The Great Recovery: Redesigning the future

Joseph Maduma
February 11th 2013
Great recovery cover

The Great Recovery is an initiative that launched in September of last year (2012) and is being led by RSAdesign directors Sophie Thomas and Nat Hunter. It will be delivered through a series of workshops, as well as a £1.25 million Technology Strategy Board competition, which will fund feasibility studies into redesigning products.

The Great Recovery aims to educate and inspire designers through a series in what’s called a ‘circular economy’. By  engaging designers in conversations with those in different parts of the product chain – marketers, chemists, recovery experts – this in turn gives everyone more of an insight into what is needed to improve efficiency.

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“If fridge designers were to work alongside disassemblers, they would see the inherent problems. Perhaps we would have better fridges and better designers as a result.”

Sophie Thommas

Sophie Thomas says the inspiration for The Great Recovery came during a visit to a Dutch recycling plant where she was taken to facilities that sorted, recovered and managed ‘resource’ (or waste, as we were still defining it in the UK):

“One of these facilities recycled fridges and freezers, and I was struck by the variety of models being processed. Every single appliance was different. This meant that every time a disassembler tried to get the valuable compressor out from the back of a fridge before it was crushed, a new set of challenges arose, with different sizes and types of screws, fittings and frames all blocking the way. It made me think that if fridge designers were to work alongside disassemblers, they would see with their own eyes the problems inherent in their designs. Perhaps we would have better fridges and better designers as a result.”

With approximately 80% of a product’s environmental impact ‘locked in’ at the design stage, understanding production cycles is key. In order to incorporate this type of design thinking, designers need to consider the system as a whole rather than focus on individual components or products. For co-creation to work it’s crucial everyone in these life-cycles is involved: designers and material experts, manufacturers and resource managers, brands and retailers, consumers, policy makers and government, investors & academics all working together. The Great Recovery’s mission is to create a neutral space where all disciplines around the circle in the diagram below can learn from each other so that we can create initiatives which move us towards a circular economy.

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To kick start The Great Recovery’s plans, The Technology Strategy Board ( is running a funding competition and offering grant funding for feasibility studies into the re-design of products, components and systems to retain material within the economy over several cycles of use.

This competition aims to stimulate innovation in design to address two high-level challenges:

-          Reducing the global environmental impact of materials that we use;

-          Reducing dependence on key raw materials, the supply of which is potentially at risk.

The competition is open to all UK companies and has two rounds. The second round is now underway and applications must be submitted by 27 March 2013. For more info visit: For more information on The Great Recovery visit

Good Design will be running features on the winners when they are announced later this year.