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Industrial Design and Sustainability

Innovation and Earth Day are intrinsically linked. Innovation has enabled much of our technological advances that have extended the shelf-life of food, have enabled healthier lives through medical advances, and have made us more productive over time. As an industrial designer, sustainability has been a core component of my design practice. I have always admired the genius of designers like Buckminster Fuller in raising awareness of sustainability.

“Nature is a totally efficient, self-regenerating system. If we discover the laws that govern this system and live synergistically within them, sustainability will follow, and humankind will be a success.” – R. Buckminster Fuller

I think this quote represents in essence what Winpak is striving for. We want to systemically integrate and break silos to create an expanded view. Rather than just considering material sustainability in isolation (i.e., a single actor striving to improve recyclability and product efficiency) we want to move to systemic circular approaches such as product-service systems (PSS) for sustainability. In this approach, we involve multiple entities moving from material-centric thinking to a more system-based design approach. Winpak plans to launch new products following this design approach later this year.

This perspective represents specific challenges. We must rethink our products and materials in terms of multiple lifecycles and its associated business models. So far, the approach to sustainability from a product design perspective has been done somewhat linear - reduce waste, reduce pollution, and recycle.

Nonetheless, the circular approach requires not for us to strive to optimize what is already there but rather to rethink the system starting from the notion of a “closed loop” of resources that avoids the generation of waste.

To do this, there are at least four different design approaches based on who the product is for that we need to consider when designing our films, cups, trays, lids and so on and so forth if we really want to be true to a Circular Economy model. These are:

  1. Design for reuse
  2. Design for refurbishment
  3. Design for remanufacture
  4. Design for recyclability

These design strategies must also consider the innovation levels at which the design strategies operate:

  1. Material
  2. Product
  3. Service
  4. System

The Circular Product Design Framework encompasses strategies that can be used to identify and understand opportunities for circular design in our company from R&D to product, to service, to process design. It is especially useful in conjunction with other frameworks used by our sustainability team to provide direction for complex problem-solving within this context.

Circular Product Design Framework

The Circular Product Design Framework - Insights - Circle Economy. (2022). Retrieved 19 April 2022, from

As in any framework, the previous design and the Circular Economy concepts may provide opportunities, but they are not solutions. They are systemic areas of exploration that will increase the chances of having more engrained products into the Circular Economy concepts. As I think about Earth Day and “investing in our planet”, I am encouraged that Winpak and other companies are putting their considerable resources into innovation and into circular systems that strive not to just reduce waste but eliminate it.

Manuel Moreno
Manuel Moreno
Director, Corporate Innovation
Winnipeg, MB Canada

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