by Jincy IypeDec 27, 2022
Over the past few years, there has been an exponential rise in design competitions that focus on innovative solutions directed towards climate change. Founded in 2011, and based in Amsterdam, with hubs in São Paulo, Mexico City, Delhi, Nairobi, and Tokyo, What Design Can Do (WDCD) is an organisation dedicated to using design to accelerate the transition to a sustainable, fair and just society. With the motto 'Hate it. Change it. Make it.', the Make it Circular Challenge is What Design Can Do's fourth climate action challenge, in partnership with the IKEA Foundation. After a six-month-long process and deliberation stage, they have finally unveiled the winners.
Selected from over 650 participants who submitted projects across a variety of themes: what we eat, what we wear, what we buy, how we package and how we build, the 13 winners received a 10,000 Euro award prize along with a development training package, designed to launch their ideas into action.
The challenge asked its participants to create circular products, services, spaces and systems that could help tackle the root of the climate crisis. Participants submitted their projects in one of five categories, representing key value chains and industries like consumer goods, packaging or food. Though the shortlisted and subsequently the 13 winning entries are divided loosely among these categories, they share three large fundamental themes—designing to last, working with nature, and using what already exists.
Designing to last takes a long view and impresses upon the importance of creating products and services with long life cycles. Projects like Alterist Marketplace (United Kingdom), a community-led platform for upcycled products, Nivogo (Turkey), a pioneering circular economy start-up refurbishing and recirculating products collected from users and partners, and Balena (Israel) a new kind of bioplastic that is both durable and compostable, exemplify this aspect exceptionally well.
Working with nature focuses on bringing about a more-than-human approach to design. This approach was at the core of many of the winning entries, such as Mujō (Germany), a biodegradable packaging made from seaweed, Apidae (Mexico), a system of breeding boxes for pollinating insects, CoolBricks (the the Netherlands and Uganda), a bio-stabilised brick made from cow-dung, Landless Food (Hungary), a project that highlights the issue of food insecurity and explores the potential of microalgae to regenerate extinct flavour families and revive culinary traditions, and Drinking Sea Water (Germany), an open source purification device that can make nearly any water drinkable at a household level.
The winning designs with the use what already exists strategy focussed on the popular 'reduce, reuse, recycle' theory and created new value out of discarded or neglected materials that already exist. Three of these projects i.e. Rethread Africa's (Kenya) textile solution uses maize husk residue to reduce resources and emissions. Saathi (India) offers biodegradable sanitary pads made from banana fibre, while Craste (India) creates packaging from crop residue using circular fibre technology, and examines how crop waste could be used to create new products. Other winning entries include Resortecs (Belgium), a start-up that is developing solutions for textile disassembly and recycling, and Guiding the Runoff (Mexico), an adaptive reuse and urban renewal project in Tijuana, Mexico.
The task of selecting winners from a pool of fierce competition was entrusted to an international jury composed of 12 leading experts in design, climate action, and entrepreneurship. It included Arthur Huang (founder, Miniwiz), Bas van Abel, (founder, Fairphone) and Corine Gray (Unreasonable Group). Deliberating online and in-person over impact, creativity and design, feasibility, scalability, and teamwork, the jury selected the winners from a shortlist of 50 top entries.
“This year's selection process was very competitive. Not just because there were so many engaging and innovative ideas—but also because we recognise how urgent and complex the circular transition really is. The winning projects reflect this in their diversity and vision, and I am looking forward to seeing the impact they'll have, both individually and together,” shares Richard van der Laken, WDCD’s co-founder and creative director.
The competition is also supported by Impact Hub Amsterdam. The 13 winners, in addition to the 10,000 Euros in funding, also gain access to a development programme co-created with Impact Hub Amsterdam. The programme consists of a week-long boot camp and is specifically created for the participants. Winners will be on the receiving end of mentorship on a range of skills they need to make their projects a success—from developing a viable business model to impact-assessment and networking. This will further be combined with ample exposure and publicity.
What Design Can Do, along with the Ikea Foundation and Impact Hub Amsterdam, has created something that is more than just a competition. It is a movement, a call for action, and a common ground for people of similar sensibilities with a wide range of ideas and proficiencies from across the world, to come together towards a common goal of creating a fairer and more sustainable society.