Professor Tim Cooper
Knowledge and power: The evolution of research into product lifetimes
Over the past decade, there has been substantial growth in research relating to product lifetimes. By contrast, in the early 1990s a report entitled Beyond Recycling: The longer life option revealed very little academic activity in the field, and over the next 20 years it grew only slowly. Around a decade ago, however, a time when interest in the circular economy concept was rapidly expanding, the need for a series of clearly focused conferences to bring together researchers with expertise relating to product lifetimes became apparent. Launched in the UK in 2015, PLATE conferences have since been held biennially, each in a different country, and attracted over 650 participants.
In his presentation, Tim Cooper, who initiated the conference series, will reveal the findings of a recent study on the evolution of research on product lifetimes, based on a review of papers presented at past PLATE conferences, which now total nearly 400. The study team explored not only the content of papers but the background of their authors, enabling a comprehensive overview of academic work over the past decade.
Tim will highlight trends in the aims and methods of conference papers, the types of products addressed, and the extent to which research has been framed in the context of the circular economy. He will identify the location of researchers, their academic disciplines, the extent of collaboration between research institutions, and how conference papers have been used to shape and disseminate knowledge, including transmission into peer-reviewed journal articles.
Academic discourse on product lifetimes looks set to grow as public pressure mounts for the principles of the circular economy to be put into practice. Tim will argue that the PLATE community has a vital role to play in ensuring that decisions made by governments, companies, campaigners, and consumers are based on sound knowledge derived from high-quality research.
Tim Cooper is Emeritus Professor of Sustainable Design and Consumption at Nottingham Trent University. Having started his career as an economist in the construction industry, his first study on product lifetimes, Beyond Recycling, was published in 1994 by the New Economics Foundation. He began his academic career at Sheffield Hallam University and was awarded a Chair at Nottingham Trent University in 2010. His book Longer Lasting Products, published the same year, established his reputation as an international authority on the lifetime of consumer goods. He initiated the biennial series of PLATE (Product Lifetimes and the Environment) conferences in 2015, serving as Conference Series Chair until his retirement in 2022.
Tim’s research has been funded by the European Commission, Council of Europe, Defra, WRAP, the EPSRC, and ESRC. It has explored product lifetimes from a range of perspectives, including design, marketing, business models, behavioural change, and public policy, and has addressed a range of industry sectors, notably clothing, appliances, vehicles, and furniture. Tim has advised the European Commission (DG Justice and Consumers) and European Economic and Social Committee and has presented evidence to various UK Government committees, most recently the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee inquiries into Electronic Waste and the Circular Economy and The Sustainability of the Fashion Industry.
Susanna Horn, DSc
Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR)
The recent proposal for Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR) aims to reduce the negative life cycle environmental impacts of products and improve the functioning of the market. It is strongly linked to its predecessors, the Ecodesign directives but extends the existing framework to cover a very broad range of products (such as textiles) and widens the scope of the requirements with which products are to comply. The new Ecodesign regulation is also linked to multiple other EU policy frameworks, such as the EU Green Deal, EU Industrial policies, the Circular Economy Action Plan, the EU textile strategy as well as initiatives related to sustainable production and consumption and waste management. The actions proposed in the new ESPR cover, for instance, binding requirements for the environmental sustainability of textile products, such as longevity, repairability, and recyclability requirements; the implementation of a digital product passport for textile products; mandatory requirements concerning public procurement; and banning the destruction of unsold and/or returned textiles.
The implementation of the regulation will cause some changes to the way stakeholders are operating and prepare them to transition to a sustainable and circular economy. Nevertheless, it raises several concerns from the private actors due to the regulation being mandatory and binding for all member states. The keynote will discuss these changes, concerns, and implications to various stakeholders, the status of the regulation, and the potential drawbacks that still remain. In addition, the possibility to lay down specific minimum standards for placing different products on the market will be discussed from the viewpoint of product-specific ecodesign requirements. Due to the regulation being still in preparation, the contents of this keynote will be subject to updates according to the progress of the preparation.
Susanna Horn, DSc (Econ). Group manager in the Industry and value chains at the Finnish Environment Institute (Syke). Susanna is currently working on projects related to the circular economy and life cycle approaches related to textiles, plastics, digitalization, and metals, as well as eco-design, innovation, policies, and data questions. Her main expertise is in the strategic use of life cycle methods. Prior to working at Syke, she worked in the metals and mining sector in sustainability and innovation positions, as well as in the university sector as a researcher. Ph.D. in the business-related application of LCA methodologies, Master’s degrees in Economics (JYU), and Sustainable Resource Management (TUM).
Tamar Makov, PhD
The hidden environmental costs of consumer product returns
During the 2020 holiday season alone, US consumers sent more than one million products back to retailers each day(!). Consumer returns are a particularly challenging issue in e-commerce where as many as 20%-40% of all products sold are returned. While many consumers consider return policies to be a key factor in their purchase decisions, few seem to realize that the products they send back don’t necessarily make it back to the shelf. Instead, many returns travel through a complex reverse logistics supply chain, at the end of which some are resold via outlets and secondary markets at a fraction of their original retail price, while others are recycled, donated, or sent directly to incineration.
Beyond the added transport and waste associated with the post-return lifecycle stages, disposing of brand-new perfectly functional products also squanders the embodied materials and energy invested in their production and distribution. While the environmental impacts of eCommerce are well discussed, returns are seldom included in analyses. As a record number of households adopt eCommerce following the global pandemic, gaining a better understanding of the environmental implications of such a massive shift in consumption patterns is both timely and imperative.
Building on a unique dataset covering over 600,000 apparel items returned in the EU, semi-structured interviews with industry experts, and a comprehensive literature review, we use data-science methods and LCA, to map the flows of returned items across the post-return supply chain and assess the full lifecycle environmental impacts of product returns. Our results suggest that the embodied impacts associated with producing items that are never used far surpass the direct emissions associated with transport, processing and packaging of returned products. To the best of our knowledge, this work presents the first attempt to quantify the environmental impacts of product returns from a full lifecycle perspective.
Dr. Makov investigates the potential to address social and environmental challenges through sustainable business practices, technologies, and entrepreneurship.
Adopting a systems approach, she draws from the fields of Industrial Ecology, Data Science, and Behavioural economics, and combines methods including Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), machine learning, and psychological experiments.
Her goal is to generate insights informing theory, policy, and real-world decision-making on issues including sustainable food systems, the circular economy, and digitalization.
Makov’s work has been published in high-impact journals including Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Nature Climate Change, and Nature communications, and is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Internet Society Foundation, Israeli Science Foundation (ISF), and the German – Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development (GIF).
Makov is the head of the Circular Economy lab and a faculty member at the Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management and the Goldman Sonnenfeldt School of Sustainability and Climate Change at Ben Gurion University. She holds a Ph.D. and MA in Environmental Management from Yale University, and a B.Sc. in Nutrition science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Tamar Makov’s website
Tamar Makov on Google Scholar
Product Design for Circularity
Paula Sarsama is Infinited Fiber Company’s Program Manager, a circular economy enthusiast with a passion for finding solutions to decrease the environmental impact of the fashion industry. Her focus is on creating collaborations with other stakeholders in the circular value chain and ecosystem, with an aim of making circularity in textiles an everyday reality.
Prior to joining Infinited Fiber Company, she was a Senior Scientist at VTT, leading several projects in the areas of sustainability and bio-based materials. Paula has over 20 years of experience in leading commercial and technology projects in industry, business, and academia.
Learn more about Infinited Fiber Company at https://infinitedfiber.com
Thomas Nyström, Lic. Phil & Anneli Selvefors, PhD
Future Adaptive Design – designing products for circular business models
A growing number of companies are investigating how to reduce the environmental load and capture financial values through new business models driven by product longevity. However, such a shift entails a multi-dimensional transformation and previous research highlights several challenges related to, for instance, ensuring the viability of business models and value propositions, designing products fit for longevity, and creating pleasant user experiences. Product and organizational complexity can also make it especially difficult to explore circular business models that challenge the current linear business logic.
In their presentation, Thomas and Anneli will highlight opportunities and challenges companies face when pursuing new business models based on extended product longevity. Building on several research projects, they will discuss what implications extended product lifetime has for product and service design, business, and organization. Learnings show that moving away from the prevalent focus on minimizing manufacturing costs, to a focus on preserving product values and reducing both lifecycle costs and the environmental footprint requires fundamental changes in business and design logic.
Results from their research suggest that an approach and methods for Future Adaptive Design can enable companies to explore future uncertainties by identifying risks for premature obsolescence and associated cost drivers. Moreover, it can aid the exploration of opportunities to redesign product architecture and components to increase the potential to significantly reduce business risks as well as the environmental load.
Learn more about future adaptive design here.
Thomas Nyström Lic. Phil has more than 20 years of experience in circular design, business development, and organizational change management. In 2013 Thomas was part of starting up RISE -the Research Institute of Sweden- research team Sustainable Business, that since, systematically has contributed to knowledge building around circular business models built on value preservation, with a potential to radically reduce climate/environmental impact.
Thomas’s main research focus is on how physical products can be designed for reduced business risk in circular business models. This could be achieved by designing physical products for extended functional life through Future Adaptive Design which could mitigate the risk of premature obsolescence. Thomas has a background as an industrial designer and has the privilege of doing just that, contributing to designing industries to better fit in a circular economy.
Anneli Selvefors is a design researcher and innovation catalyst at RISE – the Research Institutes of Sweden. Her research focuses on how companies can rethink their design and innovation processes and develop sustainable and circular offers. Primarily, she explores opportunities to design circular business models, facilitate circular consumption, and enable sustainable lifestyles. An important part of her work is to develop, assess, and disseminate new methods and tools for sustainable design and business model innovation.
Since 2019, Anneli is a member of the reference group for the Swedish Delegation for Circular Economy and has been the chair of one of its expert groups tasked with proposing new policies and other measures that can aid Swedish companies to design for circularity. During 2020-2022 she was also a member of one of the working groups of the Swedish Government’s innovation partnership program Climate Neutral Industry that advised the Government on how circular design can aid the development of sustainable innovations. She holds a Ph.D. in Human-Technology-Design and an M.Sc. in Industrial Design Engineering from the Chalmers University of Technology.