Section 7.2: Closed loop design and production

Closed loop design

Closed-loop systems are the backbone of a circular economy (see Week 3: Section 3.4), with recycling and reuse the engine of this process. The idea behind closing the loop is that poor design of products and services can severely limit the recoverability of materials. In a closed-loop design, we want to maximize that recoverability.

Closed-loop design frameworks attempt to shift base product and service design from the traditional “take, make, and waste” blueprint, towards producing innovative product/services that can be indefinitely recycled.

To do this, closed-loop products and services are designed with the entire lifespan and future of the product/service materials and components in mind. This framework is guided by a number of design principles:

1. No solid waste is generated – “Zero Waste”
2. Properties of materials used are not degraded over the lifespan of the product/service
3. Components/materials after disposal become inputs to production – Reuse and Recycle
4. Everything that cannot be recycled or are a by-product of the process should return to the environment with no harm – non-harmful and biodegradable

Closing the loop

Watch this video to learn about how closed loop design and production can contribute to business and environmental sustainability: “Closing the loop” – TEDx

Closed loop product design and production elucidates opportunities for businesses to consider and close material loss, and recovery efficiency gaps within their operations. Ricoh’s comet circle, depicts a typical “closed loop supply chain” of operations feeding the consumer’s requirements.

Source: Ricoh 2009

The forward process reflects materials in production, through to delivery, use and reuse by the consumer. The reverse process occurs after the consumer is done with the product. It is at this point that useful materials are recycled, recovered and returned to the supply chain, and inevitable non-harmful waste is disposed in nature.

To some extent, closed loop production is related to a sustainable supply chain. The company may need to rely on external partners further down the supply chain, as well as those further upstream, to ensure resource recovery.

In the comet circle – the forward process accounts for, and incorporates resource recovery into every intermediate step. This reduces systematic material loss and improves recovery efficiency throughout the product’s lifecycle. If implemented properly, this forward process serve to improve the ease of implementation and efficiency of the reverse process.

Benefits of the closed loop

The benefits of closing the loop within business operations extend beyond material losses and recovery efficiency. Some of the more tangible monetary and strategic benefits of closing the production loop include:

– Reduced use of virgin material
– Additional revenue is derived from recovered material sales
– Cost savings on using new versus functional but used parts
– Savings on waste disposal cost
– Enhanced relationships with consumers and suppliers
– Recognition and reputation as a sustainable green company
– Proactive compliance with legislation
– New source of competitive advantage.

Supplementary Resources

Huber-Heim (2017) “Sustainability and Circular Economy – The importance of closing the loop”

Visser (2014) ” Closing the loop on steel: what we can learn from a manufacturer in Ecuador”

Herrera (2009) “Nike: From considered design to closing the loop” 

Norwich University (2017) “How creating a closed-loop supply chain can make businesses greener”

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