Designing a Circular Future with Optimism

by Michelle Lee
Managing Director, IDEO

Over the last century, we’ve designed a culture of convenience: We process raw materials, use them for a finite amount of time and then dispose of them without much thought as to the waste we are creating. But now, there’s a growing consciousness around the impact this is having on our world, and we find ourselves amidst a pressing shift in both mindset and practice.

In my role at IDEO, a human-centered design firm known for work ranging from the first Apple mouse to a more equitable voting system in Los Angeles, I see this as an incredible opportunity for design and innovation – a chance to rethink and improve processes that have been in place for decades. As we spread this playful mindset across a breadth of industries, I am inspired by the steps I see organizations taking to actively contribute to a circular economy.

How the move toward a circular economy is taking shape

Our current economy is linear – materials are extracted from the earth, put into production, used and then discarded. Some are recycled, but the vast majority end up in landfills. The result is the accumulation of massive amounts of waste, which, at some point, Earth simply won’t be able to handle. A circular economy, on the other hand, bends this line to create a continuous circle with no end. Materials return to circulation after use so they never end up in landfills.

There are three primary ways manufacturers are approaching this challenge:

  • package elimination,
  • package reuse and/or
  • material circulation.

These circular design principles – eliminate, reuse, and circulate – can be applied at every stage of the value chain by asking thoughtful questions and pushing for innovative answers from every member of the team. For example:

  • How might we shift to bio-based or fully recyclable materials?
  • How might we increase resource recovery by designing products for disassembly?
  • How might we extend the life of a product through more durable engineering and design?
  • How might we reduce costs and increase efficiencies by eliminating packaging materials?
  • How might we begin to track product life cycles to inform smarter production?
  • How might we create new systems to return or reuse products and packaging?

We’re seeing creative solutions emerge in response to these questions, including in the beauty and personal care products industry. Rethinking shampoo delivery, Lush traded the traditional liquid form for a solid product: shampoo bars. This shift reduces both production and transportation costs; Lush estimates that since 2007, it has eliminated the need for 90 million plastic shampoo bottles.

Meanwhile, Bite recognized that, as a society, we discard an estimated 1 billion toothpaste tubes every year. With toothpaste bits, they eliminated the tube, shifting to a subscription model of solid bits that can be stored in a refillable glass jar.

These companies, and many others like them, are finding innovative ways to eliminate plastic packaging altogether. In the process, they’re generating incredible consumer engagement and loyalty, not only by aligning with a growing consumer consciousness, but also by tapping into new product forms and rituals that are delightful and engaging.

Every day, new examples arise of innovative companies trailblazing new processes in support of a circular economy. Ready to join us on this exciting and meaningful journey? Start by checking out the Circular Design Guide, a collaboration between the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and IDEO.

Together, we can transition from a linear to a circular economy and, in doing so, create a better, more equitable and beautiful future for the next generation.


Michelle Lee is Managing Director of IDEO’s Play Lab, where she leads an integrated research, design and development team, using play to address complex challenges and create meaningful change across industries.

Case studies from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Upstream Innovation: A guide to packaging solutions.

A New Year, A New Opportunity to Focus on What Matters Most

By Lezlee Westine
President & CEO, PCPC

As we reflect on the second year of the pandemic, I am reminded of the renewed energy and sense of purpose with which we welcomed 2021. While last year was not without its own challenges, I am proud that PCPC and our member companies remained steadfast in our commitment to the wellbeing of our employees, our consumers and our communities.

The pandemic forced us to change the way we do business and live our personal lives, but it also reinforced just how much science matters. Sound science is the foundation for everything that we do. We continued to work with policymakers and advocacy groups to modernize state and federal laws based on sound science and safety. This includes working with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to eliminate new cosmetics animal testing and promote the acceptance of non-animal approaches to cosmetics safety assessments with the reintroduction of the bipartisan Humane Cosmetics Act in the House and Senate. Together with Cruelty Free International (CFI), we also successfully advocated for the adoption of cosmetics animal testing legislation in several states.

We believe protecting people and the planet is an urgent responsibility, not a choice. PCPC’s sustainability program continues to expand with several new initiatives to reflect our commitment to a more inclusive society. PCPC supported federal and state anti-discrimination legislation as a member of the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Coalition and an active advocate for the CROWN Act. The CROWN Act prevents discrimination based on characteristics – such as hair texture and cultural styles, particularly those common in the Black community – and specifically recognizes that Black people are disparately impacted and excluded from some workplaces based on physical appearance. The Act is now law in 14 states and 40 local governments and was introduced in more than 25 others last year.

PCPC also proudly announced the first annual Madam C.J. Walker Award for Excellence in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). The award recognizes individuals in the beauty industry who demonstrate an outstanding commitment to DEI through strong leadership and sustained efforts with a focus on workplace culture, programs and policies, or through external engagement with consumers and communities. PCPC presented the inaugural award to Latriece Watkins, executive vice president, Consumables, Walmart U.S., in recognition of her dedication to advancing DEI.

While we recognize that we are not perfect, we are dedicated to working with others to achieve meaningful solutions to some of society’s biggest challenges, helping to shape a more beautiful, inclusive future. Each new year presents new opportunities to examine our priorities and focus on what matters most. Cosmetics and personal care products companies are working to be positive agents for change. This past year was no different.

As we greet 2022, there will undoubtedly be new challenges and uncertainties. But, as an innovative and committed industry, we have much to be proud of and strive for. Happy New Year to all.