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Circular by design by Sophie Thomas

Sophie Thomas, designer and founder of the Great Recovery - a programme investigating the role of design in the circuar economy run by the Royal Society for the Enrouragement of Arts, Manyfacture and Commerce in London - reflects on the quest for material infinity, and the massive changes and opportunities the circulat economy offers to designers.

Look around you. Wherever you are there will be something that has been designed: beautiful things, functional things, frivolous things. When I became a designer I quickly discovered a stark truth: I was partly responsible for a rapid flow of materials and stuff that passes through our lives, and all too soon ends up on a waste pile. It seems impossible to imagine how we, as designers, can change this. But change it we must. And design is a good place to start.

All too often, when designers consider materials or production methods, we jump to the finished product too quickly; we fail to consider its wider impact or future use. The very premise would need to change, to address a future where one product could easily become another. This would mean radically re-thinking everything: from the materials we specify, the product itself, its packaging, the logistics to retrieve it after use, and then to sort, process and make it into something usable again.

Designing with circular economy principles is based on systems thinking; it means designing the whole system, not just the products. Achieving material infinity requires change on the part of everyone involved in the life of a product, from the suppliers of raw materials to the manufacturer, retailer, consumer and end-of-life disposal and recycling companies.

The scale of our waste problem should make us throw up our hands in despair. My shock, however, has subsided into curiosity. Where most see threadbare sheets or fading curtains, old electronics or forgotten fashion, I now see the fuel for our renewal.


Inspiration. Challenging designers and architects to rethink their use of resources, Really starts a dialogue about the shift in perception, process and logistics needed as we grapple with upcycling waste.