Companies such as El Corte Inglés are committed to contributing to the environment through the strategic design of products
Produce, consume and throw away. That’s the life of most products that are part of the linear economy. No return or alternatives. But what if the solution was in a sketch. On a blank paper where not only the design of a product could be projected, but also its possibilities to live different lives once its function has concluded. Then, we would talk about extending the life of the products, of give them a second chance and to adapt them to the circular system through which the planet functions and subsists.
Cycles of nature
Since its creation, planet Earth has functioned cycle-based. Organic matter constantly undergoes a process of circulation and transformation through the different living and non-living forms of the biosphere. A clear example is when an animal dies: its body decomposes and boils down to other simpler forms of matter that will allow the existence of other forms of life. It is an intrinsic recycling in nature that allows the planet to remain habitable.
Before the First Industrial Revolution, the population subsisted on self-consumption and not on the commercialization of the products obtained. However, with the arrival of the First Industrial Revolution, in the 18th century, the ways of producing and consuming changed completely. Technological advances allowed manufacture products on a large scale and almost three centuries later, we have become the society of consumerism and overproduction, putting the survival of the human species on the planet at risk.
We arrived three centuries late, but we arrived. The current system consists of making a linear path. We extract the raw material to produce a product, we consume it and we dispose of it. However, at the end of the 20th century several academic branches arose that advocated a production system more like the complexity of nature.
One such scholar is Janine Benyus, an American biologist and innovation consultant who published her work ‘Biomimicry’ in the 1990s. In this book, Benyus develops the concept of biomimetics, which consists of basing business activity and the global economy in the workings of nature. One of the foundations on which biomimetics is inspired is that in nature there are no waste, but that herself creates regenerative value in waste. In this sense, this theory defends that companies and society are part of the planet and therefore must be integrated into it and design their activities in a similar way to how nature itself does.
The concept of biomimetics consists of basing human and business activity on the cyclical functioning of nature
Along these lines, the donut-shaped theory of economics, founded by British researcher Kate Raworth, is promoted. The expert defends a new way of looking at the economy and symbolizes it through two concentric circles that are donut-shaped. The inner circle represents the safe space, the basic needs of humanity and is inside another circle, which symbolizes the needs of the planet. In his book ‘Donut Economics’, Raworth criticizes that economic success has always been associated with a constantly rising growth line, but, nevertheless, there is nothing in nature that has unlimited growth. The researcher’s idea is that we must subsist on the basis of a regenerative and distributive economy so that no one goes beyond the outer circle. In that case, the natural capabilities of the planet would be put at risk.
In this same context, the idea of the three r’s (3R). A proposal that seeks to change consumer habits through three concepts: reduce, reuse and recycle. Three strategic avenues focused on promoting a responsible consumption and to be more sustainable with the environment. In June 2004, at the G8 Summit – the group of countries with the most industrialized economies on the planet (Russia, Canada, the United States, France, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan) -, the Japanese Prime Minister, Koizumi Junichiro, introduced the idea of the 3Rs to build a recycling oriented society. Months later, in April 2005, an assembly of ministers representing 20 countries was held to discuss the different ways of applying the 3Rs internationally.
The key is in the design
In Spain, at the end of the 20th century, the selective collection system through containers was established, still in force today. However, in recycling we continue to generate waste. Something that connects with the circular economy, which aims remove the remainder from the equation. That is why, on June 2, 2020, the Council of Ministers of the Government approved the Spanish Circular Economy Strategy.
In parallel, it has developed the idea of producer responsibility (RAP). A concept that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) defines as “an environmental policy approach in which the responsibility of a producer towards a product extends to the post-consumer stage of its life cycle”. Based on this approach, in 2010 the Ellen McArthur Foundation with the aim of accelerating the transition to the circular economy. This body, which works with governments and international institutions, maintains that achieving a regenerative economy involves the first process of creating a product: the design.
This is where an opportunity arises for Spanish companies and SMEs. The opportunity to completely change your production system to avoid linear economy effects. In this sense, the Women Action Sustainability (WAS) association, which aims to raise sustainability to the first strategic level of society, carried out a technical guide focused on companies and SMEs with the basic steps to carry out a circular transformation and improve your competitiveness.
Some of the opportunities that the circular economy offers to companies, according to WAS, are the cost reduction for the optimization of the use of resources and the reintroduction of waste in the productive cycle; the creation of additional benefits due to the creation of new eco-innovative products; access to new lines of financing; and the leadership in new clean technologies that increase the growth opportunities of companies.
Responsibility of El Corte Inglés
In order to extend the life of their products and to be more responsible with the environment and people, many companies have adopted policies in line with producer responsibility that start in the design. One of them is The English Court, which in addition to offering training to its team of designers from the hand of collaborators such as Slow Fashion Next or ITENE, has created a decalogue on fashion ecodesign strategies.
The company’s regulations are based on the innovation, choice and applicability adequate materials, durability of designs, optimization of water consumption, unpacking design and simplicity, the use of ‘packaging’ and sustainable labeling, the use of short and local circuits and the importance of informing the consumer about the uses that can be given to the garments when they no longer want to use them.
Inspired by this decalogue, from El Corte Inglés they have launched a new collection of swimwear from their Énemphasis brand together with the Spanish company Seaqual 4U, that in the recent years is revolutionizing the textile industry using a new fiber made from marine debris. The collection consists of a series of swimsuits characterized by minimalist lines and intense colors reminiscent of the blue of the sea.
The technology used to create this collection consists, for the most part, in taking advantage of plastic waste recovered from the oceans to make a recycled and high quality fabric. On the other hand, to produce this type of fiber, it requires 20% less water, 40% less energy and 50% less CO2 emissions. Thanks to this initiative, for every kilo of yarn produced, one kilo of garbage is removed from the bottom of the sea. And the figures are alarming: according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), every year they end up in the oceans a total of eight million tons of plastic, which is equivalent to dumping a garbage truck into the sea every minute.
The sustainable bathroom collection by Énemphasis is not the only one at El Corte Inglés. Among other initiatives, the group offers in its stores and on its website garments made of recycled cotton, wool or polyester, toys made with recycled wood and / or from FSC sustainably managed forests or tableware produced with recycled glass. In addition, one of the factors to highlight are the closed-circuit circular economy projects in the company: plastic bags with a minimum of 80% recycled material from packaging, 100% recycled cardboard boxes or hangers that have several lifetimes .
On the other hand, one of the bases on which El Corte Inglés bases its circular economy strategy is its repair and repair service. The group has departments such as automobile workshops, tire replacement and repair, dressmakers, dry cleaners, shoe repair and watchmakers, among others. In addition, with the intention of reintroducing the products into the circuit, the group makes available to consumers collection points for electronic devices, Cáritas Moda RE containers for textiles and carries out various toy collection campaigns.
Aware of their responsibility and scope, El Corte Inglés wants to make evident the importance of consume consciously and responsibly. That is why the group has carried out initiatives such as the ‘The World We Want’ dialogues and workshops such as ‘A sustainable wardrobe’, offering advice on leading a sustainable lifestyle and information on the use and care of products.