A sprint towards ecological design

EcoDesign Sprint workshop. Kuva: Kalle Kataila

EcoDesign Sprint workshop. Photo: Kalle Kataila


Aino Vepsäläinen
Project Manager, Design Forum Finland

Anne Veinola
Communications Specialist, Design Forum Finland


EcoDesign Circle is a three-year (2016–2019) project for developing the circular economy with the means of design and design thinking. It is partly funded by the Interreg Baltic Sea Region Programme of the European Union and thus taking place in the Baltic Sea Region. The participants – design organizations – come from Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden, Germany and Finland, the Lead Partner being the Umweltbundesamt UBA of Germany.

It is us, Design Forum Finland, who has been the Finnish partner in this project. Our main contribution has been the development of EcoDesign Sprint, a method, or tool, helping companies to the circular economy and design in an efficient and relatively easy way. The Sprint has been piloted in three companies in Finland, two in Sweden and one in Estonia during the winter 2017–2018 and the results have been encouraging.

”Through the sprint, we realized that design has a lot to give to these kinds of challenges. Companies should utilize it more.”

One could call EcoDesign Sprint a training programme. It is intended for both SME’s and design agencies which are interested in the possibilities of the circular economy and understand that here lies an opportunity for providing for the future as well as boosting competitiveness. As the result of the programme, the participating companies, as well as design agencies, will get new business concepts in accordance with the circular economy; these they can further develop into new products or services.

In Finland, the participants for the pilot round of EcoDesign Sprint, both companies and design agencies, were chosen through an open call. The application period was in last September and resulted in 22 applications from which three pairs of a company and a design agency were formed.

Here, the most important selection criteria were an interest in product and service development according to the circular economy, and the willingness to invest time in the Sprint process. In the selection of companies, versatility and divergence were underlined. As we wanted to research how the Sprint tool suits various business areas, the selected companies came from food, construction and textile industries. In the selection of design agencies, the mutual compatibility of a client company and a design agency was the most important factor.


EcoDesign Sprint workshop. Kuva: Kalle Kataila

EcoDesign Sprint workshop. Photo: Kalle Kataila


This time, we started the pilot EcoDesign Sprints testing EcoDesign Audit, a tool developed by Estonian Design Centre. With Audit, the capacity and utilization of design in general and circular design in particular were surveyed in the participating company. Anne Raudaskoski from the Finnish company Ethica, specialised in the circular economy and sustainability, was responsible for this phase of the pilot Sprints.

The regular phases of EcoDesign Sprint are the three workshop days, with the titles Understand, Ideate and Deliver. First, each company has a one-day workshop with a circular economy specialist, with understanding as the theme. The second and third day consist of workshops where the company and the design agency chosen for it work together. The second day is for ideating, the third for conceptualisation.

During the first workshop day, the lifecycle of the company’s products and services is researched. Here, we get to know what the organization should do in order to adopt the circular economy and circular design as part of its strategy and product development processes. This work results as sort of a business model canvas or roadmap.

Based on the work of the first day, the design agency runs the workshop on the second Sprint day. Here, the methods include e.g. co-design, ideation and charting possibilities for business models. Preliminary business concepts are already jointly ideated.

These two days provide the design agencies with valuable information about the company and its resources, which form the basis for further development of concepts for the companies. The third day, after a short period of a couple of weeks, results in two protypes or concepts. One of the concepts is a short-term proposition which the company can immediately apply in its operations. The other is to be further developed to a roadmap or a vision which would provide with ideas for longer-term changes and operations.

”Even though I thought I have always been aware of environmental issues and ecological values have always been important for me, the Sprint opened my eyes. Especially regarding the realization that it could be present in everything I do. From now on, I will take these topics into consideration even more in my work.”


EcoDesign Sprint workshop. Kuva: Kalle Kataila

EcoDesign Sprint workshop. Photo: Kalle Kataila


In our piloting, these workshops took place in winter 2017–2018. As the Sprint is a learning process for both the company and the design agency, we again had our circular economy specialist Anne Raudaskoski mentoring and instructing the participants.

EcoDesign Sprints have given very positive experiences to all those concerned. The design agencies have gained knowledge and understanding about circular design. They have also realized what pioneering advantage and business opportunities lie in the circular economy and design. The participating companies, in turn, have been excited about the new opportunities of competitiveness and sustainability, and further cooperation is being planned.

Both we at Design Forum Finland and Ethica have found EcoDesign Sprint as a good and versatile tool and there is willingness to develop it further.

”These kinds of workshops open your eyes.”

The booklet introducing to EcoDesign Sprint has been published – download it from here! You’ll find more information about EcoDesign Sprint here.

N.B. The quotations, from companies and design agencies having participated in the pilot Sprints, come from Oona Anttila’s Master’s Thesis at the Aalto University.