The production of goods in companies mostly follows a linear approach in which raw materials and resources are converted into products and, after use, into waste flows that will be partially recycled. On both the international level and the local level the awareness grows that this linear production process is not sustainable on the long term and that a transition towards a more Circular Economy is essential. This transition will have a major impact on the way companies innovate and the way products and services are designed and developed. The starting point for this research is the fact that a transition into a Circular Economy cannot be realized only on the level of product and service design but that innovation is also necessary on the level of the socio-technical system. A broad range of multidisciplinary factors, such as stakeholders' behaviour and motivation, business modelling, regulations, the learning curve for change, etc., have to be taken into account. The broadness and the complexity of the context in which sustainable innovation originates asks for an approach in which systems thinking takes a central role.
This research project addresses the research question how a systemic design process in a firm's context can contribute to a transition into a Circular Economy and which design approach is necessary to grasp the complexity of this transition. The research focuses on the implementation of systemic solutions and the way the strengths of the existing system can contribute to the transition. The research project will result in new knowledge on the systemic design process and in a new design methodology that can support design consultants or in-company design departments to support the process of sustainable innovation for the transition into a Circular Economy.
The research combines qualitative research with design-inclusive research. Firstly, a theoretical framework is constructed that will provide the foundation for the development of a systemic design approach, customized for innovating companies. Secondly, a systemic design methodology is developed applying design-inclusive participatory research in the context of two company-related cases. The research builds on a cyclical and iterative process that leads to both theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge on the way it can be applied in the firm's context.