At the end of September, I took part in the Learning Factory training pilot of the EcoDesign Circle 4.0 project exploring service development according to the principles of circular economy. EcoDesign Circle 4.0 is a joint EU-funded project between the countries in the Baltic Sea region for developing solutions to promote circular economy.
The first phase of the EcoDesign Circle project focused on product design, whereas the follow-up project currently underway highlights service development. The two-day Learning Factory workshop, implemented in the virtual environment, included Finnish and Estonian companies and operators. The workshop was led from Berlin by consulting company Fjord’s service designers and Fraunhofer IZM’s circular economy specialists.
In addition to lectures on circular economy and service development, the Learning Factory course consists of a workshop where new services and business models are designed for an imaginary company. The participants were not required to have a background in circular economy, as the idea was to learn by doing.
Adhering to the principles of circular economy is particularly important in the design phase of a product, since over 80 % of the product’s environmental impact is determined at that stage.
Adhering to the principles of circular economy is particularly important in the design phase of a product, since over 80 % of the product’s environmental impact is determined at that stage. How well these principles are realised after manufacturing depends on the services available. Can the product be repaired, renewed or turned into new raw material, can worn parts be replaced? How can side streams, surplus or waste from manufacturing be utilised? And how easy or feasible is this? In the best-case scenario, services can extend the product lifetime. In the worst case, the product gets sorted as waste.
Service needs created by circular economy create opportunities for new business, and this innovation is what Learning Factory is all about. Broadly speaking, the pilot workshop followed the normal service development method. Get to know the area and assume its principles – select a target for development – generate ideas – test your ideas. Exercises in small groups led us step by step towards service innovations.
A concrete and familiar product is the easiest target for development. In this workshop, it was a children’s traffic rug manufactured by an imaginary carpet company. First, we considered the rug’s lifecycle from the factory to the customer, and what happens to the product after it has been used. What are the different lifecycle stages, what operators are involved? Rug designer, managing director of the manufacturing company, driver of the distribution company, parent that buys the rug, cleaner – what do they think and find important about the product?
Service needs created by circular economy create opportunities for new business.
The exercise was continued from the perspective of a couple of key operators. Where and how can they impact the life of the product, its environmental friendliness and resource efficiency? The analysis also provided surprises. Why buy the rug, could it be rented? The duration of use of a children’s rug is obviously limited. What follows from this – how does a rug rental service operate? Who is in charge of repairs or cleaning, where do they take place? Perhaps in cooperation with a local operator?
Once the world of rugs was fully covered, we moved on to the service innovation phase. How would Steve Jobs solve the problems? What about a beehive or the FBI? These ‘strange’ perspectives allow us to see problems with fresh eyes and without prejudice. Perhaps swarm intelligence (beehive) or technology (Steve Jobs) could provide new approaches? At which level of circular economy do the new services belong – do they lengthen the rug’s useful life, turn it into a new product or is the raw material recycled?
Every now and then, we returned to the real world. Many inventive services already exist: sharing and recycling platforms, repair services, use optimisation systems. With these in mind, we selected some service ideas from the example task for further development from a more realistic perspective. Effectiveness was key: which location, operator and lifecycle stage is worth investing in. Since the point of the exercise was service innovation production, the commercial viability of business ideas was not studied too closely. The workshop ended with presenting the small-group suggestions to the other groups.
Effectiveness was key: which location, operator and lifecycle stage is worth investing in.
Enthusiasm was evident in the feedback discussion, although two days of remote workshopping was hard work. EcoDesign Circle 4.0 Learning Factory is a simple and effective way of generating service ideas. Its strength lies in combining a comprehensive understanding of the area to be developed with letting loose in a creative way. The process is supported by visuality: all stages are constantly visible and it is easy to return to earlier solutions if you reach a dead end. This approach is of course more than familiar to designers, but for non-designers it offers an opportunity for new working methods. There is truth in the saying ‘you learn by doing.’
Design Forum Finland
More info about EcoDesign Circle and Learning Factory is available here!
Photo: Paul Talbot