Episode 96: What has circular design got to do with reversing breached planetary boundaries?




Hello and welcome to episode 96 of the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you've been listening for a while, welcome back, and if you're new, thank you for joining me. I'm Belinda Humphrey and today I wanted to talk about planetary boundaries and the way circular design could be a positive influence in reversing the intense resource use contributing to the breaching of these safe boundaries. But before I get into that, I wanted to mention my circular design workshop, which specifically helps to upskill design teams to be able to design for circularity. So if upskilling your design team is on your mind or on your list this year, send me an email info@belindahumphrey.com and we can chat about some options. 

I also wanted to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which I work and record this podcast on the Boonwurrung people of the Kulin Nation, and pay my respects to elders, past and present, and acknowledge that sovereignty has never been ceded. 

So what are planetary boundaries? They are nine key areas that measure environmental health across land, water and air. They were first outlined in a paper in 2009, and they are the framework that helps scientists track and communicate how these rising pressures are stabilising our planet, and operating within these boundaries is crucial to defining a safe space for humanity. The names of the nine key areas are novel entities, climate change, biosphere integrity, land system change, freshwater change, biogeochemical flows, and these six are the ones that have been breached. The remaining three ocean acidification, atmospheric aerosol loading and stratospheric ozone depletion have not been breached, and in fact, there's good news in there that the boundary for ozone depletion was exceeded in the 1990s, but because of the Montreal Protocol, countries have reduced the use of ozone depleting chemicals, and this has allowed the protective ozone layer high in the atmosphere to recover. So, given the right global agreements, you could hope that reversal is possible for the others.

 Now, he idea that we're overusing or overshooting resources has been around for a while, and Earth Overshoot Day is another campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of using more than is safe. This is calculated on a country's previous year's use of resources and has been a yearly campaign since 2007. For Australia, our overshoot day this year is April the 5th, meaning at the end of this week. If you're listening in real time, friday is the day where, if everyone lived like Australia, we would exceed what the earth can regenerate in a year. For China, it's the 1st of June and one of the countries latest in the year is Iraq, on November, the 15th, and it's important to note that not all countries will have an overshoot day due to their lifestyles and management of resources. 

Now that we've gone through what the planetary boundaries are, let's get into the link between that and fashion. Now there are key global systems that put pressure on key Earth systems, which cause the planetary boundaries to be breached. In the Circularity Gap Report in 2023, they focused on three global systems the food system, built environment and the manufactured goods systems. Fashion and textiles are part of the manufactured goods systems, along with vehicles, appliances and equipment, of the manufactured goods systems, along with vehicles, appliances and equipment. And we know that fashion is largely a linear take-make-waste system and it's this process that is leading to the planetary boundaries being breached. And, like I always say, if we don't change the systems, we can't make fashion sustainable. The report went on to say that by focusing in on these three key systems and adopting 16 circular economy solutions, the breach of planetary boundaries could not only be reversed but also slash the global need for material extraction by one third, meaning that we could live within the safe limits of the planet. 

Going back to the earlier point that not all countries have an overshoot day, in this case, not all countries need to reduce or shift, others need to build and some need to grow. It's about a redistribution. They suggest in the report that this reduction comes from implementing circular economy principles of using less for longer, using regenerative materials and cycling materials at the end of life. And circular design plays an important role because it's in this design phase that those decisions can be made. By designing products with circularity in mind, we are being more responsible with resources and contributing to a more sustainable and long-term interaction with the environment and the ecosystems. 

Which brings us to the end of today's episode. I hope today has broadened your knowledge 

about some of the environmental frameworks that are being used to evaluate the health of the planet and maybe got you thinking about what role your business might play in changing the current systems. As I said earlier, if you are wanting to upskill your design team with a circular design workshop, send me an email info@belindahumphrey.com and we can have a chat about some options. As always, you'll find the show notes and any links for today's episode on the website belindahumphreycom in the podcast section. Thanks so much for listening. See you next time.

Thanks for listening to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you want to get in touch, head over to or you can find me on Instagram @BelindaHumphrey_ 

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change.


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