It is well documented that the apparel sector has a long history of detrimental effects on the environment as a result of production, including depletion of non-renewable resources, high greenhouse gas emissions, and excess amounts of water and energy usage.
Despite the prevalence of resource-guzzling textiles, there are companies within the apparel sector that have reshaped their business model to become more circular, using circular design to create new products. The concept of circular design is linked to the idea of a ‘circular economy’. As defined by the Ellen McArthur foundation, a circular economy is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems. It is estimated that 80% of a product’s environmental impact throughout its life cycle is designed into the product, meaning that the design stage is critical to minimise environmental impact effectively.
Going toe-to-toe with linear design
Adidas and Nike are good examples of companies that have invested into technology and operations to create more circular business models with durable products. . The Nike Air VaporMax 2020 Flyknit has at least 50% recycled content by weight, showcasing the company’s innovative approach to sustainable design. The recycled Flynknit yarn is made from around 67% post-industrial recycled content by weight, with different recycled components. Meanwhile, Adidas has partnered with Parley Ocean Plastic to create sustainably made, high-performance sportswear. Parley Ocean Plastic used marine plastic waste to replace virgin plastic in its collaboration with adidas. Adidas has also committed to shift to use 100% recycled polyester in their products by 2024.
Longevity is also a key consideration in the circular design process as sustainable retailers strive to create apparel that can last for a long time or which can be resold thanks to the quality of the product. Extending the life of clothing by an extra nine months could reduce carbon, water and waste footprints by approximately 20 to 30% each.
Taking the wraps off sustainable packaging
Another important aspect associated with the consumer sector is packaging. With an exponential rise in online shopping, there has been a direct correlation in the increase in waste in the form of packaging. COVID-19, where a large proportion of global consumers have relied on online retail, food delivery and personal protective equipment, has accelerated this trend.
UK-based packaging company DS Smith provides customers with sustainable packaging products. DS Smith runs three business operations that offer sustainable solutions for their customers in packaging, paper and recycling. The core purpose of its business model is ‘Redefining Packaging for a Changing World’.
In June 2020, DS Smith launched its Circular Design Principles in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to ensure that more of its products are sustainably designed, backed by their team of 700 packaging designers. Now, 98% of the packaging it manufactures is reusable or recyclable and 100% of the paper used come from recycled or chain of custody certified sources. The company has also made a series of commitments to tackle environmental issues including the goal of manufacturing 100% reusable or recyclable packaging by 2025.
We believe that the environmental impact of consumer products is twofold; in the way that products are made, and in the way that products are consumed. As the strain of human consumption on the environment becomes ever more apparent, it is pleasing to see companies change the way that products are designed and to incentivise consumers to change their behaviours. By making conscious decisions about the materials and processes used in designing a product, the world’s finite raw materials will remain in use for longer rather than being sent to landfill, reducing excess carbon and water waste.