On Thursday 9 September, Design Forum Finland organised the event Design Forum Talk <3 Circular Economy that focused on circular economy.
The seminar, moderated by Katja Lindroos, was organised for the fourth time — and virtually for the first time. Even though the elements of contact and sharing opinions may be lost in online events, they provide a chance for more people to attend, from abroad as well. The audience was rather international.
Within a few years, circular economy and sustainable business have become more central themes: trends that must be addressed if success is part of your future plans. Finland is one of the pioneers of circular economy, as we heard from the afternoon’s opening presentation by Business Finland’s Director General Nina Kopola. The Finnish roadmap to circular economy has existed since 2016, and we are pioneers in many of its areas, such as e.g. recycling plastic and battery metals.
Business Finland supports the transition towards circular economy in various ways. In businesses, this is carried out through programmes such as the Bio and Circular Finland programme. Another way is to help build ecosystems where various operators form an entity together, to recycle textiles, as an example. Innovations, such as new kinds of textile fibres made from recycled materials, are researched and funded.
Within a few years, circular economy and sustainable business have become more central themes: trends that must be addressed if success is part of your future plans.
The first company example came from Norway. Vestre is a manufacturer of outdoor furniture that has been in business for over 70 years. Sustainable development has always been part of its operations. Business Development Manager Romy Rawlings stated that the guiding principle of the business is to create meeting places for people by building furniture. “Hostile design” that is used to prevent loitering, such as sleeping on a bench or skateboarding, is not one of the business’s values. The Nordic right of public access is defended — the urban space is for everyone. Environmental issues are naturally important: the fixtures are sustainable and fixable, the materials almost infinitely recyclable and the new factory that is under construction is the most eco-friendly factory in the world according to Rawlings.
Managing Director Peter Post of the German digital design agency Scholz & Volkmer presented his agency’s guiding principle: shared value. As a result of assignments, added value is created to the client brand as well as people in general, and ultimately the entire planet. The strength of the agency lies in the concepts which were initially created for the personnel’s benefit, but which later developed into even broader research topics. With these concepts, Scholz & Volkmer is involved in the development of the urban community to promote ecological modes of transport and improve air quality. “City as a lab,” Post says.
All company examples of the day were characterised by a certain timelessness that has produced strong, recognisable and long-lived brands.
A Finnish example was brought into the discussion by Marimekko’s Sustainability Manager Saara Azbel. As a representative of the fashion industry, responsibility issues are central themes for Marimekko. The company has been involved in the Ioncell project in developing cellulose-based fibres and their eco-friendly production. Another interesting project of theirs is an experiment with woad — a plant that produces an indigo blue colour that has been used for dyeing purposes since the Middle Ages.
Royal Ahrend, a manufacturer of office furniture, was encouraged by its clients to adapt to the circular economy mindset. Circular Economy Manager Rick Veenendaal stated that an increasingly frequent question in design projects is how sustainable furnishing is. The UN’s sustainable development goals on production, well-being and sustainable consumption have been included in the company’s business strategy. The principles of circular economy have been strongly integrated into the business. The principles have also produced new business operations such as the “furniture as a service” concept, in which a client can rent the furniture they need instead of buying them.
Another central theme was the place of circular economy and sustainable development deep in the business strategies.
The last speaker of the day, Patagonia’s General Manager EMEA Ryan Gellert, presented a clothing brand that has always held responsibility and sustainable business as its core values. The clients are encouraged to promote these principles: Patagonia advises the clients to fix the old product instead of buying a new one, offers them services for this and rewards them for loyalty. The brand community shares the values of protecting and respecting the environment and is gladly involved in supporting nature preservation. However, ethical issues do not prevent Patagonia from doing profitable business. “Be consistent with your principles,” Gellert advises new entrepreneurs. This advice has worked for Patagonia for nearly half a century.
Finally, the CEO of Design Forum Finland, Petteri Kolinen, ended the event with a summary of the day. Topics that were brought up during the day included the significance and impact of a business’s design language and consistent and recognisable design to the product’s life cycle. All company examples of the day were characterised by a certain timelessness that has produced strong, recognisable and long-lived brands. According to Kolinen, another central theme was the place of circular economy and sustainable development deep in the business strategies.
Circular economy is a necessity for the future. But it is also an asset. Together with design, it is an immense opportunity that is worth taking sooner rather than later.
Design Forum Finland
Design Forum Talk <3 Circular Economy was arranged in cooperation with the Embassy of the Netherlands and it was a part of Helsinki Design Week’s programme.
Image: Scholz & Volkmer GmbH