Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Designing your products, and your business model to support the Circular Economy

Sustainability by design

The design of a product, process or system and the design of a business model determines how efficiently materials can be used and how effectively they can be kept circulating in the economy. Up to 80% of a product’s environmental impact is determined at the design stage; this includes how easily something can be repaired or recycled.

How design can benefit your business

  • brings new business opportunities and generates new income
  • enhances brand reputation
  • develops long term customer supplier relationships, for example where you recover products / materials for repair and reuse or where you provide a service based on delivering performance
  • reduces the consumption of raw materials
  • reduces the risk of resource shortages and the consequential increase in their cost.

Product and process design

  • make waste prevention a key design criterion
  • design out non-renewable materials; use bio-based products as an alternative to fossil-fuel products
  • design in recyclable materials
  • can you make your product more simply, cutting the number and amount of materials? Ensure building designs consider waste reduction in both new build and refurbishment
  • design products for a longer lifetime and which are supported by a guarantee and trusted repair services
  • design products ready to be disassembled, economically repaired and eventually recycled;
  • design buildings for reuse and recycling
  • packaging design and use - make sure you use as little packaging as possible to achieve an adequate level of protection for your products, and that packaging can be reused or recycled
  • consider taking back products at end of life, to refurbish for a new marketplace, to recover valuable materials, or to recycle.

What you can do: Business Model / System / Service design

Instead of basing your business on product sales there are alternative business models that would enable you to retain the value in products and materials and keep them circulating in the economy - for example, servicing and / or repairing goods before returning them to the original or secondary market. You could:

  • hire or lease your product – see case study Edinburgh City Car Club (now Enterprise Car Club)
  • provide a service based on delivering the performance outputs of a product – see the case study: Juice
  • offer a financial incentive for the return of the ‘used’ products – see the case study: Re-tek
  • sharing products between members of the public or businesses, known as peer to peer models
  • share resources such as best practice guides, tool kits, reports and videos – see the EAUC Sustainability Exchange
  • BSI has created a free briefing on the newly developed BS 8001:2007 standard. This aims to help businesses take steps to develop a more circular approach to their activities.

    bsi: Executive briefing: BS 8001 – a guide

Further information

Forum for the future: The Circular Economy Business Model Toolkit

Zero Waste Scotland: Encouraging the development of new circular economy solutions in Scotland

Ellen MacArthur Foundation: Resources for Circular Economy

In this Guideline

What is the circular economy?

Using fewer resources

Managing your waste for the Circular Economy

Designing your products, and your business model to support the Circular Economy


Repairing goods



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