”We defined nine principles, making a mini-manifesto for what is regenerative design”
On how to go from circular to regenerative
22 Mar 2024

Who are you?

— I’m the co-founder of the futures research agency FranklinTill.

You’ve mentioned that the designers at companies that you meet can sometimes find circularity ’boring’. How can we achieve increased circularity if the designers are not up for it?

— I think they are up for it, but they often don’t understand it, Till explains. What we’re always talking about, is design as a tool for seduction. We need to draw people in for it to feel aspirational and attractive. More than often, the designer feels that it’s so complex. They don’t get it.

— We’ve done a lot of work within our own magazines, to reinterpret the use of both verbal and visual language so that it appeals to a designer. We did a photoshoot and talked about ’design for disassembly’ as an orange, thinking about it as different segments. It’s about trying to build analogies. I’m passionate about accessibility — there’s no point in keeping things at a level that people can’t relate to. How can we use storytelling and design as tools for seduction and accessibility?

And if the designers find it hard to grasp, what about the client or the end user? It takes a lot of education. 

— Exactly. And also inside companies. It’s not just an external challenge but an internal challenge as well.

You’ve also dubbed hemp as a coming super material. What does it take to further increase the use of it?

— We need to more broadly communicate the potential of regenerative materials like hemp, information such as the high yield in terms of the surface area of growing, the natural resistance to pesticide, and low water requirements. Also the way it can enrich the soil. So it’s also about more education, which needs to start from an early stage with design and textile training. I come from a textiles background and have run BA and Masters courses in textiles for 20 years. The piece that you’re often not taught in textiles education is the farming aspect, how our textile raw materials are being grown, where and by whom. We talk about it in food — Farm to Fork — but often in fashion, we’re still not widely educating on this part of the material journey. We’ve got to make sure that we’re including that full life cycle in materials education again.

And you’ve also addressed that the next step after circular materials is the regenerative ones. What are the keys to see it growing?

— The problem is that within the climate emergency design agenda, we have these zeitgeist words. We have to be careful that they don’t just become words that don’t mean anything, Till says. She continues:

— I feel really strongly about regenerative in terms of design, we need a collective definition to align with. We tried to do it with our recent Future Materials Library, called Regenerative? (exhibited at the Heimtextil trade fair in Frankfurt in January). We defined nine principles, making a mini-manifesto for what is regenerative design and therefore, what is a regenerative material. It’s not saying that every material has to cover all of those nine principles but we have to put a stake in the ground and say that we acknowledge it holistically and this is the full picture of regeneration. Within a company, you might be focused on one, two, or three of those areas, while acknowledging that there are still other areas to consider.

— One thing is the definition and understanding around it. Because I think the design industry is having a bit of a crisis in terms of its identity. The dominant methodology was human-centered design and suddenly, we had to ask ourselves, ’where’s the planet in that conversation?’ Now we’re looking for this new methodology that unites. It’s about coexistence — people and planet, or interconnectedness — and regeneration is a really important part of that.

With you focusing so much on materials, a study in Sweden has showed that using recycled materials only saves 5 to 10% in emissions. Why do you consider materials so important rather than Scope 1, using renewable energy in production, and such?

— You’re right. There always needs to be a holistic approach to be able to track the full impact of the material through the full lifecycle. One of the problems we face is, how do we align on quantification? Tarkett talk about a circular carbon footprint and they use an EPD (Environmental Product Declaration). What’s strong about that is that it’s externally done, which is really important. I’d say that we just need one method of external verification to define that holistic picture, including data, water and energy usage, everything — that’s how we could make it easier for the end user.

One of your clients that have come quite far in their work with R principles is flooring brand Tarkett. How?

— Yes, their work with ’human-conscious’ design — designing for people and the planet’s well-being — comes from the top and trickles down every aspect of the business. That way, it has real integrity. Often, we get clients to come to us and say, ’can you tell this story’?. When you dig into it, you realise it is tantamount to greenwashing.

— Tarkett is designing the end at the beginning because that’s how you have to think about circularity. You can’t do it as an afterthought — it has to be integral. They’re designing for disassembly and for it to come apart and go into their own closed loops. 

— Another pillar is the piece of the circularity puzzle that most brands cannot achieve; the logistics part, asking ’how do you actually get it back’? If you are designing for infinite lives and your own product is the material source for your next product, you’ve got to get it back. One of Tarkett’s biggest drives at the moment is to maintain that relationship with their customers so they can get back the carpets at end of life, or indeed end of life carpet from their competitors.

The Beauty of Circularity concept by FranklinTill for Tarkett.

Lastly, what are the other keys for brands and brand owners to increase their work within circularity and regenerative practices?

— It’s really important for a brand or company to define their manifesto or stance in relation to sustainability, this is how we would approach writing a sustainability strategy for our clients, to put a stake in ground to define the core areas of social and environmental innovation they are excelling within, while also acknowledging the areas that need more improvement. In terms of shifting toward regenerative principles, there is some really exciting work being down by organisations such as the Bioleadership Project to explore how we can consider corporations as living, breathing entities and apply principles of life through all aspects of the organisations, Till concludes.