Society’s use of resources exceeds what our Earth can provide. This has severe consequences on humanity and the planet, including resource scarcity, climate change and biodiversity loss. To limit further impact, it is imperative that our society reduces its use of resources. Organisations that continue relying on linear and resource-intensive business logics risk being outrivalled as competition for resources gets fiercer. By shifting to circular business logics, organisations can reduce not only their resource dependency but also increase their opportunities to offer products and services that are relevant and attractive in future markets.
Common circular strategies point to opportunities to design products that can be refurbished, remanufactured and recycled, which in turn enable new production processes without sourcing virgin material. Although such production-focused opportunities are important when transitioning to a circular economy, achieving changes in consumption is equally important. However, exploring opportunities to foster circular consumption requires a shift in perspective. We believe it is crucial to acknowledge the critical role people play in the circular economy and to adopt a user-centered mindset that addresses product circularity from a consumption perspective. We call it Use2Use.
We have been exploring the idea of a more user-centric circular narrative since 2013 to widen the understanding of how companies can address circularity. The term Use2Use was originally coined by Helena Strömberg in 2016 and has grown to represent a new mindset and a new lens through which one can consider opportunities for product circularity. What the Use2Use mindset is all about is expanded upon in the Use2Use Thinking Activation Pack but also summarised by the three calls for action below.
ADDRESS CIRCULARITY FROM A CONSUMPTION PERSPECTIVE
If circularity is viewed from a production point of view, the main approach for achieving circular resource flows is to loop resources from cradle to cradle; to recover products, parts and materials by circulating them back into new production processes. Although such a perspective highlights many important opportunities to design for circularity, it represents a rather simplified view when it comes to understanding people and their consumption. To explore opportunities for circularity from a user’s point of view in more depth, we believe it is more meaningful to consider circularity in relation to people’s consumption processes. When shifting to a consumption perspective it becomes relevant to consider how people obtain, use and clear products as well as to consider how to facilitate product exchanges, i.e. how to enable people to circulate products in tight loops from use to use.
Enabling tight loops may not only be less resource-intensive than production-focused resource recovery processes, but it can also make circular resource flows more attractive to people. No matter how well a production line is set up to enable, say, a remanufacturing process, circularity can’t be guaranteed. It is always people who decide whether they want to return products for remanufacturing and whether they’re willing to use remanufactured products or pay for services that offer them. If such circular offers are not perceived as attractive for people, the products won’t get circulated and the company’s efforts may not reduce the resource throughput. When aiming to design for circularity, a Use2Use mindset can help you to identify opportunities to make such circular offers preferable over other alternatives.
ENABLE CIRCULARITY IN EVERYDAY LIFE
A Use2Use mindset is about seeing people, rather than companies, as the nexus of circularity. This changes how the role of companies is viewed. Less focus is put on their possibilities to ensure sustainable operations and to provide products and services fit for circular production processes. Instead, they can be considered enablers of circular consumption that can support people to live a circular everyday life. Such a framing unveils new rationales for companies to support product circularity that may be less apparent when considering circularity from a production point of view. Companies can take on many different roles to enable people’s circular consumption processes. Providing products-as-a-service is an approach commonly discussed as the way to go circular. But a company that designs and manufactures products does not necessarily need to ‘servitizise’ to be an enabler of circular consumption. Companies can adapt their products so that they are suitable for, for instance, sharing and selling second-hand. They can also adapt their products so that they are fit for other’s companies’ circular business models; they do not have to start a rental or leasing service themselves. Companies can also become exchange agents that support the transfer of products between users. For instance, by providing a channel through which people can connect and pass products on, or by temporarily taking over ownership and ensuring that the product is in good condition before it is circulated to a new user.
USE USER INSIGHT AS A POINT OF DEPARTURE FOR DESIGN
Today, many companies develop new circular solutions based on, for instance, an identified business opportunity or an ambition to lower negative sustainability impacts. Often, companies find themselves pondering how to make people accept and buy their new circular product or service. Such an approach to innovation risk entailing that consumers are viewed as passive receivers of circular offers who companies may have to convince or motivate.
In contrast, a user-centered mindset highlights the importance of understanding what circularity entails for people in everyday life and use that as a point for departure for design. It points to the importance of developing circular offers based on insights about people’s daily activities and experiences. By identifying design challenges related to people’s consumption processes, companies can develop new circular offers that meet people’s needs and become inherently meaningful for people. Just like in any process to bring about new products and services, user insights can be an important enabler of coming up with ideas for competitive solutions or refining existing ones.
Although applying a user-centered approach to circularity may result in new insights about users and their consumption processes, as well as novel design opportunities that are attractive to people, companies should of course ensure that these ideas are advantageous also from a business and sustainability perspective.