Making it Circular  

Over the last two years, STBY has collaborated with global design NGO What Design Can Do (WDCD) to develop the ‘Make it Circular Challenge’. As the global research partner of WDCD, STBY created the briefs for the challenge and coordinated the international research by several research teams in 6 countries. This has also constituted a part of the wider strategy to initiate a circular design movement, an important step toward combating the challenges of climate change by moving toward more interconnected and innovative solutions and using design as a pedestal to do so.

The ’Make it Circular’ challenge is rooted in local research via STBY’s Reach Network – in particular with our partners in Mexico (Studio delaO), Brazil (Flutter Innovation), South Africa (Matchboxology) and India (Quicksand). The final challenge brief was drafted in collaboration with a wide range of experts in design and the circular economy, including the Amsterdam-based Circle Economy. The challenge calls for a shift away from a linear economic model where value is generated by the quantity of products that are produced and sold. Instead, it envisions a circular society where a waste-less future is built on an interconnected system of sectors and industries, driven by their positive impact on the environment, economy, and society as a whole.

We do not need a circle economy, we need a circular society

For this challenge, designers, start-ups, and creative entrepreneurs were asked to submit how they are contributing to building that circular society. The brief asked designers to consider five of the largest value chains in the world that need to become circular, and how their project relates to one of them. These chains encompass what we wear, what we buy, what we eat, how we package, and how we build.  

The challenge received a total of 650 entries worldwide, from more than 80 countries. From these entries, 50 nominees who represented ideas from 20 different countries were selected to move to the final round of the competition, and finally 13 winners were selected by an international expert jury. More detailed information on each of the winners, can be found on the website of What Design Can Do.

Together, the winning projects exemplify what it means to adapt to a circular reality, as they incorporate one or more of the three core values of circular design: 

Value 1: Working with nature

Designers both learned from nature and used their designs as a guiding force to show that we are an integral part of natural systems.

Value 2: Using what exists 

Designers moved beyond exploiting new resources from an already rapidly diminishing pool but creatively worked with existing materials to create new and innovative products.

Value 3: Designing to last

Designers considered the environmental and social impacts of their products for generations to come, designing not just for today but also for the future.

Together the entries, nominees, and winners give us a peek into the vast pool of individuals that are innovating toward a more circular society globally. Each entry provides us a fresh perspective on what designing for a circular society can look like, locally rooted to fit and serve the context they were created in. This has shown us that there is not one path to designing a circular product, but many paths that are often interconnected and together form a complex system in which opportunities for circular innovation are multi-disciplinary, multicultural, and infinite. 

The winners of this challenge have already participated in a boot camp in Amsterdam mid June to learn and build a network between them. They also presented their projects in the public event ‘WDCD Circular Showcase’ on 16th June. Going forward they receive an award package designed to help bring their projects to the next level. This consists of a six-month development program that has been put together by experts from the global Impact hub network, as well as €10,000 to invest in their project. As we reach the end of this project we not only walk into the future with a continuously broadening perspective on circular design but the confidence that innovators increasingly have the resources to make a circular society more of a reality.