The Ten R's of Circularity
Dreaming of making the world a better place
As designers, we would like to think that we contribute to a better world.
Our goal is to create things that not only make your life a little easier, but also help the world along a sustainable path.
Yet, is creating new products in a world already so saturated with stuff not inherently unsustainable?
We are always navigating between the urge to create a new and better product and the need to save resources.
Can we harmonize our desire to create with the need to contribute to a healthy planet?
We would like to think we can, but it is forever a tricky balance, and can often do with a little re-direct.
With House of Thol, we focus on creating durable tools that facilitate a sustainable lifestyle: Making green living easier.
(Yes, it is a new product, but by using it, your habits become more sustainable, thus ofsetting the energy and resources it took to create the product.)
We prefer to develop innovative functional products that have not been made before, or at least not in this way. ("Why create a new vase when thriftstores are filled with them?")
We choose the materials we use for their unique natural properties, because they last a long time and/or age beautifully.
Actively looking for ways to contribute to a circular economy through design, we prefer to steer clear of virgin materials if possible, and try to find ways to incorporate industrial residual streams into our designs.
Whenever we can, we choose mechanical connections and as little electric parts as possible, making it easier to repair, replace or recycle something when needed.
We always offer spare parts in case of breakage.
We aim for that perfect balance of durability and sustainability, while striving to create functional affordable products for a wide audience. (Not as easy as it looks)
Sustainability is continuously on our mind, and we try to approach it less as a dogma, and more as a chance to move forward.
Our eyes and ears are always open when it comes to new sustainable developments and materials, and our hands are itching to work with more industrial residual streams.
During our research we came across the 10 R's of circularity model by Prof. Dr. Jacqueline Cramer of the Utrecht Sustainability Institute.
We think this is a perfect handle for design (and sustainable living in general), and took the time to look into this model, addressing each 'R' separately and connecting them with our work.
Read on below, and find more about the original model <here> (in Dutch)
Preventing the use of new materials / raw materials
When it comes to the first R: Refuse, for us it is not only about refusing to use new / raw materials.
This can be just as much about refusing to create something new altogether.
We design best when we focus on solving a problem, preferably something that can make our everyday a little bit more sustainable.
When we come across something we think needs solving, we always start by researching what is already there.
Only if we can not find a suitable, durable and sustainable solution out there, will we create a new product.
For example, when looking for a solution to make it easier to arrange flowers, we specifically did not choose to design a new vase, but instead focused on a smart tool you can use on vases you already have.
This is actually something that we incorporated in our daily lifes as well: For most things we need, we will look for it in thriftstores first.
Only if we have not been able to find it second-hand, will we buy something new.
Reducing the use of raw materials
We try to steer clear of raw / virgin materials whenever we can, and if we do use them, we try to do so in the most efficient way.
Sometimes that means we change the design of a product that was already successfully on the market.
Our Waterworks-sets, for example, used to come with a cork stopper that would make it easier to clean the glass reservoir.
However, as time went by we noticed we hardly needed to clean the reservoirs, and if the cork was not closing the glass hole air-tight, the water would drain from the reservoir too fast.
In 2020 we re-launched Waterworks without the cork: the system works just as well or better, while using fewer resources.
(Re)designing a product with circularity in mind
Dutch lighting brand Ay Illuminate has an eclectic collection of lightshades that are produced in social projects around the globe. However, they did not yet have a lighting design suitable to be made at a Social Enterprise in the Netherlands.
We specifically designed Wren & Kiwi to be manufactured in the Netherlands and designed the lightshades with circularity in mind: Everything is fastened mechanically, meaning the product can be taken apart easily, making it possible to repair parts, as well as separately recycle materials at the end of life.
Actually, I think Rethink is the most powerful R there is, because it is the R that we use all the time: How can we design something in a better way? How can we rethink our own daily habits and make them more sustainable.
Rethinking how to store fruit and vegetables is exactly how we began our Poma/Olera project; and Rethinking our way of making flower arrangements led to the Flower Constellations.
Thus far we have only ever designed durable products made to last and/or used again and again.
We prefer to use original materials that are made to last and/or age beautifully.
Our Flower Constellations for example: we designed them to fit different vases in a range of diameters: Use your flower arranging disk on an ceramic vase this week, and your favorite glass vase the next.
The (recycled) brass we use will stain from water and touch, but those stains do not weaken the material, and will grow into a natural patina over time.
We actually like the wear on the flower arranging tools, but if you prefer your brass shiny, do not worry: it is very possible to polish your Flower Constellation into shining again, like we did with the disk on this photograph.
maintenance and repair to extend product life
As mentioned above in the 'Rethink' category, we specifically designed lightshades Wren & Kiwi to be repaired: Everything is fastened mechanically, meaning the product can be taken apart easily and broken strips can be replaced whenever needed.
When we can, we prefer to use materials that don't break, like the brass Flower Constellations disks that i dropped a million times already, but always survive unscratched.
Obviously that is different with our terra-cotta and glass products.
That is why it is always possible to order a separate reservoir for your Waterworks-set.
We also designed the Patera Magna and Patera Media so all separate bowls can be replaced if needed.
When we had difficulty finding a cupboard that would fit in our interior and be sturdy and spacious enough for our needs, we decided to look into designing one ourselves. But how to construct something durable, while also avoiding the use of as many virgin materials as possible?
Around the same time we noticed a lot of offices were getting rid of their metal filing cabinets: less space is needed to store paper, and the durable cabinets take up too much space.
The greyish heavy cabinets are not easy to move, and with their dull colors and plastic rolling doors, they are not very suited for a homely environment. After years of loyal duty, the faith of these cabinets is often collecting dust and rust in badly lit warehouses.
We connected the two: instead of creating a new cabinet from scratch, we used the metal base of a redundant filing cabinet.
With a fresh powdercoat, new hinges and doors plus a fitted base, the ReCabinet is ready for a new life in the spotlight.
New product of secondary materials
When we got in contact with Royal Dutch Ahrend about a circular design destination for their cabinets, Ahrend asked us if we could come up with a solution for the Ciranol desktops coming out of their many interior projects.
The HPL-like Ciranol is super durable, but not so easy to shred or recycle in conventional ways. An extra challenge is posed by the added wood-like print that makes it difficult to overcome a 90-ties office melancholy.
By adding a thin layer of veneer, the look and feel of the Ciranol changes completely, and we successfully incorporated the durable material in our ReCabinet collection, creating a sturdy base and perfectly straight doors from it.
We have since used cork-coated Ciranol table tops for exhibitions and shows, and the material might just show up in other Remanufacture projects in the future.
Reuse product with a different purpose / function
It feels like Refurbish, Remanufacture and Repurpose are all important in the ReCabinet-series.
And that is not surprising: ReCabinet is all about circular product design.
We Repurpose old office filing cabinets and Refurbish them to fit into a more homely environment, doing so by Remanufacturing part of the cabinet of secondary materials.
Repurpose is something that we love to do in the everyday.
Did you now we specifically changed the width of our Waterworks cones to make it possible to Repurpose old (cleaned) beer bottles into watering devices? (saving money and resources: you'll only need to buy a cone)
However, Repurpose in design comes with a challenge: how to overcome the one-off?
Circular design is only feasible if you can work in at least a modest serie. That is why we made ReCabinet with the filing cabinets: we know there is an enormous supply of those cabinets, and we can easily adjust the technical drawings to accomodate slight changes in measurements.
We are very open to more cases like this, so always on the look-out for residual streams tha we can repurpose into a new circular series of products.
Processing of a product into raw material and reuse
The first Wren & Kiwi models we made for Ay Illuminate, were actually designed with the use of repurposed aluminum window blinds in mind. We could often find discarded sets of the metal strips and figured they would be an ideal base-material for our lighting design.
However, not surprisingly, Ay Illuminate asked us to create something that would have a more consistent look.
And since it would probably be impossible to find enough redundant blinds to keep up with demand, we got in touch with the manufacturer of the aluminum strips.
Turns out, the aluminum used is actually 98% recycled,and the efficient production methods mean there is a 95% reduction in energy usage and CO2 emission (read more here)
Similar to aluminum, brass is infinitely recyclable as well, and the recycling process is even less energy intensive and yields a smaller carbon footprint than aluminum and steel.
Both our Flower Constellations as well as our Helios growth disks are made from recycled brass.
Recycling is also something we think about when it comes to end-of-live for our products.
We try to diminish our use of different materials, and use mechanical fasteners whenever we can, making it possible to separate different materials and recycle them once a product has reached the end of its life.
Energy recovery from materials
Recovering energy from materials is not really something we do here on site.
But if you look at this as a way to grow something new out of discarded materials we are very much on board with our Bee Happy Flower Cards.
The cards are printed on paper containing wildflower seeds, and can be planted in soil. As the paper slowly decays, the seeds are released and grow into a small flower meadow.