and entrepreneur had to share. Here are some passages:

How should design rethink the plastic in the packaging?

We are well aware that this is an urgent topic, and the market has changed a lot regarding the briefing for packaging production. In the past, progress used to be based on cost, performance and communication; today the scenario has changed; these factors are still important, of course, but other drivers, such as sustainability and convenience, have been included. 

The constant consumer movements demanding the commitment of companies to sustainability has led to increasingly complex environments. In this context, which requires an enlarged look, the circular economy model gains momentum, and design plays a very important role.

Tell us a little bit more about circular economy. 

The circular economy is a business model that looks at sustainability as an intrinsic part of the process of industrialization and monetization, unlike the linear economy model. In the latter, the high point is when the consumer buys the product, and the idea is to make him buy again. However, in that model, there’s a constant extraction of raw material in high volume, while the value of the product decreases dramatically after use, since after use no alternative is considered other than low-value disposal.

The circular economy model promotes reuse and alternative solutions for post-consumption, such as maintenance, remanufacturing, and recycling. If we focus on the reuse model alone, which proposes the use of products for longer, we will notice that different opportunities for new business models associated with it eventually arise. And this requires a design-oriented thinking.

What do you mean? How does the circular economy encourage new business models? In what sense is it innovative?

It is innovative in the sense that the focus shifts from the product itself, to services. For example: there are furniture brands that, being familiar with the practices of the circular economy, have developed a new service: the repurchase of used furniture (buy back service) – and doing so with an interesting and engaging narrative, proposing that old furniture gain a new life. Another example: not so long ago, it was considered top-notch for computer companies to be able to assemble their computers in two minutes. Today, their KPI is certainly moving towards offering a product that can also be DISassembled in two minutes… It is the application of the concept ‘reuse, recycle, reduce’, and this directly impacts the type of product that we, designers, have to propose and design.

In your opinion, what should be done to broaden the vision of ‘product as a service’ and engage companies in this issue?

It’s a complex path. That’s how we see it at Braskem: we have a short-term focused team dedicated to the sale of resins. Meanwhile, the market development area thinks of a medium and long-term scope, predicting and planning five years ahead, to build a future market for managers to act. So it is a construction; a long, continuous and extremely necessary transition. It is an exercise of looking to different directions and changing the way you relate to products. We need to face the issue of scarcity, and in this sense, the circular economy, as a hybrid model, presents itself as a viable path: it is more sustainable both economically – searching for solutions and models that replace use by reuse, the production of goods by the supply of services – as well as environmentally, proposing a greater balance of ecosystems.

It’s a controversial topic, even more so in petrochemicals. Thinking from our point of view, as a design office, what should be the approach with customers? Where should we focus first: on material resources, logistics, post-consumption?

There is no ready recipe, it depends on the market in which each company operates. In the food sector, for example, the attention given to packaging demands a specific approach, since it works almost like an extended concept of the health and nutrition that it involves. In the hygiene products sector, on the other hand, the issue of water consumption is crucial, so the approach can be sustainability in the industrial process.

But the entire industry, to a greater or lesser extent, is launching its commitments to sustainability, which are based on four pillars: material optimization; production of 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging; use of recycled and use of renewable. Based on that, it is necessary to look at the customer’s need and understand: where are they inserted? What kind of business are they in? What is your consumer’s journey? And how to integrate it with the packaging journey, making it more circular and sustainable? While industries think about efficiency, the FMCG sector also values other attributes, such as consumer experience. The power of the brand reverberates differently depending on the universe. All of this provides the consumer with different value propositions.

Indeed, there is a great opportunity to make the most of the consumer journey. How to design a product, thinking about this journey? 

Influencing the journey can be a starting point, but circular thinking is much greater. It is a responsibility of businesses and consumers. See, the world works in a linear way, that’s the challenge. Everyone has to compromise and collaborate from their position; it is more than sustainable packaging; it is a sustainable solution. The entire cycle – supply, use, reuse – requires a transition to new models of thinking and consumption. We are all looking for solutions, and it is not just about who “pays” for the changes.

 

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