Episode 40: Circular Economy w/Jennifer von der Heydt

12 January, 2021 / Host: PETRA FÄRM

Reducing Environmental Pollution and Achieving Sustainable Development Goals

We live in a moment of great transition, where the future is being shaped by the choices we make today. As Ecophilosopher Joanna Macy puts it in her book "Active Hope," we are in the midst of a "Great Turning" - a shift from an unsustainable economy based on industrial growth to a life-sustaining society that prioritizes the recovery of our world. As product managers, we have a unique opportunity to participate in this turning and help shape a more sustainable future.
The circular economy is based on the principles of restorative and regenerative design, and it aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest value and utility at all times. Instead of creating waste, the circular economy seeks to eliminate it, by closing the loop of production and consumption. In this article, we will explore the concept of circular economy, its benefits, and some of the best practices and examples in this field.

What is Circular Economy?

Circular economy is a system that is regenerative and restorative by design. It seeks to minimize waste and pollution by keeping products, components, and materials in use for as long as possible, and by regenerating natural systems. The circular economy is based on three principles:
  • Design out waste and pollution: This principle focuses on the design stage of products and processes, aiming to eliminate waste and pollution from the outset. This can be achieved through product design, material selection, process optimization, and other measures.
  • Keep products and materials in use: This principle aims to maximize the value and utility of products and materials by extending their lifespan and use. This can be achieved through strategies such as reuse, refurbishment, remanufacturing, and recycling.
  • Regenerate natural systems: This principle aims to restore and enhance natural ecosystems and resources by using renewable energy, sustainable materials, and circular processes. This can be achieved through strategies such as regenerative agriculture, renewable energy, and sustainable forestry.
The circular economy is a holistic and systemic approach that considers the entire lifecycle of products and materials, from extraction to disposal. It seeks to create value and benefits for all stakeholders, including consumers, businesses, and the environment.

Circular Business Approaches

Circular economy requires a shift in mindset and practices, from linear to circular thinking and action. Businesses can play a crucial role in this transition, by adopting circular business approaches that create value and benefits for all stakeholders.

Jennifer von der Heydt, co-founder and CEO at Loop-It, has outlined a system thinking framework consisting of three phases: Rethink, Remake, and Relearn. Each phase involves asking a set of questions that can help you assess where you are with your product and inspire you to make changes that contribute to a more sustainable product development.

Phase 1: Rethink

The first phase of the framework involves rethinking your product from a circular economy perspective. This means asking questions about the entire life cycle of your product, from its raw materials to its end of life. Some of the questions you might consider include:
  • What materials are used in our product, and where do they come from?
  • How can we reduce waste and emissions throughout our supply chain?
  • What happens to our product at the end of its life, and how can we design it to be more easily recycled or repurposed?

Phase 2: Remake

In the second phase, you will explore opportunities to remake your product to be more sustainable. This might involve redesigning your product, rethinking your production processes, or finding new ways to use or repurpose waste materials. Some questions you might ask include:
  • How can we redesign our product to use less material, energy, or water?
  • Are there opportunities to use renewable materials or energy sources in our production processes?
  • How can we repurpose waste materials generated by our production processes or our product itself?

Phase 3: Relearn

The third and final phase of the framework involves relearning how to think about and measure success in a circular economy context. This might mean shifting away from traditional metrics like sales and revenue and focusing instead on measures like material efficiency, carbon footprint, or waste reduction. Some questions you might consider include:
  • How can we measure and track our progress toward more sustainable product development?
  • What new metrics or indicators should we be using to assess our success?
  • How can we communicate our sustainability efforts to our customers and stakeholders?


  • Circular Economy is a way to move away from our current take-make-dispose economic model to a restorative and regenerative model that eliminates waste and pollution, maintains product value, and reduces production and consumption.
  • Circular business approaches such as providing services instead of products, accessing instead of owning, and reusing products and materials as long as possible are crucial for achieving a circular economy.
  • To achieve a circular economy, we need to design products that are recyclable and made from recycled materials, use renewable energy, and eliminate waste and pollution. The Circular Economy is an opportunity to create a sustainable future, but it requires a shift in mindset and a commitment to change.

Speaking of designing products with a circular economy in mind, product management is a crucial role in ensuring that products are not only profitable but also sustainable. And if you're looking to enhance your skills and knowledge in product management, I'd like to introduce you to The Productbeats Product Management Certification Program. This program is designed to provide you with comprehensive training in product management, including topics such as customer research, product strategy, and product development. With this certification, you'll be equipped to lead your team in creating products that not only meet market demands but also contribute to a more sustainable future.
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