A day of tear down and design up for the circular economy

Circular-Economy-ConceptAs part of the Disruptive Innovation Festival, SustainRCA, the Royal College of Art’s sustainability hub, hosted two events exploring innovation and the circular economy, practically and conceptually.  The hands on workshop, Business Modelling for a Circular Economy, was the perfect complement to the evening’s panel discussion, Peering into the Next Wave of Innovation. The phrase ‘circular economy’ is increasingly used by business, media and academia as a generic term for an economy that is regenerative by design.  As Ken Webster, Head of Innovation at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, described during the panel discussion, the circular economy is defined by a set of principles: two, separate cycles (pictured left): biological materials, designed to re-enter the biosphere, and technical materials, designed to circulate with minimal loss of quality; diversity provides strength and resilience; the shift towards an economy ultimately powered by renewable energy; embracing systems thinking, to reflect the real-world where systems are non-linear, feedback-rich, and interdependent; and thinking of cascades, as products are repaired, reused, remanufactured and recycled realising more value, and managing resources with less waste.

The conventional, linear ‘take, make, dispose’ model has relied on large quantities of easily accessible resources and energy.  We live in a diffiernt paradigm, bound by legacy systems and resource constraints.  Input prices, which declined for most of the 20th century, are rising and increasingly volatile, driven by physical, and, as Mark Shayler, director of agencies, Ape, and TicketyBoo, noted, by political access.  Rapid consumption patterns are losing a lot of value to landfill:  around $2.7trillion of the $3.2 trillion created by the FMCG industry each year, according to Jamie Butterworth, Ellen MacArthur Foundation speaking at another DIF event.  With 3 billion more middle class consumers by 2030 and a finite planet, we have to do things differently.  Not just more efficiently, but more effectively.

Hugo Spowers of Riversimple began the panel discussion with a complete circular economy vision for car use, from ownership to mobility, a redesign of the car, business model and corporate governance.  Citing Joanna Macy, Spowers called for a simultaneous shift in method, methodology and mindset.  A service dominant logic places the user at its centre, as in We All Design‘s Circular Business Board which was presented by founder Rob Maslin, as a framework for the business modelling workshop.  At its heart are the ‘User Profile’, and the ‘Function’ (the problem or user need such as washing, rather than the machine), and ‘Solution’, how can we effectively, or optimally, meet the need. bm1

Against this backdrop, our first enquiry was a product ‘tear down’.  We huddled round an Apple MacBook with tiny screw drivers.  ‘Tear down’ suggests a heady abandonment, this was a more precise and forensic exercise.  Carefully teasing the tiny screws passed battery, RAM, circuit boards, and disk-drive, (its intricacy perhaps a clue to their redundancy) until ultimately a mucky keyboard.  Well-versed in product design, my colleagues were focused on the device’s limitations for repair and disassembly.  Many of the environmental challenges device manufacturers face are around resource scarcity and price volatility, yet these challenges are often missing from the designer’s brief, says Shayler.  The post-mortem revealed death by latte on keyboard, so our method imagined a keyboard that could be readily replaced, repaired or personalised.

We sketched out a tiered service (methodology) and pricing plan.  A confident and engaged user would buy their device outright, and any parts for repair or upgrade from the manufacturer or a reseller such as iFixit.or Restart Project.  A second profile, a fashion-conscious, brand-lover, desiring the latest device would pay a premium to customise their keyboard, laser-etch the case, and be one of the first 1000 automatic upgrades for new releases.  A third user profile, someone for whom their laptop is a service platform, predominantly for email and the internet.  This user would own their device for longer, and buy a service contract without either the confidence or inclination to tinker themselves.  This service-based model minimises the environmental, social and governance issues in the supply chain (using less raw materials); remodels delivery logistics to provide for the return of the physical asset; provides a tiered service plan, where the level of engagement or contract matched their service need. Barry Waddilove, Home Product Design, and team designed a network of technology clubs in charity shops for kids and young adults, making use of the ‘waste’ electronics they are given to create educational workshops and with an electronics brand as strategic partner, others kettles, hairdryers and other small electronics.Hugo-new
In leasing or buy-back model, product recovery is key to retaining valuable material resources.  The opportunities are greatest for durables.  The manufacturer has every incentive to design for product disassembly and material recovery, rather than obsolescence.   If Riversimple‘s car design is revolutionary, emitting only a tiny amount of water, and more than the equivalent of 200 mpg., then its business service model is even more so.  Based around a subscription, with a fixed element, and a variable element reflecting usage, Riversimple aims to maximise life-cycle profitability.  The user buys an ongoing service where the product is refurbished, upgraded and replaced as required, made from higher quality materials.

The potential scope is much greater than decoupling product design from raw materials.   As we are five years away from losing key skills into retirement, Shayler argues, there are compelling reasons to boost innovation and engineering enterprise in the UK.  There are barriers, but the mindset is shifting, with a Government report, arguing there are, “potentially billions of pounds of benefits for UK businesses in becoming more resource efficient.”, and calling for producer responsibility regulations and lower VAT on recycled goods.  Spowers called for a more sustainable financial system, and also on the podium, Andy James, Founder and Managing Director of Six Degree People, described the need for greater collabbm2oration and advisory boards to support CEOs embarking on disruptive innovation strategies.  A few days later Andy’s comments were echoed by Professor Vlatka Hlupic at the launch of her new book, The Management Shift.  Her research demonstrates that a collaborative culture is central to developing organisations that are more resilient, more innovative and generate better returns for all stakeholders.  Innovation is joyful!

Image credits: Ellen MacArthur Foundation; Riversimple
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My, my i3

gwiz My love affair with our little electric car, the G-Wizz has been long, but flawed.  We had a lot of fun whiz-zing around town, sneaking down side streets (and the occasional cycle way such is its size), squeezing nose to kerb, and revelling in free parking in Westminster and zero congestion charge. But our family has literally outgrown its diminutive proportions, and there are safer, and sexier options available.

i3So here is our new i3.  As an early adopter, and optimist, I was hopeful when the BMW Park Lane showroom opened last July, but quietly concerned the realities of battery performance in the changeable British climate would still be a challenge. The i3 is all I hoped for, and more.  A great leap forward, and testament to BMW’s attention to detail and engineering.

It is a hot hatch, without compromise.  The high-voltage lithium ion battery provides 125 kW/170hp of power and torque of 250 Nm.  With electric motors full torque is available from standstill, instantly propelling the car 0-37mph in 4 seconds, and 0-62mph in 7.2 seconds.   And it is a very comfortable ride with super soft suspension.  Driver and passengers are all up high, sitting on top of the battery pack,  and my small children love the view. I may no longer be able to park nose to kerb, but it does have a turning circle to rival a London black cab.

interieur-design-02.jpg.resource.1375355091340The i3 is certainly eye-catching with a distinctive ‘Black Band’ that runs from the bonnet over the roof to the rear of the car and large 19inch alloy wheels.  The lightweight Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic (CFRP) passenger compartment is matched by the use of innovative, natural, and sustainable materials inside.  KENAF a fast-growing member of the cotton family is used for door panel livery.  The leather has been naturally-tanned, using olive leaves.  25% of the plastic used in the interior comes from recycled material or renewable resources and all the seat textiles are from recycled fibres.  I only hope as much design consideration was given to the end of the car’s life-cycle.

It is a revolution.  Driving an electric car is no longer an act of enlightened self-interest, but a pleasure, even in London traffic.  Now heads turn from awe and admiration, rather than amusement.  As Elizabeth Farrelly said “the best, most dramatic and most reliable motivator of human behavioural change is beauty”.  Judging by the looks on people’s faces as I drive by the i3 is desirable.  All reputational risk has been removed.  I have even spotted drivers usually associated with a Land Rover Evoque gliding through the West End in an i3.

So how far can you go?  The all electric i3 has a real world range of 100 miles (depending on driving style, traffic situation and road conditions) in the Comfort setting.  The ECO PRO+ mode extends the range by about 25% by reducing the top speed to 55mph, and deactivating heating and air-conditioning.  The Range Extender (a small petrol engine) enables a range of up to 186 miles, with the usual caveats about driving style.  In 2012, the average trip length in the UK was 7 miles (according to the National Traffic Survey). It is an average, so some of us drive much further, but 66% of trips are less than 5 miles and 95% of trips are less than 25 miles.  The average car in Britain travels around 20 miles a day, so well within range.

For longer journeys, the electric super highway is becoming a reality.  In fact, the BMW i3 we test drove had made a trip to Old Trafford.  In July 2011, Ecotricity installed their first electric vehicle charge point at a Welcome Break.  Ecotricity are also installing charge points at IKEA.  AC fast-charging can take less than 3 hours (0-80%), so a typical IKEA trip would probably top you up enough to get home!

stand2Electric cars are kinder to urban air quality, but they can not improve congestion levels.  To have fewer cars on the roads we need different transport models.  Car clubs and car sharing have grown in popularity in recent years.  Although London accounts for around 137,000 car club members (80% of the national total, Carplus annual survey 2013/14) and 2,230 cars, schemes are being rolled out in a number of other major UK cities.  At Show RCA 2014 this week, I met Jaana Tarma (pictured left), graduating from the RCA MA Service Design programme.  Her final project, Worksparks, is  a platform that provides ad-hoc, immediate travel for commuters who could even be matched to drivers with similar interests.  The app for geo-location enabled smartphones allows commuters to request a lift from colleagues either in advance, or in real time.  In an organisational setting, participating drivers could receive preferential parking or even financial rewards as savings from building or leasing few parking spaces provide a saving.  I wonder if I can get the new school run Mums to trial it in September?  The incentive, a ride in the i3.

For a the full technical specification visit the BMWi3 website.  The BMW i3 is around £25,ooo including the government grant.

Image credit: BMW, Jaana Tarma  & my own!