Q&A with Muireann McMahon, Sustainable Design Specialist

In one sentence: what does the circular economy mean to you?

MMcM: An opportunity for design to bring about systemic and lasting change towards a sustainable future.

What are the key principles of circularity?

MMcM: Thinking differently about how we deliver services and functionality to consumers. Reducing resource use by reconsidering material streams and product lifecycles. Encouraging behavior change in all stakeholders across the entire product lifecycle.

Why is the circular economy so important for the future of design?

MMcM: Designers are key in the design and development of new products and the reimagining of existing products. Unless designers make these decisions with a fundamental understanding of Circular Economy then the products and service solutions that emerge will still be built on linear and unsustainable lifecycles.

What are the biggest advantages for the circular economy in Ireland?

MMcM: Reduction of waste, development of new business opportunities that disrupt the current trends of ownership and linear product lifecycles (cradle to grave) and the opportunity to lead innovation into the future. Compliance and preparedness for upcoming legislation and policy that will inevitably be focused on Circularity – the trends from the EU are clearly pointing in this direction.

What barriers are holding us back from achieving circularity in Ireland?

MMcM: The barriers are mainly to do with existing structures and systems that are deeply embedded in our production and consumption patterns. These are often intractable and complicated systems in which to bring about change. Also financial reasons are often underpinning industry’s reluctance to change.

What can design businesses do to be drivers of the circular economy?

MMcM: They can start small and just look at implementing some of the lower risk strategies into their practice – repair of products, recapture of products at their end of life, reducing material use and reconsidering the material choices for new products. Companies can also look at upcoming legislation, to be ahead of the curve in this regard instead of just playing catch up once the new regulations come on board.

What does your ‘ideal’ circular economy of the future look like?

MMcM: Changes in consumer attitudes, moving away from unconsidered consumption towards new models of alternative consumption e.g. collaborative consumption – sharing instead of individual ownership. Sustainable material use – where materials can be cycled back through the system in efficient and realistic ways.

Can you tell us a bit about your roles and your partnerships for this workshop?

MMcM: We at UL, are part of an EU Erasmus+ Knowledge Alliance project with partners from Universitat Politecnica de Cataluña, University of Linkoping, Sweden and NHL Stenden, The Netherlands. 

What do you hope participants will take away from this workshop?

MMcM: An overview of the Circular Economy and practical ways in which they can implement it and embed the strategies and philosophy into their business.

Muireann McMahon is a full-time lecturer on the BSc. Product Design and Technology at the University of Limerick. Her research interests include sustainable design, design for social impact, collaborative design and transdisciplinary practice and design.

Find out more about circularity and its implications for design processes by booking a limited space on the Circular Economy Workshop here.

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