Circular Futures

Circular Futures

Sponsored by

Design and develop a product, system or business model for Fast Moving Consumer Goods based on principles of circular design and value creation.

Challenge and scope 

In the pervasive linear economic model, raw material resources are converted into usable products by manufacturers and after use are disposed of by consumers as rubbish. This is fundamentally a wasteful and unsustainable model given the finite resources of the planet and increasing rates of consumption by a growing population; the middle class population of developing countries is predicted to expand by 3 billion people over the next 20 years. Simply using less will not be sufficient. 

Circular design principles and economic systems make more effective use of materials to create more value through cost savings and by creating new markets or growing existing ones. The circular economy system diagrams developed by the Ellen McArthur Foundation and the RSA’s Great Recovery project elegantly demonstrate the design principles and business models which drive changes to product and packaging by closing the loop of material flows to create significant value for the environment, consumers, businesses and economies. In contrast, conventional recycling only considers waste in isolation of product design principles and value chains. 

Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCGs) cover a wide variety of products such as food, refreshment, home care and personal care products; this sector generates approximately 75% of municipal solid waste. This brief therefore asks you rethink the future of how consumer goods are delivered, used and ultimately re-captured so that valuable resources can be retained within a circular economy. We are particularly interested in personal care products, which are generally defined as toiletries for personal hygiene and/ or beautification. 

In approaching this brief, you are encouraged to think about current trends that have the potential to enable circular futures such as 3D printing, e-commerce, digital, the Internet of Things, as well as different consumption and ownership models, such as the sharing economy. You may want to examine how companies like Airbnb, DESSO, and Rolls-Royce with their “power by the hour” programme are adapting to a changing world, as well as how technology can be used for separating material at a molecular level for re-cycling, frugal innovation (eg Jagaad) and changing relationships between consumers and retailers. 

You may want to also consider how other waste materials as a consequence of using an FMCG product can be repurposed – for example how water for use with personal hygiene products might be re-used. 

For the purposes of illustration only, the following would be viable responses: 

  • a new product and/or packaging that promotes re-use and is not thrown away 
  • a new business model or system that promotes a ‘take/send back’ model for a product or packaging after use 
  • a product or service design solution that enables communities to optimise local resources and generate local value chains 
  • a communication solution: such as a marketing/advertising campaign or an app that promotes the idea of frugal innovation or re-use 
  • a new or repurposed product made from existing waste streams 
  • a product designed to inspire the reclamation and reuse of its materials, clearly illustrating the value of waste as material source 
  • a system such as an initiative, website or app that facilitates the obtaining, trading or sourcing of secondary materials reclaimed from waste streams 

… and many others are possible 

Regardless of your proposal, you are asked to consider how it would exist as part of a wider ecosystem and what pre-requisites would have to be met. 

Ultimately, Unilever would like to see transformative ideas, principles and models that provoke and stimulate our imaginations towards a circular future and making that future happen. 


Unilever Award of £2500 

The judging panel may decide on more than one winner and will allocate the award accordingly. In addition, the judging panel may award commendations. 

Sponsored by


Judging criteria 

There are six criteria that your entry will be measured against – make sure that your submission materials demonstrate that your solution meets these criteria: 

  1. Social and environmental benefit – how does your design benefit society and/or the environment? 
  2. Research and insights – how did you investigate this issue? What were your key insights? 
  3. Design thinking – how did your research and insights inform your solution? How did you develop, test, iterate and refine your concept? Demonstrate the journey you’ve been through to the end result 
  4. Commercial awareness – does your journey make sense from a financial point of view? What is the competitive environment your solution would sit within? 
  5. Execution – we are looking for a design that is pleasing and looks and feels well-resolved. 
  6. Magic – we are looking for a bit of ‘magic’ – a surprising or lateral design solution that delights 

Submission requirements 

All entries must be submitted through our online entry system.

As you prepare your submission, please ensure that: 

  • you do NOT include your name, university/ college or other identifying marks anywhere on your submission 
  • none of your submission files exceed 10MB – this is the maximum size for each individual file / board when you submit online 

The submission requirements are: 

  • 1 x A3 PDF Hero image with 1 sentence description A singular ‘poster image’ that conveys the essence of your project, plus a 1 sentence strapline or description 
  • 1 x A3 PDF Big Idea Summary A single A3 PDF page describing your ‘Big Idea’ in less than 250 words. This should clearly explain what your solution is, the specific area of need it addresses, and how you arrived at the solution
  • 4 x A3 PDF Boards Outlining Your Proposal 4 pages describing your proposal and demonstrating that you have met the six judging criteria. Each board should include a heading. Number each board in the top right hand corner, in the order they should be viewed by the judges 
  • 10 x A3 PDF Pages of Supporting Material Up to 10 A3 PDFs of additional material illustrating your development process – this could include scanned pages of your sketchbook or computer modelling/sketches (if applicable) 
  • Optional YouTube / Vimeo + website links Please note that we cannot guarantee supporting films and websites will be viewed at the shortlisting stage. If you have created digital materials, we recommend referencing them (for example by including labelled film stills or website screen grabs) in your 4 main PDF boards 

Eligibility + entry infomation

Download entry guidelinesDownload this brief

18 January 2017

Competition opens for entries

8 Febuary 2017

4pm GMT
£25 early bird deadline

8 March 2017

4pm GMT
£35 final entry deadline

20 March 2017

2-stage judging process begins

1 June 2017

2016/17 winners announced