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Danish Companies:
We Need New Competencies to go Circular

21. Sep 2022

In a new survey from DDC – Danish Design Center and The Confederation of Danish Industry “Design Delivers Green”, a majority of Danish companies say that they have taken steps to become more circular, but lack the design competencies to move forward. Designers play a crucial role in the transition 


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To what extent do Danish companies work with the circular transition?

How often do you upgrade your electronic products by buying new ones? New phone, laptop, headphones? The exponential development in new technology comes at a high cost for the planet: In 2019, the global amount of electronic waste was 44,4 million tons – this is expected to rise to 77,4 million tons by 2030.

When the high-end consumer electronics company Bang & Olufsen decided to go against this throwaway culture, design was the key:

“As an industry, we need to acknowledge that our current way of doing things is not sustainable, not now and not in 100 years,” says Head of Product Circularity at Bang & Olufsen, Mads Kogsgaard Hansen. He adds: “We have to design things differently. And it’s not just about industrial design, but design thinking in service design, experience design, and system design.”

The company turned the vision into reality with the new Beosound Level speaker, which in September 2021 became the world’s first Cradle to Cradle Certified® consumer electronics product. The Beosound Level speaker is designed with modular parts – from the replaceable battery pack over the upgradable streaming module to the customizable speaker front – with the ambition to maximize lifetime, prevent technology obsolescence, and foster emotional durability. Read our interview with Mads Kogsgaard Hansen here.

The time to go circular is now

Director of Sustainable Transition at DDC – Danish Design Center, Julie Hjort, highlights two reasons Danish companies need to go circular now:

“It’s important that companies become more circular in their production methods because we are running out of materials. Furthermore, businesses will soon be required – both by national agencies and international bodies like the EU – to rethink how they produce and package their products.” 

Within the next couple of years, two sweeping sustainability initiatives from the European Commission will directly affect thousands of Danish companies. From January 1, 2025, 41,000 Danish production companies will become financially responsible for their waste management under the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policy.

“EPR basically shifts the waste management cost of physical collection from local governments and citizens to producers,” says Iben Kinch Sohn, Head of Circular Economy at the Confederation of Danish Industry. “In other words, the more recyclable your packaging is, the lower the cost.”

Pay to pollute

The second initiative is The Sustainable Products Regulation, a key component in the European Commission’s efforts to make products more sustainable and circular. The current proposal covers all sectors except food, feed, and medicinal product and focuses on circular design principles, including durability, reparability, and recycling of products combined.

Iben Kinch Sohn encourages Danish companies to look at their design and packaging sooner rather than later to avoid unnecessary costs:

“Ask yourself: How can I design my products to be repaired and recycled easily? It all comes down to circularity.”

Iben Kinch Sohn

Head of Circular Economy, Confederation of Danish Industry

design delivers green

Danish companies at different stages in the circular transition

Design is the circular key

In the survey, the Danish companies say they miss competencies such as material understanding and knowledge of users’ and customers’ needs and competencies for developing circular business models. 

“These are key design competencies,” emphasizes CEO of DDC, Christian Bason. He encourages more dialogue between companies and designers to fill the competency gap: “It goes both ways. Companies should look to designers first to solve these challenges, and designers need to be aware of their crucial role in the transition to a circular economy, so they can be more proactive in working with companies to achieve their circular goals.”

Head of Creative Industries at the Confederation of Danish Industry, Lise Thomsen, agrees:
“Design competencies must not and cannot be underestimated in the transition process we are undergoing these years. The ability to include and interact with the whole value chain, from the invention of the materials used to the production processes, packaging, and related logistics. It is important to see the whole picture and avoid sub-optimizing – that’s exactly what design is all about.”

For Bang & Olufsen, designing for longevity was already in the company’s DNA, but constantly evolving technology has made it challenging to predict cultural shifts and future user needs beyond the next decade.

“This is the very real challenge to be solved if we should make truly long-lasting products in our industry, and the requirements for durability specifications, materials, and ever-evolving performance are high. But what we can do, is to ensure that the product architectures we create for the future are equipped with excessive processing power and the ability to adapt through hardware and software upgradeability to last and stay relevant longer,” says Mads Kogsgaard. 

“With modular elements, we can offer the ability to customize everything from software to the aesthetics, which help to make sure that long-lasting products can evolve with the user over the years of ownership and not collect dust in the eyes of the user,” he says.

Design can also ensure a stronger emotional connection with the product, which can help the product stay in use throughout its designed lifetime, Mads Kogsgaard explains. “If we design a circular solution that only meets 80% of the user’s needs, they’ll, of course, choose something else. Circular solutions must be better solutions altogether.”

design delivers green

Top five of the in-demand competencies

Circularity benefits the bottom line

Sustainability is not the only upside of going full circle: 82% of companies with a fully circular business model report that going circular has positively impacted the bottom line. According to Camilla Haustrup Hermansen, owner, and Deputy CEO of the food packaging company Plus Pack and Chairman of DDC – Danish Design Center, going circular means doing business smarter. 

“A circular business model is ultimately a competitive advantage. You rethink design, production, sales, and spending to use resources more smartly. Materials can be applied to new products and recycled, shared, or sold as a service. Every day, we see how our design approach creates added value for our customers.” 

For Bang & Olufsen, the new design is only the beginning. The learnings from the Beosound Level pilot project contributed to the new sustainability strategy, in which the company commits itself to continue the efforts in circularity and remanufacturing. Specifically, the company aims to take longevity leadership in its industry and have ten Cradle to Cradle -Certified® products in just three years.

“We want to be an industry leader in reparability to support longevity,” says Mads Kogsgaard. He has three tips for other companies looking to accelerate their circular transition:

“Just do it. Our strategy was not born at a desk but through actual design experiments. Start small. Make sure you connect your effort to your market position. B&O is not a climate champion in that sense; our strategy is longevity, because that is one of our existing strongholds, which we can address with credibility. And finally, put teams and systems over individuals and single products. This is a holistic effort.”

About Design Delivers Green

  • In 2022, DDC – Danish Design Center, the Confederation of Danish Industry, and Epinion conducted the survey Design Delivers Green
  • The survey is an extension of the Design Deliver-surveys conducted in 2016 and 2018, examining the use of design among Danish companies. This is the first Design Delivers-survey to include a mapping of the circular transition in Danish companies 
  • The survey is based on telephone interviews with business managers responsible for business development, product development, or innovation from 744 Danish companies with 10+ employees

Anne Ravnholt Juelsen

Journalist & Communications Strategist

Phone +45 5150 0983
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