Green Circular Transition:
How 40 Companies Used Circular Design to Future-Proof Their Business
40 Danish companies emerged stronger and better prepared for a greener future after participating in our design-driven course in the EU-funded Green Circular Transition project. Find out what they changed and what we learned from working with them
About the project
Green Circular Transition (Grøn Cirkulær Omstilling – GCO) is a national project that broadly and across industries develops and implements green and circular business models in small and medium-sized Danish companies. The project runs from 2019 to 2022 and has ongoing application deadlines. The project is financed by the EU and consists of 17 partners, including the country’s business houses.
As part of the project, DDC developed and facilitated a design-driven course. Collaborating with our green mentors, we helped 40 Danish SMEs through the course.
From 2019-2022 we worked with 40 Danish SMEs from industries like fashion, textile, furniture, and tech to help them go circular. In close collaboration with a green mentor, we tailored courses lasting three to six months for each company.
The Results: Closing the circular circle
The businesses were all at different stages in their circular transition, but we saw the following results after completing their course with us:
- New knowledge and mindset about circular principles. As lamp designer and founder Tom Rossau said: “Two and a half hours after our first workshop, we talked about something completely different from what we’ve talked about the past year, the past five years, actually the past ten years. So it works!”
- A better understanding of their value chains and entire business from a holistic perspective
- New ideas and actions for circular initiatives in the business, i.e., Tom Rossau’s flat-pack product
- New measuring techniques. The businesses learned to measure the baseline for the business or a specific relevant part of it (measured in carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2-eq)) as well as measuring an estimate of potential CO2-reduction related to the new circular business idea. They did this by using the design tool called The Sustainable Baseline Tool
- Design competencies to overcome complex sustainability problems. Learn about GRAD’s new design here.
"People got to discuss the value chain and the entire business from a holistic perspective, which was very visible and hands-on. I think it was the fact that people got out of their seats and actually used post-its to put their thoughts on the board that impacted and reached a lot of people in the organization"
Charles H. Clarke
Social and Environmental Impact Lead, Pas Normal Studios
What we learned
The participants weren’t the only ones who left with new knowledge, ideas, and competencies. Across the 40 courses we ran, we see five core findings that guide our future work with the circular transition:
- We have to understand the businesses better. We need to tailor solutions to the type of business we’re working with and their unique situation and maturity in transitioning to a circular economy.
- The driving force for change must be anchored broadly in the organization. One very committed employee often carries out the success of the company’s transition – this is problematic.
- The more, the merrier. It’s hard being a circular business in a linear industry. Find allies to create knowledge-sharing networks or communities with.
- Design is a proven enabler. Design methods help companies transition faster and make better decisions.
- Transparency is key. Get to know your value chains.
Besides guiding our continuous work with the circular transition, we hope they can help point companies in the right direction to start or continue their transition.
The Challenge: Making the right decisions
The big question many companies ask in these times of green transition and circular aspiration is how to make the right decisions for the environment and your business while reducing resources and costs. That’s the bigger purpose of the Green Circular Transition project and the core focus for our design-driven courses within the project.
The Approach: Rethink your strategy with design
The design-led approach to business development challenges existing conventions with a green, circular, and user-driven focus. The businesses benefit from a holistic and strategic perspective that allows them to tackle a problem from all angles so they can create sustainable and competitive solutions.
During the course, the participants worked systematically and strategically with design methods and tools to support their business development. The goal was always for the businesses to have a green and robust business model ready for implementation. See below for a full course description.
Quotes from participants
Tom Rossau, Founder, Tom Rossau
"The biggest challenge I’ve experienced in adopting a more circular and sustainable business model is the difference between guessing and actual knowledge. We need as much input from experts as possible to move forward in this process."
Andreas Schjølin, Head of Department, Bacher Work Wear
"We clearly see progress in sales, but also that the management now understands the business plan and the potential of a circular transition. We’ve got a better circular model than we dared to hope for, so it has clearly fulfilled the expectations to participate."
Kenneth Jakobsen, VP Operations, GRAD
"Working with GCO and DDC enabled us to design a fully circular product and figure out the right processes for design, collection, and recycling."
A course looked like this:
- Scoping the conversation. At our first meeting with the business, we discussed the program’s desired outcome and the motivation to participate in a program where circular business models were to be developed.
- Choosing the green mentor for the course
- Participation in Workshop 1: Circular economy and explore the possibilities.
Here, the companies got an overview and potentially new understanding of circular economy and explored new circular business opportunities and how to turn challenges into possibilities.
- One-on-one supervision and guidance with the green mentor and homework
- Participation in Workshop 2: Collaboration partners, network, and assumptions
Introduction to design-driven manners to map out the ecosystem the businesses were a part of, where they got to identify the current landscape, potential new partners, and critical aspects in their network. We also introduced the companies to working actively with their assumptions and how to test and prototype on an ongoing basis as part of their business strategy.
- One-on-one supervision and guidance with the green mentor and homework
- Participation in Workshop 3: New business model(s), actions and implementation plan
Here the companies got to work with their new business model(s), and how to plan for actions and implementation.
- All participating companies have finalized the course by filling out the mandatory circular business model template and the relevant CO2 measurements for the circular business initiative.
Program duration: In 3-6 months, the businesses got the chance to explore, develop and qualify new circular business model initiatives based on their needs, challenges, and ambitions. They worked closely with a green mentor and DDC to work with new design tools, which helped them clarify, prioritize and focus their efforts to go circular.
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