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Development of circular business models and product design strategies

By implementing circular approaches, companies are entering the circular economy. This enables companies to use their resources more efficiently and at the same time act in a more environmentally friendly way. The primary goal is to preserve the value and useful life of raw materials and products for as long as possible.

In mechanical and plant engineering in particular, the transformation to a circular economy opens up significant potential. Key concepts of the circular economy, such as emphasizing high product quality, providing service-oriented offerings and extending product lifetimes, are already common practice in the industry. Mechanical and plant engineering also provides technologies for the circular transformation in other sectors of the economy.

To facilitate the entry into the circular economy and promote additional business models for mechanical and plant engineering in North Rhine-Westphalia, ProduktionNRW offered a virtual information event on December 5, 2024. The focus was on the CIRCO method, which is offered in Germany by the Effizienz-Agentur NRW.

What is Circular Design?

Ines Haydn, Project Coordinator Circular Design at the Efficiency Agency NRW, first gave an insight into the current consumption of resources worldwide. The vast majority of resources end up as waste – only around 7.2 percent of resources are kept in the cycle. Doubling this proportion could lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of around 39% and a reduction in the material footprint of around 28%.

A linear value creation process is as follows: The value of a product increases before it is used through raw material extraction, production and sale. After use, the product is usually disposed of, resulting in a loss of value. In a circular economy, the value of a product should be retained for as long as possible. There are various approaches to this, such as repair, resale, refurbishing or recycling. Value retention is highest when repairing and lowest when recycling. With increasing loss of value, there are also missed business opportunities for companies.

The decisive lever (up to 80 percent) for the environmental impact of a product lies in its individual design. There are two levels to consider in circular design: the product design and the business model. Aspects such as durability, reparability or material efficiency can be included in design decisions in order to develop products or business models in the sense of a circular economy.

Added value through circular design – CIRCO

Nadine Tiedemann, resource efficiency consultant specializing in circular design at Effizienz-Agentur NRW, then presented the CIRCO method. In the Netherlands, CIRCO was developed as a workshop offering that supports companies in developing new, sustainable business models and product designs in line with the circular economy on the basis of their existing linear value chains.

The method has already been successfully used by over 2,000 companies in the Netherlands. The Effizienz-Agentur NRW is the first CIRCO hub in Germany and has been successfully conducting the workshop series with over 100 companies in NRW for two years now.

CIRCO workshop series, known as tracks, are offered to companies at regular intervals under the title “Added value through circular design”. A track comprises four workshop days (hybrid) with a maximum of 12 companies. In three phases (initiate, ideate and implement), a specific roadmap is developed for the respective company based on its own product. The focus is on practical knowledge building, a guarantee of results and direct exchange between the participating companies.

Exchange of experiences on key challenges

In the concluding discussion, the challenge of establishing circular thinking within one’s own clientele was discussed in particular. Participating companies reported that it is often easier for their customers to purchase certain products instead of repairing them, even though they are highly repairable. The CIRCO workshop series offers a structured opportunity to address such issues and identify solutions to these problems.

Further information can be found at

The event was offered by ProduktionNRW. ProduktionNRW is the cluster for mechanical engineering and production technology in North Rhine-Westphalia and is organized by VDMA NRW. ProduktionNRW sees itself as a platform for networking, informing and marketing companies, institutions and networks with each other and along the value chain. Significant parts of the services provided by ProduktionNRW are funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Industry, Climate Protection and Energy of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia.