The vision of the circular economy speaks of closed cycles of resources and materials, of products that are maintained, repaired, reused, and recycled to stay in use for longer, and of getting the optimum out of the resources invested into a product over the longest period possible. This not only lessens the negative impact on our environment; it also opens up promising new business models. The essence of the circular economy lies in the smart combination of novel business models with mindful product design: products are designed to be reliable, durable, and repairable and distributed via “sharing” or “pay-per-service” models. Microelectronics can play a major role in improving the environmental performance of processes (e.g. state monitoring or tracking the flow of valuable resources). There are still considerable hurdles to be overcome, not least on the commercial and mental levels. Many companies are still uncertain about the right ways to monetize the idea of the circular economy, and many people still need to internalize the importance of reliability in their habits and routines.
Re-envisioning their organizations under the paradigm of a circular economy, companies can benefit from stronger relationships with their customers and stronger networks across their entire value chains and their products’ lifecycles. The methods of the circular economy help optimize internal processes as much as products and services and reduce costs and environmental impacts. The circular economy philosophy is also a great way to inspire a stronger sense of identification and greater engagement in employees. Concrete goals can include a reduction in emissions harming our climate, in the social and ecological costs of resource extraction, or in material consumption overall throughout the value chain. Harmful or toxic substances that hurt our environment, the natural world, wildlife, and our fellow human beings should also be avoided and substituted wherever possible.
Which services can Fraunhofer IZM contribute for the concept of a circular economy?
The Environmental and Reliability Engineering department at Fraunhofer IZM hosts the “Eco-Design Learning Factory” a novel two-day training format that uses interactive and interdisciplinary activities to allow the participants to experience the evolution of a circular system and business model for a given product. The researchers of the Institute also offer research and advice on eco-designed products, lifecycle analyses, product reliability, and recent trends in legislation.