A consumer’s perspective on the circular economy

Authored by: Ruth Mugge

Routledge Handbook of Sustainable Product Design

Print publication date:  May  2017
Online publication date:  May  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138910171
eBook ISBN: 9781315693309
Adobe ISBN:


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A circular economy in which material flows are restored through closed-loop processes can diminish the negative effect of consuming durables on the environment. Although recycling has received a lot of attention over the past few decades, this is actually not the preferred loop in a circular economy because it implies that much value is lost. This chapter takes a consumer’s perspective on two of the more inner circles of the circular economy: prolonging the product’s first life, and giving the product a second life through refurbishment. To prolong the first life, it is necessary that consumers can maintain and repair a product without much cost and effort. However, merely considering such technical durability is insufficient because many products are replaced while still functioning properly. Designers should strive to design products that are also emotionally durable by stimulating the attachment the owner experiences with his/her product. Product personalization, gracefully aging materials and storytelling are presented as effective design strategies to stimulate product attachment. Nevertheless, it seems impossible to stimulate product attachment for all types of products. Accordingly, designers need to consider the other inner circles of the circular economy as well. A promising strategy is to give products an effective second life via refurbishment. At present, consumers perceive refurbished products as having lower quality. For refurbishment to work, consumers need to accept refurbished products as substitutes for new products. Several opportunities are discussed to enhance the perceived benefits of refurbished products and reduce the perceived risks through product design.

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