Circular Economy - A Systems Approach

Industrial Design Student 2020

Joy Zhang
Royal College of Art /
Service Design

Many of us in the design and engineering fields have heard of the term “circular economy,” as well as accompanying principles like zero waste living, upcycling, recycling, and cradle-to-cradle. To quote UK’s Waste and Resources Action Programme, the circular business model is a regenerative “alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose).”

A straight forward approach to circular economy is to build objects that can live cyclically via cradle-to-cradle design. But efforts to establish cradle-to-cradle are riddled with challenges ranging from existing consumer expectations, complicated emissions trade-offs, and plain old capitalism.

The question I ask is- what if cradle-to-cradle is old news? What if circularity is meant to grow within the symbiotic web between multiple industries rather than within individual ones? Within this symbiotic web, could a system-based approach mitigate wicked issues like CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere?

This presentation was recorded in conjunction with our 1851 Virtual Alumni Science Evening 2021