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How can end-users be better involved in the development of business models?

Tuesday. 23 July, 2019

The concept of a Circular Economy (CE) is based on interconnected companies that form infrastructure and economy, coming together and re-thinking the operating system itself. In this sense CE forms an ecosystem to solve complex problems, which cannot be solved by individual companies and organisations.

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What does end-user engagement mean in the CIRC4Life project?

In the CIRC4Life project, end-user involvement is an integral part of the development of three new business models based on sustainability and end-user's engagement.

Laurea University of Applied Sciences (Laurea UAS), our Finnish partner, is coordinating the end-user and stakeholder engagement by involving them in a number of co-creations, development, testing and implementation activities with the help of Living Labs (i.e. Living Labs is a concept used in our project in order to test in a real life setting new products or services) and service design co-creation tools. In addition, there are other planned activities such as consumer supply chain interactions, awareness campaigns for reuse-and recycling, awareness campaigns for sustainable consumption, consumer surveys.


The Living Labs are used as a framework for involving actual customers and other key stakeholder in the collaborative innovation process. The development of the Living Labs is considered a co-creational iterative development process that facilitates stakeholder engagement and is based on the concept that organisations instead of utilising only in-house resources could use external ideas to develop their products and services. 

For more information on the Living Labs please check the dedicated article here: 

What is the role of end-users in the project (how are they engaged)?

To engage diverse stakeholders into the project development activities, Laurea UAS developed and implemented an Open Innovation Camp as a tool for addressing complex societal challenges such as the circular economy. The first Innovation Camp, arranged as a 4-day open innovation and co-creation event gathered circular economy experts, policy-makers, co-creation experts, academia and industry to address critical challenges of developing circular economy business models.

The Camp took place in Cracow, Poland, on 12-15.11.2018. It was co-organized by Laurea UAS together with Institute for Ecology of Industrial Areas, Poland. The goal was to produce concrete solutions and models for dealing with challenges in the demonstration activities. 80 participants coming from 17 different countries took part in the Innovation Camp. They were experts in their respective areas and stakeholders of the specific challenges. Participants were divided into seven groups, each one addressing a specific demonstration or circular economy business model.

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The main results from the camp were aimed to inform the business model and demonstrators development.

On the business model on Co-creation with end-user users, the main response was:


  • the need for collecting customer insights to ensure that users are in the centre of co-creation

  • the use of participatory methods to engage customers, such as end-user workshops, in the design stage

  • understanding real user needs and demands are key

  • end-users have to be involved in the early stages of the development not just asked to review products

On the business model of collaborative reuse and recycling:

  • public procurement can create a demand for second hand products (e.g. open database with repair instructions), therefore creating partnerships around green public procurement is needed

  • recycling logistics should be addressed in the business model development

  • models are needed to create second hand markets such as customer to customer or Amazon for used products

  • as recycling and reuse will reduce sales, explore ways to convince producers to embrace the circular economy

  • new business models for reuse are needed

On the business model on sustainable consumption:

  • understanding sustainable consumer profiles is a must

  • identify how to communicate positive messages to consumers 

  • consumption should be reduced at all levels, especially in Eco-points (i.e. Eco points are an innovative incentive scheme to encourage end-users to reuse and recycle their products. It introduces novel features called eco-credits that are awarded to end-users who recycle used products.) for meat products

  • there were concerns on the value of eco-points for end-users as it was not clear how consumers will use them

  • it was unclear why an assumption was made that Eco-points are important for consumers. It is needed to have evidence and a clear communication of their benefits

  • the legal framework for the Eco-points is critical

  • eco-points can be an important tool to assess products’ environmental and social impacts, but it is not clear how to compare e.g. the impact of new vs second hand products

  • Eco-points are a minor part of consumer behaviour

  • unclear how Eco-points will be certified and calculated, and how Eco-points will change over time

  • use of Living Labs is needed to assess the user behaviour based on Eco-points

Who are CIRC4Life end-users and stakeholders?

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CIRC4Life uses the quadruple helix model of open innovation. Therefore, end-users and stakeholders include a variety of people such as industry professionals from the supply chain of the sectors involved (LED lighting, tablets and food products), consumer and other civil society associations, universities and research institutes and EU and national policy makers. They come from countries across Europe and beyond including South Africa, China and Russia.

We interviewed Didier Helal, Orbiwise co-founder (solution provider for optimized Internet of Things and Connected Objects) involved in the project since the beginning to know about his experience in our project.

He joined as a participant the innovation camp in November 2018, the circular economy jam in March 2019, the seminar we organised in Brussels on the role of families in the circular economy in May 2019 and the campfire discussion we organised on end-user involvement in business models in the world circular economy Forum in June 2019.

What did you appreciate most about the innovation camp?

Aside from a perfect practical organization, the camp gathered great diversity (gender, age, job position, field of expertise, nationalities, geography) and levels of motivation to contribute to the search for a circular economy business model. The structured, mixed and open-minded sessions were very enriching and inspiring.

What did you learn there?

I first learned about circular economy itself, which was a huge personal step for me. Then I learned about the concept of living labs. While being customer-oriented, I had not considered yet the service design concept or the genuine involvement of the end user at the very beginning of the creation of the product for other reasons than user experience. The combination of the two to enable a true circular economy through sustainable business models (based on user motivation and acceptance that are somewhat different than the usual marketing criteria) provides hope that a more sustainable way is possible.

How was this different from other events you have participated in?

As I said, the diversity, the guided but open-minded journey, the improved process of the event itself along with participants' contributions, the long-term thinking with a short-term action-oriented process, and the feeling that every voice can contribute.


You have been involved in the project as a stakeholder since the beginning. What has been the impact for you after attending the different events innovation camp, or the CE jam, the seminar in Brussels, the campfire discussion at the CE forum in Helsinki?


All those events have brought me into a journey of personal awareness, but more importantly, into the belief that the global sustainable development goals have to be implemented locally, in our communities, in our businesses and in our daily lives. This can be done with a prosperous economy by rethinking our business models and including social and sustainable objectives.

How do you think end-users can be better involved in the development of new business models?

I think that service design, Jam sessions, and living labs are very good ways to involve the end-user, especially if simple but reliable sophisticated metrics can help assess impact. But I believe that the methods will only simply take their efficiency, when the stakeholder will be free of the consumerist brain wash that operated on the past century. This can only happen through education, to let the young generation imagine the world they want to live in. Hopefully relieving humans of the need to dominate nature and instead live in harmony with it.

What are the benefits in engaging for the project and for end-users?

Currently, there are several barriers and trade-offs faced by consumers when deciding whether to engage in the circular economy. Although end-users in Europe generally are willing to engage in the CE actual engagement is rather low. One of the main reasons is that consumers lack information regarding product durability and reparability as well as sufficiently developed markets.

As the Behavioural Study on Consumers’ Engagement in the Circular Economy recently published by the European Commission 2018 points out, the consumer participation on the Circular Economy has received little attention until now. Thus, to move towards a Circular Economy, the consumption/demand side needs to be well understood and studied and our project aims at contributing to this goal in order to develop product and services which have already been tested with users.

By participating in project activities end-users will be able to have gain knowledge on the circular economy which could be then implemented it in their professional or private lives. In addition, they can have a role in shaping the implementation of the circular economy.

For more information, you can follow the project activities by signing onto the project newsletter and engage by following our social media accounts using #CIRC4Life and, by contacting directly if you wish to take active part in the end-user activities such as the next innovation camp.

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