Since the industrial revolution, the ways of producing and consuming are based on abundant and easily available natural resources. This system follows a linear pattern: raw materials are extracted and sent to production, then offered for consumption. Waste is then stored or destroyed. This is called a linear economy.
The problem is that the need for natural resources and raw materials has increased tenfold in the last fifty years. This is the context of the circular economy, which aims to be the economic and social model that will allow a sustainable and intelligent transition of our production methods for a sustainable development of human societies. Eco-design is one of the pillars of the circular economy.
What is the circular economy?
It has been defined by the United Nations as follows:
"The circular economy is a system of production, exchange and sharing that enables social progress, preservation of natural capital and economic development as defined by the Gro Harlem report.
Its ultimate goal is to decouple economic growth from the depletion of natural resources by creating innovative products, services, business models and public policies that take into account all flows throughout the life of the product or service.
This model is based on an optimal use of resources and the creation of positive value loops. In particular, it emphasizes new modes of design, production and consumption, the extension of the useful life of products, the reuse and recycling of components."
As far as France is concerned, ADEME also proposes its definition of the circular economy:
"The circular economy is an economic system of exchange and production that, at all stages of the product life cycle (goods and services), aims to increase the efficiency of resource use and decrease the impact on the environment while allowing the well-being of individuals. " (source: ADEME, 2014. Circular Economy: Notions)
We can conclude from these two definitions that the circular economy is in fact the operational step for a generalized policy of sustainable development. All the social, economic and environmental issues that arise from current production and consumption patterns are taken into account in the loops.
The circular economy is composed of the following 5 positive value loops:
products must be designed as simply as possible, both for manufacturing and for use
products must be repairable and have a maintenance plan
their uses must be maximized through reuse or sharing
the product's subsystems must be dismountable to be reused
elements that can no longer be remanufactured must be recycled as much as possible
The circular economy is based on 3 areas of action:
the offer of economic actors
consumer demand and behavior
The 3 action areas of the circular economy are divided into 7 pillars:
industrial and territorial ecology
the economy of functionality
the extension of the duration of use
The circular economy also has a societal vocation of job creation. Still according to ADEME, the jobs related to the implementation of the circular economy are estimated at 800,000 full-time equivalent jobs. By 2030, an increase of 300,000 jobs in this sector is expected.
Eco-design in the circular economy
The circular economy addresses actors at all stages of a product's life cycle. Eco-design is one of the fundamental pillars of the circular economy and is aimed at economic actors. That is to say, producers of goods or services.
The fact of thinking, optimizing and revaluing a product in its entirety is a necessary step towards an economy that preserves the planet.
In this context, eco-design allows to :
extend the life of a product
optimize the quantity and type of raw materials used
anticipate the reuse of sub-systems
anticipate the recycling of what cannot be reused
Eco-design minimizes the impact of the product on the environment by taking into account its entire life cycle. All aspects of the product are taken into account: raw materials, manufacturing methods, use, life span, possible repairs or recycling, etc.
The main objective of the circular economy is to do better with less natural resources, while reducing the amount of waste that can be generated.
An eco-designed product is not intended to be simply destroyed at the end of its life. Its purpose is to be deconstructed in order to reuse or revalue the maximum of its components.
This is why the use of toxic components is to be proscribed for an easier reuse.
Curative and preventive solutions
The linear economic model that has brought material comfort to millions of people on earth over the past century is coming to an end. It is now urgent to rethink the economic flows to ensure the joint prosperous development of natural resources and human societies.
Since this global awareness and until today, we have adopted a strategy of impact reduction with the implementation of curative solutions. This is a necessary first step to improve operations and transition.
For example, a curative solution is the sorting and recycling of waste.
The circular economy has the will to transform this impact reduction system into a value creation system that will be positive on a social, economic and environmental level.
For example, a preventive solution is typically the eco-design of a product.
The circular economy is one of the major challenges of tomorrow to meet the societal and demographic challenge on a global scale. For economic actors, eco-design is the main commitment to be part of the change. If you want to get involved in eco-design, I invite you to consult this page.
To go further, you can consult the following articles:
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