Circular Design and Manufacturing

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Circular design and manufacturing represent a fundamental shift in how we create and use products, moving away from the traditional linear model of “take-make-waste” toward a closed-loop system. It involves designing products with the entire lifecycle in mind, ensuring that materials are kept in use for as long as possible, minimizing waste generation and resource depletion. This approach embraces sustainable material selection, product longevity, ease of disassembly, repair, and remanufacturing, ultimately promoting a regenerative and circular economy.

Impact on climate action

Circular Design and Manufacturing significantly bolsters climate action by reducing resource consumption and waste generation throughout product lifecycles. Through efficient material use and closed-loop systems, it minimizes emissions and energy demand associated with production, fostering a sustainable economy while mitigating environmental degradation.


  • Cradle-to-Cradle Design: This design philosophy emphasizes creating products that are “nutrients” for the technical or biological cycles, ensuring that materials can be perpetually cycled without loss of quality or value.
  • Design for Disassembly: Products are designed with modularity, standardized components, and easily accessible fasteners, enabling straightforward disassembly for repair, upgrade, or material recovery.
  • Material Selection for Circularity: Prioritizing renewable, recyclable, or biodegradable materials, minimizing the use of hazardous substances, and designing for material compatibility to facilitate end-of-life sorting and recycling.
  • Remanufacturing and Refurbishment: Incorporating design features that allow for easy remanufacturing or refurbishment of products, extending their lifespan and reducing the need for new production.
  • Industrial Symbiosis: Creating networks of businesses where the waste or byproducts of one industry become inputs for another, minimizing waste and maximizing resource utilization.

TRL : 6-8 (depending on the specific principles and applications)

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Biomimicry for Sustainable Design: Drawing inspiration from nature to design products that are efficient, durable, and can be safely returned to the environment.
  • Digital Product Passports: Utilizing digital product passports to track materials and components throughout the lifecycle, enabling efficient disassembly, repair, and recycling.
  • Additive Manufacturing for Circularity: Leveraging 3D printing to create customized and on-demand spare parts for product repairs, extending lifespan and minimizing waste.
  • Closed-Loop Supply Chains: Developing closed-loop supply chains where materials are recovered and reused within the production process, minimizing waste and reducing reliance on virgin resources.
  • Design for Product-as-a-Service: Designing products specifically for Product-as-a-Service (PaaS) models, prioritizing durability, repairability, and ease of maintenance.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Cradle-to-Cradle Design Philosophy
  • Modular Product Architecture
  • Sustainable Material Selection
  • Remanufacturing Techniques
  • Industrial Symbiosis Networks
  • Biomimetic Product Design
  • Digital Product Passports
  • 3D Printing for Spare Parts
  • Closed-Loop Supply Chains
  • Product-as-a-Service Models
  • Waterless Textile Dyeing
  • Lease a Product Initiatives
  • Carpet Recycling Programs
  • Modular Electronics Design
  • Reusable Packaging Systems
  • Biodegradable Packaging Materials
  • Packaging Optimization for Recycling

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  1. DyeCoo:
    • Technology Focus: DyeCoo specializes in waterless dyeing technology for textiles. Their innovation eliminates the need for water in the dyeing process, significantly reducing the environmental impact of textile production.
    • Uniqueness: DyeCoo’s waterless dyeing technology is a game-changer in the textile industry, offering a sustainable alternative to traditional dyeing methods. By eliminating water usage and the need for chemicals typically associated with dyeing, they contribute to a more eco-friendly manufacturing process.
    • End-User Segments: Their technology is particularly relevant for the textile and apparel industry, where water consumption and chemical pollution are significant concerns. Brands seeking sustainable manufacturing solutions and environmentally-conscious consumers are key target segments for DyeCoo.
  2. Mud Jeans:
    • Technology Focus: Mud Jeans focuses on sustainable denim manufacturing, with an emphasis on circular economy principles. They employ innovative practices such as leasing and recycling jeans to minimize waste and extend the lifespan of their products.
    • Uniqueness: Mud Jeans stands out for its circular business model, which promotes leasing jeans instead of outright purchasing. This approach encourages customers to return jeans for recycling, contributing to a closed-loop system where materials are reused and waste is minimized.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments include environmentally-conscious consumers who prioritize sustainability in their purchasing decisions. Additionally, brands and retailers interested in adopting circular economy practices within the fashion industry are potential partners for Mud Jeans.
  3. Interface:
    • Technology Focus: Interface is a global leader in sustainable flooring solutions, with a focus on modular carpet tiles. They have pioneered innovations such as recycled materials, biophilic design, and carbon-neutral manufacturing processes.
    • Uniqueness: Interface’s commitment to sustainability permeates every aspect of their business, from product design to manufacturing practices. They are known for their Mission Zero goal, striving to eliminate any negative impact their operations have on the environment by 2020.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments include commercial and residential markets looking for sustainable flooring solutions. Interface’s products appeal to architects, designers, and building owners seeking environmentally-friendly alternatives for interior spaces.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  1. Technical University of Delft (Netherlands):
    • Technology Enhancements: The Technical University of Delft is pioneering research into circular design methodologies and manufacturing processes. They are leveraging advanced technologies such as additive manufacturing (3D printing) and digital twin simulations to create products that are optimized for reuse, remanufacturing, and recycling.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Delft’s approach involves a holistic perspective on product lifecycle management, integrating aspects of design, materials science, and supply chain management. They are developing innovative tools and frameworks for designers and engineers to incorporate circular principles into the product development process.
    • End-use Applications: The research at Delft has applications across various industries, including consumer electronics, automotive, and fashion. By adopting circular design principles, companies can extend the lifespan of products, reduce resource consumption, and minimize waste generation.
  2. Ellen MacArthur Foundation:
    • Technology Enhancements: The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is at the forefront of promoting circular economy principles globally. Their research initiatives focus on developing practical strategies and tools for businesses to transition towards circular business models. They collaborate with universities, businesses, and policymakers to drive innovation and knowledge-sharing in the field of circular design and manufacturing.
    • Uniqueness of Research: The Foundation’s research is characterized by its systemic approach to addressing the root causes of resource depletion and waste generation. They advocate for redesigning products, business models, and supply chains to eliminate the concept of waste and create regenerative systems.
    • End-use Applications: The research conducted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has broad implications for all sectors of the economy. By embracing circular economy principles, companies can unlock new value streams, reduce costs, and enhance their resilience to external disruptions while contributing to environmental sustainability.
  3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):
    • Technology Enhancements: MIT researchers are exploring innovative technologies and methodologies to enable circular design and manufacturing. They are developing advanced materials, processes, and business models that promote product longevity, reusability, and recyclability.
    • Uniqueness of Research: MIT’s approach combines expertise from various disciplines, including engineering, economics, and policy analysis, to address the complex challenges of transitioning to a circular economy. They are investigating novel approaches such as product-as-a-service models, modular design, and material passporting to facilitate the circularity of products and materials.
    • End-use Applications: The research at MIT spans multiple industries, from electronics and appliances to construction and healthcare. By adopting circular design principles, companies can create products that retain their value over time, reduce environmental impact, and meet the evolving needs of customers in a resource-constrained world.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Circular design and manufacturing principles are being embraced by a growing number of companies across diverse industries:

  • Fashion: Several fashion brands are incorporating circular design principles, using recycled materials, designing for durability and repairability, and implementing take-back programs for used clothing.
  • Electronics: Electronics manufacturers are designing modular devices, making spare parts more readily available, and offering recycling programs to promote circularity in the electronics industry.
  • Packaging: Companies are developing reusable packaging systems, using biodegradable or compostable materials, and optimizing packaging design to minimize waste and promote recyclability.