White paper

Designing the irresistible circular society

Circular by design
Recycling, upcycling and designing for disassembly
Business models for a circular economy
Enabling scalable innovations and mission-driven partnerships
Human-centred neighbourhoods
Demonstrating circular solutions across buildings, resources and biodiversity

Designing the irresistible circular society

Editor in Chief
Creative Denmark
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Executive summary

The shift to a circular economy has become an important part of the green transition puzzle – in Denmark as well as globally. In contrast to the take-make-waste linear model, a circular economy is regenerative by design. It aims to gradually decouple growth from finite resource consumption and explore opportunities for reducing, reusing and recycling. To accelerate the shift, we need to find ways for circularity to become compelling and convincing. This calls for excellent design, new narratives, ethics, aesthetics and art within the built environment

What if waste was never created in the first place?

What if the economy was built on using things rather than using them up? What if we could not only protect but actively improve the environment? As part of shared initiatives within the circular economy agenda, BLOXHUB, Danish Architecture Center, Danish Design Centre and Creative Denmark present this white paper. Not only to address the above questions but to also add a fourth: what if we designed an irresistible circular society where circularity is a clear-cut choice – both in business models and for end consumers?

The circular principles

Based on the three pioneering principles for a circular economy put forward by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, this white paper explores new opportunities and concrete solutions that (1) design out waste and pollution, (2) keep products and materials in use and (3) regenerate natural systems. Framed by insights from academic researchers, directors and leading voices within circularity, this white paper showcases Danish circular solutions from designs, buildings, production methods and circular business models with real impact.

From resource loops to circular communities

Inspired by the mission and angles of action developed through the BLOX & the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI) facilitated Danish-led bid for the New European Bauhaus, this white paper is divided into three main sections:

  • Resource loops and zero waste
  • City(nature), resilience and biodiversity
  • Social values and communities

The first section explores value chains, circular business models, renovation and ways to design for disassembly. The second presents solutions for large-scale circular neighbourhoods with local resource centres and integrated urban nature. The final section showcases designs for behavioural change and scenario tools for envisioning the circular society of 2050.

The circular future starts today

With the aim of generating knowledge, supporting new solutions, leveraging global networks, and supporting Danish and international companies toward circular practices, this white paper is an invitation. The circular transition requires innovative thinking and partnerships across borders. For circularity to become irresistible, we need to build communities, innovative partnerships and alliances – and we hope to start today.

Simon Kollerup

Danish Minister for Industry, Business and Financial Affairs


Danish creativity enables a greener future

The creative tradition has long been part of the Danish DNA. Now, it’s a resource that must be tapped into to accelerate the green transition and maintain Denmark as a global green leader.

Creative thinking as an enabler

In Denmark, good handcraftsmanship and creative thinking is appreciated. Timeless design classics such as the Wishbone chair, the Egg chair and many others were all born from the idea of combining function and the aesthetically pleasing. The Danes have a long tradition of using creativity to solve complex problems, whether it be in the home or on a societal scale. As a country, we encourage and enable creativity, innovation and collaboration across sectors and industries.

Sustainable solutions and circular economy

Denmark is among the global leaders when it comes to sustainable solutions and a circular economy is an important part of our mission to be a green lighthouse in unchartered waters. By employing creative thinking and methods, we can drive the circular transition forward to the benefit of citizens’ everyday life and businesses’ competitive advantage. Creativity opens up new solutions and products, creating an energy that can be channelled into the green transition of our society.

The future role of circular economy

The creative industries in Denmark are a strong part of the Danish economy and have seen substantial growth in export over the last 10 years. Their export can help solve some of the environmental challenges facing the world today. The potential of the creative industries will only increase in the coming years. This white paper illustrates how many of them could lie in the circular economy.

The importance of collaboration

That is why collaboration is so important. The creative industries should actively engage with companies from all sectors and industries in search of the best possible solutions for the challenges of the future.

In short: we need a greener world and we need businesses on board. A circular economy and creative thinking are an important part of achieving just that.

Joe Iles

Circular Design Programme Lead, Ellen MacArthur Foundation


The circular economy has captured our imagination – and the shift has begun

To unleash the full potential of the idea of circular economy, we need to embrace design at many levels: from the practising designers to the many people who influence design; from tools, frameworks and methods to iconic stories of circular design.

A framework for systemic solutions

Much of the conversation around a circular economy has focused, understandably, on our current global predicaments: mounting waste, polluted nature and diminishing biodiversity to name a few. These urgent problems are stimulating the crucial exploration of the circular economy, a framework for systemic solutions and the transformation that tackles these global challenges.

Irresistible circular society

What is often missed from the conversation are the factors that can pull us towards realising this vision and the enthralling stories of innovations that challenge our current linear model. For this reason alone, this white paper is a valuable addition to the discourse. The theme of the “irresistible circular society” is present not just in the title, but throughout, and captivates us with a positive vision of the future that can be built – if we choose to.

The transition

With its many stories and examples, the authors show that while the transition to a circular economy is underway, it is essential to leverage design to accelerate the shift and generate deep, distributed benefits. To some, this conjures images of making new things out of waste. But, as this white paper shows, designing for the circular economy – what we call circular design – is actually a much bigger idea.

The powerful design stage

Everything around us is designed, whether it’s called “design” or not. Physical products, services that provide things we want and need, and the systems in which they all sit – these are all designed. In the process of creation, upstream decisions determine how things work and whether they become just another part of our current linear model, or whether they help make our world increasingly circular and regenerative. That is why the design stage – and the people and skills found there – is so encapsulating and powerful. By harnessing this power and applying the principles of a circular economy, we can steer towards more positive outcomes.

Making the circular economy an irresistible opportunity

This circular design approach can help us invent better products and services, while making radical changes accessible to people. It can help us navigate the fog of ambiguity that comes with complex change. It can help us develop new processes and facilitate collaboration – within and between organisations.

Another strength of design is creating compelling visions and identifying the steps needed to make them real. This makes the circular economy an irresistible opportunity. The circular economy does not exist yet, but the very idea has captured the imagination of people who want to build a better future.

This is something the authors of this publication have demonstrated beautifully. For something to be irresistible, you first need to bring it to life. This white paper brings the idea of a circular society to life and encourages us to use our ingenuity and creativity to make it a reality.

Next - chapter 01

Designing circularity and value chains

From linear to circular