23 May 2019

What role do designers play in the Circular Economy?

Category: Blog, News

Our desire to create new products is boundless, but the earth’s resource supply is not. In nature there is no waste; everything is a nutrient that serves a specific purpose. In this episode of NeoConversations, two champions of sustainability sit down to discuss how architects and designers can emulate nature and its processes to achieve the goal of a circular economy. ECONYL® nylon offers solutions that are sustainable and flow with the same systems that we see in nature. Discover more how creators can be empowered by the endless possibilities of sustainable materials.

NeoConversations

NeoCon is the commercial design industry’s launch pad for innovation — offering ideas and introductions that shape the built environment today and into the future.

NeoConversations is a podcast series produced by NeoCon, which focuses on all things commercial design.

Aquafil is featured in Episode 4 of NeoConversations, hosted by Amy Devers, furniture designer, carpenter, television personality and design blogger.

In this new episode, ‘Design and the Circular Economy’, Amy Devers talks about circular economy and the role of designers in creating a new approach to design for circularity.

Our CEO and president, Giulio Bonazzi, is interviewed alongside David Oakey, founder of David Oakey Designs and one of the most award-winning carpet designers in the world. David started collaborating with Interface and Aquafil from the very beginning of Interface’s transition to a sustainable business when Ray Anderson decided to revolutionize his company and the industry.

PIC QUOTE Ray Anderson David.

The problem: A wake-up call

In his book ‘The Shape of Green,’ architect Lance Hosey explains how 90% of a product’s environmental impact is determined during early design phases. Another figure reveals how 39% of CO2 emissions in the USA come from buildings, a percentage that is higher than transportation (29%) and industrial (32%).

These two elements give us an idea of the critical role that architects and designers can play in finding circular solutions in these industries and improve the way we design products and buildings.

This is why in the podcast, Bonazzi and Oakey talk about the role and power of designers and architects but also of legislation, suppliers and consumers. We need help from every angle, and the partnership of Aquafil with Interface, and of Bonazzi with Oakey is an excellent example of the kind of collaboration required.

Waste is a design flaw

The idea that gave start to this journey was to create a sustainable carpet flooring. David Oakey was working on this, at that time, with Interface and Ray Anderson and he explains very well the challenges and then the cooperation with Aquafil and how ECONYL® came to be, a nylon that transforms a waste problem into design solutions by recovering waste to turn it into nylon for new products.

In their conversation, Bonazzi and Oakey talk a lot about waste and how nature does everything without it and reusing all materials. This is the founding principle behind circular economy: keeping materials in the flow just like in nature where one material becomes the nutrients of the next one. This is the principle that guided Oakey and Bonazzi in their journey into sustainability and circular economy.

But this is just the first step into eco-design, as the conversation in the podcast explains. We can have a sustainable ingredient like ECONYL® that has an 80% reduction in the global warming potential compared to virgin nylon, but then we also need to design with the end in mind as Giulio Bonazzi likes to say.

We often hear that waste is a failure of the imagination. And this refers to this new challenge ahead of us. Sustainable materials are now available, but we also need to use them in a sustainable way and make sure that they will be recovered again and again at the end of every useful life. We need to design, thinking about what happens at the end of an item’s journey in its current state.

Old carpets piles up at Aquafil’s Phoenix Carpet Recycling Facility. It will be disassmbled and the nylon will be regenerated in Slovenia at the ECONYL® Regeneration Plant.  

An example can be carpet. Carpets are 3.5 % of all waste disposed of in US landfills and represent around 4 billion pounds of waste per year. Isn’t this a terrible waste of materials that is, for the most part made with fossil resources? A carpet dumped in a landfill could last 500 years or more and meanwhile, to produce a new one, we are drilling fossil raw material from the Earth.

Why instead are we not extracting our new resources from those spent carpets? That is the idea behind the ECONYL® regeneration process and that is explained in the podcast. But another further step is also to design carpet to ease the disassembly of it into the components to be easily recyclable.

But why it is so challenging to implement circular economy solutions and push for sustainable design? Why there is not more sustainability in design? This might go back to the six myths of sustainable design that Lance Hosey explained so well still in 2015. Among them are economic concerns and aesthetic concerns that are also addressed by Bonazzi and Oakey in their conversation with Amy Devers.

The Net Effect™ collection by David Oakey for Interface is made with 100% regenerated ECONYL® yarn and is inspired both by the beauty of the ocean’s biodiversity and plight of marine life that is endangered by ghost fishing nets, overfishing, pollution and climate change.

Sustainable design — good for the planet and for business

According to Paul Hawken’s book Drawdown, if just 9.7% of the new buildings were net-zero energy by 2050, global greenhouse gas emissions would be 7.1 gigatons lower. That’s the equivalent to eliminating annual emissions from all livestock worldwide. This is an amazing power that has an incredible impact. The Earth is asking for this, but also the market.

Sustainability is becoming sexier also in the design industry. Specifiers ask for it as well as customers. Investors put it as a must in big projects, and young designers start experimenting with sustainable materials and circular design since university.

In the U.S. alone, sales of products with sustainable attributes makeup 22% of the entire store with organic, sustainable, and clean attributes. A recent Nielsen study expects that by 2021, sustainable goods will make up 25% of store sales.

Circularity today is about doing differently and reimagine rather than restricts the way we consume. This approach can open up new opportunities for architects, designers, brands, and consumers to interact and redefine their relationship, collaborate, and encourage continuous improvements in the way we design products.

This is the most exciting moment in our lives because we get to redesign everything. We hope this NeoConversations podcast will inspire you for the next step and we would love to help you develop your next big idea in design.

Join the movement!

VISIT US AT NEOCON EXHIBITION IN CHICAGO FROM JUNE 10 TO JUNE 12 ON THE 11TH FLOOR, SHOWROOM 107.

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