Product design for resource efficiency: Towards a circular economy

Mistra invites joint submission by research groups and industrial partners of proposals for a new research and innovation programme on product design for resource efficiency. The purpose of this initiative is to bring knowledge and innovative ideas to bear on helping to foster development of a circular economy, i.e. a society based on closed material loops. Central issues addressed in this research programme should be how to design new products that are more durable and can be maintained, repaired and upgraded; methods of reuse and remanufacture; and development of new business models and policy instruments.

This post is also available in Swedish


For more than a century, industrial society has been dominated by a mainly linear way of producing and consuming goods. Accordingly, raw materials are used to produce materials and goods that are sold, then used and consumed, and finally discarded. This linear mode of production and consumption represents great wastage of what are, in many cases, limited resources. There is therefore a great need to improve resource use and to close the material loops. Society must shift from a linear to a circular economy. Industry must produce goods that — not only in the course of production, but throughout their life cycle — are as energy-saving and resource-efficient as possible. How far a product can be used before it is no longer useful and the scope for maintaining, repairing and upgrading it are factors that affect resource use. Other relevant considerations are how consumers choose to use the product and how the nature of other policy instruments affects the use of energy and other resources.

In early July, the European Commission put forward proposals intended to accelerate the transition to a circular economy and boost recycling in EU member states. According to the Commission, these changes will strengthen Europe’s competitiveness and reduce demand for rare and expensive raw materials, and also create new jobs and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

Mistra’s call is based on a report drawn up by an international working group (Appendix 1). This report is complementary to this call for proposals.


A new research and innovation programme should be oriented towards resource-efficient design of new products, remanufacturing of existing products, novel business models and new issues about regulations and policy instruments. It may be interesting to look at various strategies for giving products or their parts a new lease of life by, for example, being reused, repurposed and redesigned. The research should include examples (case studies) that, while specific, are generic in that they can be applied in other areas and sectors. The examples chosen should be capable of exerting clearly positive environmental effects. The programme should contain a plan for disseminating the research results to make them applicable by the public sector, as well as industry.

The research should have a system perspective that includes different aspects at societal, company and product level. Development of innovative business models that, for example, combine products with services is encouraged. Matters relating to recycling and to development of new materials, however, lie beyond the scope of this call.

The programme should focus on manufacturing industry and help to bring about its development and transition to production methods and products that boost resource efficiency and involve circular material flows. This call does not cover development of solutions in agriculture, forestry, fishing, water supply, sewerage, waste management or remediation.

Within the programme, collaboration is expected among different academic disciplines and with companies of various sizes and perhaps, depending on the focus of the research, government agencies and other public institutions. The programme should have a Swedish orientation but take into account the fact that Swedish companies often locate their production facilities abroad and engage in global trade.

Who can apply?

The call addresses research groups working at Swedish higher education institutions and research institutes. Researchers and organisations working abroad are welcome to join in applications as partners, but the principal applicant and planned programme host must be a Swedish institution. Companies and other organisations can also take part as partners.

Special conditions

Co-funding from industry is required. Of the total budget, industry is expected to contribute 30%. Part of the contribution may be in kind, such as staff involved in the programme, but a significant proportion cash funds will be considered positive.

For current rules on indirect costs in Mistra programmes, see Appendix 2.

Application process and review

Applications must be written in English (apart from a summary in Swedish) and amount to a maximum of 100 pages including appendices. If the application exceeds 100 pages, the additional pages will not be taken into account in the evaluation.

The application must contain the following parts:

0. Summary in English and Swedish
1. Vision and aims
2. Scientific value of the programme
3. Benefits to society of the programme
4. Organisation of the programme
5. Expertise and network
6. Description of projects included
7. Deliverables
8. Communication
9. Budget

Note that the following must emerge clearly from the programme proposal: (a) preliminary programme title, (b) planned programme host, (c) planned programme director and (d) contact person for the application, with full contact details. The application must also contain signed statements from the planned programme host and co-funding partners.

The application should be submitted as a single PDF file emailed to and must reach Mistra not later than 4.00 pm on 15 December 2014.

All the applications will be evaluated with respect to their programme idea, scientific quality, usefulness and benefits, communication and organisation.

Time schedule

September 2014 Call opens
15 December 2014 Call closes
January–February 2015 Evaluation of applications
March 2015 (prel.) Award decision taken by Mistra’s Board
1 July 2015 (prel.) Programme start