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By Julie Powers, APAC Head of Service Excellence Superfy, 30 March 2023

Transitioning to circular economy practices

As a resident of Australia with a keen interest in global sustainable technologies, I was delighted to hear of the recent announcement by the NSW government of its plans to incorporate circular design principles and decarbonization measures into infrastructure projects across the state. These measures aim to reduce waste, promote sustainability, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. The government has also launched a new program to support businesses in transitioning to circular economy practices. These initiatives are part of the government’s efforts to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

The Circular Design Guide 2023 is a publication by the NSW Department of Energy and Climate Change that provides guidelines and principles for implementing circular design practices in infrastructure projects. The guide highlights the importance of reducing waste and carbon emissions through circular economy principles and outlines strategies for achieving circular design, including designing for longevity, optimizing materials and resources, and using renewable energy sources. The guide also provides case studies and examples of circular design in practice and offers tools and resources to support the implementation of circular design in infrastructure projects.

In general, there are six key principles of circular design.

  1. Design for durability and longevity. This principle aims to create products that are built to last and can be used repeatedly over time. By designing products that are durable and long-lasting, businesses can reduce the need for frequent replacements, which ultimately reduces waste and environmental impact.
  2. Design for resource efficiency. This principle emphasizes creating products and systems that use materials, energy, and resources as efficiently as possible, minimizing waste and reducing environmental impact. To achieve this, designers need to consider the entire lifecycle of a product or system, from the extraction of raw materials to the disposal or recycling of the product at the end of its useful life.
  3. Design for reuse and repair. This principle focuses on designing products that can be easily repaired, refurbished, or repurposed, extending their useful life and reducing waste. By creating products that can be repaired or reused, businesses can reduce the need for frequent replacements and ultimately reduce waste.
  4. Design for recycling and material recovery. This principle emphasizes designing products with the end of their useful life in mind so that they can be efficiently and effectively recycled or repurposed. Designers should consider the type of materials used in their products and ensure they are easily separable for recycling or repurposing.
  5. Designing for sustainable materials. This principle encourages designers to prioritize the use of sustainable materials and avoid materials that are harmful to human health or the environment. Designers should consider the entire lifecycle of the material, from its extraction to disposal, and choose materials that have a low environmental impact.
  6. Design for circular systems. This principle takes a systems approach, considering the entire lifecycle of products and systems and designing them to fit within a circular economy. This involves considering the upstream and downstream impacts of products, as well as the potential for collaboration between stakeholders to create closed-loop systems.

Additional guidance for implementing circular design practices include:

  • conduct a circularity assessment to understand the circularity of existing products and systems and identify areas for improvement
  • incorporate circular design practices into the design process
  • collaborate with other stakeholders to create closed-loop systems

The benefits of adopting circular design practices, include

  • reduced waste and environmental impact
  • improved resource efficiency
  • increased economic opportunities
  • more sustainable products and systems that benefit both the environment and the economy

In summary, I’ll leave the last word to the guide itself on the reasons for adopting this approach.

“It contributes to innovation, growth, job creation and prosperity, while reducing our impact on the environment. Analysis has shown that incorporating a circular economy approach into the built environment could reduce emissions by 3.6 million tonnes of CO2e per year by 2040. It could deliver $773 billion in direct economic benefits over 20 years.”