Capstone Challenge: Sustainable Strategies for Circular Design

By Glowforge

Challenge: Using sustainable manufacturing techniques, redesign a product to maximize its lifespan.

In this capstone project, you’ll put your manufacturing skills to work creating a sustainable design solution that maximizes the lifespan of a product. Your design should consider the product’s impact on the environment throughout its lifecycle, including its manufacturing process and its capacity to be repurposed or recycled at the end of its usefulness. Be prepared to present the potential environmental benefits of your new and improved product, as well as the impact of its circular design on the manufacturing.

Facilitation Guide


Sustainable product design can transform the way we interact with the environment. When designing products for longevity, we must consider the long-lasting effects of the manufacturing process, the materials used, and the disposal of the product. It’s expected that by the 2030s, supply chains will be required to participate in a circular economy, where waste is minimized and resources are maximized. To remain competitive in the future, companies must start adopting these circular economy business models now.

Manufacturing is a critical component of the circular economy because it's how the products that we use in our daily lives are produced. By incorporating circular design principles into manufacturing, we can create a more sustainable economy with products and systems that minimize waste and maximize resource efficiency.

Circular design means developing products to be durable, easy to repair, and made with recycled or sustainable materials. It involves considering the entire lifecycle of a product including the extraction of raw materials, the production process, and the end-of-life stage where the product is reused, recycled, or repurposed. This type of design also helps create a closed-loop system by capturing and reusing materials and resources within the manufacturing process.

Take cell phones as an example. Our mobile devices contain valuable materials that go to waste when they’re just thrown away. By redesigning them to be modular and easy to repair, we could extend their lifespan and reduce waste. When a cell phone comes to the end of its useful life, it could be easily broken down into reusable or recyclable parts.

This capstone challenge asks you to use your skills to combat the climate crisis by redesigning everyday projects in a more sustainable way. Glowforge is a useful tool for quickly prototyping and iterating on circular design solutions. Because it works with so many materials, you can use more environmentally friendly options and reduce waste. Plus, it’s quick and easy to use, so you can test different ideas before finding the one that has the biggest environmental impact.


Research and explore examples of sustainable circular design. Here are some resources to get you started:

Explore Tip

Explore the Glowforge Community to see how others are using recycled materials for different projects. Check out this example for inspiration! Also, if you have previously completed one of the other Glowforge challenges, revisit your product and redesign it to be more inclusive, safer, and more sustainable.

Reflect and Review

Take a moment to reflect on the research you did for redesigning a product using circular design.

  • What did you learn about circular design principles and how they affect manufacturing?
  • What areas of circular design are most interesting to you; reducing waste or pollution, reusing or recycling materials, or changing a company’s business model?
  • What message about circular design and its role in manufacturing resonates most with you? Why is it important to consider going forward?

Consider if there are any other resources or techniques that would be helpful to explore before moving on to the Ideate stage where you will brainstorm circular design for a product and how to demonstrate the implementation for a manufacturing company.


Brainstorm how potential products could be redesigned to incorporate principles of circular design. Check out Explaining Circular Economy: Best Real-Life Examples to get inspired by some products that have been recently redesigned to be circular. Think of as many ideas as you can without worrying if they’re good or bad — just get creative!

  • Work with a partner or group to generate a list of disposable products. These are items that have a short lifespan. Consider items like disposable coffee cups or utensils, toothbrushes, and shoes.
  • Select an item that interests you and research how it’s made and its environmental impacts. Remember to consider materials, the processes used, and the typical lifespan of the item.
  • What materials could be used? Which are most sustainable, easily recycled, or repurposed?
  • How could the product be redesigned to reduce waste and increase recyclability or reusability? Can it be redesigned to be modular?
  • How can the product be easily recycled or repurposed at the end of its life cycle?
  • What changes could be made to the manufacturing process to support circular design principles?
  • How might you convey the importance of circular design in manufacturing with your product choice? Will it illustrate the need for circular redesign or demonstrate the benefits in ways that convince manufacturers to change their processes?
  • Perhaps a peer has an idea that works well with yours — collaborate to make both of your ideas even better.

Ideate Tip

Feeling stuck? These Circular Strategies Cards might help provide ideas for incorporating circular design principles.

Reflect and Review

Take a moment to reflect on your ideas.

  • Were you able to incorporate innovative circular design principles into your product redesign?
  • Which product ideas excite you the most? Which ideas do you think would appeal most to product users and manufacturers?
  • How do your ideas help to reduce waste and increase recyclability or reusability?
  • What are the main points you can make to convey the importance of circular design in manufacturing?

In the next stage, you’ll take one or two of your ideas and redesign them. Before moving on, is there anything you want to revisit or brainstorm some more?


Review the ideas you brainstormed and select one product that you would like to redesign to incorporate circular design principles. In this stage you’ll create sketches or digital mockups of your new designs. Consider the following:

  • Will parts of your design be easily replaceable? Are the materials easily reusable or recyclable?
  • Can you reduce wasted materials during the design process?
  • Which parts of your design will need to be manufactured on Glowforge? What design software, such as the Glowforge App, Inkscape, Adobe Illustrator, or Photoshop, will you use to create your design?
  • What tools and materials do you need to develop your product redesign using Glowforge?
  • How could you incorporate designs, color, shape & form, or texture into your redesign that makes the product appeal to the end user?

In this stage, you will start crafting your presentation to include creative strategies to persuade your audience about the crucial role of circular design in shaping our future sustainability. Consider the following:

  • How will your product redesign convince the audience that circular design is a vital consideration in manufacturing, now and in the future?
  • How can you effectively communicate your message to your audience? You could create a video, presentation, interactive exhibit or other format that best supports your message.
  • What visuals like diagrams, infographics or artifacts will engage your audience?
  • How might you use Glowforge to help create fun and interesting presentation materials that convey your message?
  • How can you encourage the audience to take action towards supporting circular design and sustainability?

Design Tip

Explore these Glowforge videos on how to use a variety of materials. Consider your options for using more eco-friendly materials in your design.

Reflect and Review

Now that you have spent time using circular design to develop your product, take a moment to reflect on the progress of your design.

  • What design constraints (cost, manufacturing capabilities, and materials) should you consider for your prototype? What are some creative solutions to work within these constraints?
  • Which circular design principles does your redesigned product incorporate? Can you add any other circular design features or options to it?
  • Does your design support the message about circular design you are trying to convey in your presentation? Have you explained how your design eliminates waste or pollution, reuses materials, or regenerates nature?

You’re almost ready to create your circular designed product! Is there anything you’d like to change in your design before you start building your prototype?


Select one fully developed design. Using Glowforge, print a prototype of your redesigned product using appropriate materials. Consider the following:

  • How can you test the functionality and usability of your product? Does it work the way you intended it to? Will it be easy and intuitive for your users?

  • Does your prototype maintain or improve the quality of the original product?

  • How can you refine the design of the product so it can be produced in a cost-effective and timely manner?

  • What manufacturing processes might need to change for larger scale production of your redesign? Consider areas like:

  • Materials: Are they renewable, recyclable, or biodegradable? How can layout reduce waste? Are the materials ethically and sustainably resources?

  • Energy: How much energy would be used? How much waste would be produced and can any of it be used again?

  • Supply Chain: From raw material to manufacturer to consumer, how far does the product travel? Try to assess the environmental impact of each stage.

  • End of Life: Can the product be easily disassembled, recycled, or repurposed?

Prototype Tip

When printing prototype parts on Glowforge, arrange your design in a way that will reduce waste and allow you to use the scraps for future prototypes. Apply circular design even in prototyping! Learn more about placing designs precisely on your materials.

Reflect and Review

Think about the prototypes you created and tested during this stage.

  • What do you notice about your redesigned product prototype in regards to functionality, ease of use, and durability?
  • Are there any changes or adjustments you need to make to your design based on your prototype testing?

You’ll get feedback from your peers in the next stage, so take a moment to consider if there are any stages you want to revisit, or any parts of your design you want to rethink.


After creating and testing your prototype, it’s time for feedback. Here are some sample questions to ask your peers in order to get actionable feedback so you can make the needed adjustments to your design:

  • Did the circular design principles used to create the product enhance its functionality, durability, and performance?
  • Are there any areas where the circular design principles could be improved or expanded? If so, what are those areas, and how might they be addressed?
  • In what ways did the product's life cycle change as a result of the circular design principles? Was the product's lifespan extended, and if so, how?
  • Does the product meet the needs and expectations of its intended users?

Present your product in a concise, clear pitch to impress your audience with your innovative circular design solutions. Include information on the product's purpose, the materials used to manufacture it, and the unique circular design principles you incorporated. Your product has the chance to make a positive impact on the world, so be sure to explain how it will accomplish this. You can choose to present your work in any format that you think would be best. However you present your work, make sure to showcase your creativity and have fun!

Practice is at the heart of a great presentation. If you are giving a live presentation, practice the presentation multiple times to ensure a smooth delivery and confident performance. If you are creating a multimedia presentation, make sure the video and audio edits are professional quality. Ask your peers for feedback on your presentation. Have them consider:

  • Was the message clear and to the point?
  • Were there any technical difficulties or distractions that took away from the presentation?
  • Was it creative or engaging?
  • Were the visuals, artifacts or materials appropriate for supporting the message?
  • Were there any areas where the presentation could be improved?

Evaluate Tip

Engage with your audience by asking questions and soliciting feedback. This will encourage discussion that keeps your audience interested and involved. Speak slowly and clearly so everyone can hear you and don’t forget to incorporate some visual aids like slides or posters to help reinforce important concepts.

Reflect and Review

Take a moment to reflect on the feedback you received from others.

  • What did people like or dislike about your design?
  • What insights did you gain from your audience’s feedback?
  • Are there stages in the design process that you would like to return to in order to make adjustments based on the feedback?

Once you have completed and finalized your design and your presentation, share it with a larger audience. Remember to highlight any changes necessary in the manufacturer’s processes and the potential benefits of circular design for the manufacturer, the community, and the environment.

Share your students' creations on social media! Post your photos and use the hashtag #GlowforgeEDU and tag us @glowforge for the chance to be featured.