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blog article29 April 2024

Eco-design: Good for the planet, good for your business

Krill designs
food waste

Krill Design, a start-up in Milan, turns food waste into 3D printed, stylish homeware. Discover their inspiring journey and get 5 insider tips on how to incorporate eco-design into your business.


Less waste, more value

Like fast fashion, “fast furniture” is cheap, easy to get, and thrown away quickly. But the environmental costs are staggering. Each year, EU citizens toss out over 10 million tons of furniture, but only 10 percent of it gets recycled. Eco-design works against this trend by making durable, ethical, and sustainable products that serve both people and the planet. For this, it embraces the ‘three Rs’ of circular economy – reuse, repair, and recycle – throughout a product’s life. The goal is to use things longer, reduce waste, and encourage people to become mindful consumers.

Eco-design benefits small businesses in many ways. First, it helps them reduce their environmental impact by making more robust products with fewer resources. Second, companies adopting eco-design save money and make more profit in the long run. For example, using energy-saving lights, climate control systems, and long-lasting materials slash utility and replacement costs. Businesses can get funding for green projects though programmes like Horizon Europe and LIFE. Enterprises using recycled materials can also qualify for subsidies like VAT exemptions under the EU Green Deal’s Circular Economy Action Plan.

Third, a growing number of consumers care about sustainability when making buying decisions. Businesses that sell products aligned with these values are more likely to appeal to eco-conscious buyers. Take the example of Xeraliving. This small business in Finland managed to stand out in the crowded home décor market by selling premium items made from responsibly sourced linen and organic cotton.

Finally, eco-design strives to bring the world closer to a circular economy, where things are reused again and again. To get there, small companies need to think creatively, innovate more, and use resources wisely. Private investors are increasingly drawn to this mindset, viewing sustainable projects as profitable, resilient, and good for the environment. Pepper Valley, for example, obtained investment for their e-textile innovations, like their patented knitwear with AI-powered sensors that tracks health in real time.

Turning food waste into sleek décor

In Milan, three architects – Ivan Calimani, Martina Lamperti, and Yack di Maio – had a bold idea: transform food waste into fully biodegradable and compostable homeware. The trio noticed that while paper, glass, and plastic are recycled, food waste piles up in landfills, chokes rivers, or is incinerated. Food waste generates 8-10% of global greenhouse gases, with the food and beverage industry being a big part of the problem. Since 2018, Krill Design repurposes waste in these companies into sustainable, ‘circular’ design products.

The Italian start-up turns unexpected materials – fruit peel, orange seeds, and coffee ground – into chic design items ready to add a pop of colour to your living room. Their portfolio showcases stools, vases, fruit bowls, clocks, and their iconic desk lamp – Ohmie – made from blond Sicilian oranges.

In addition to retail sales, the start-up creates products for large corporations. For example, they transformed Sanpellegrino’s orange peels into elegant table lamps, trays, and ice buckets. They’ve made tampers and cup warmers from coffee scraps for Gruppo Cimbali and designed accessories for 4,000 Autogrill stores worldwide. Other big names on their client roster include Lavazza, Illy, Lurpak, and Four Seasons.

To produce each item, the team follows a four-step process. They first gather, dry, and grind food waste into a fine powder. Then, they mix the powder with their patented biomaterial, called Rekrill. Next, they shape the mixture into a filament and wind it onto a spool. Finally, the filament is fed into a 3D printer to make objects that look, smell, and feel like fruit (or coffee!).

Krill Design’s creativity has earned them several industry accolades, like the Gaetano Marzotto special award for innovation in 2020 and the Confindustria award for best performing company in the circular economy in 2022. Their products have been featured in Vogue, Wired, and The Guardian, among others.

One of the start-up’s boldest ventures is the ‘Sustainable Fu(rni)ture’ project, which develops a wide range of new materials from food waste. Unlike the industry norm, they use 3D printing to make the final product, rather than just a prototype. The Enterprise Europe Network business advisors at Confindustria Lombardia helped them put together a strong project proposal and secure funding from the European Regional Development Fund.

5 lessons entrepreneurs can learn from Krill Design

Be smart with your resources

Krill Design creates high-quality design items that minimally impact the planet, and their CEO, Ivan Calimani, believes in this mission wholeheartedly. ‘We make sustainable and innovative products for a better world’, he explains. ‘Zero waste means we work with what we already have’. Small companies can be resourceful in many ways: turn waste into new products, find new uses for leftover materials, and share materials and transportation with other companies.

Imagine you want to trim your energy expenses. You can switch to energy-efficient equipment, improve insulation, and use smart heating and cooling systems. It may sound basic, but small fixes compound. New tech like AI, digital twins, and 3D printing can reduce waste, too. These tools will help you automate tasks, launch products faster, and tailor your offerings to each customer.

Merge functionality and aesthetics

True story: Consumers love products that work well and look good. Krill Design’s items are not only sustainable, but also beautifully crafted. Each piece in the collection, inspired by Italy’s scenic landscapes, preserves the organic shapes, textures, and scents of nature. ‘We believe an upcycled product should match the quality and aesthetics of a brand-new one. Our goal is to create sustainable and circular home décor that is also visually appealing and enjoyable to use’, says Calimani.

Take a fresh angle

Sticking to what you’ve always done might seem comfortable, but it’s not always effective. Instead, drawing inspiration from other industries can spark creativity and innovation. For example, Krill Design first used orange peel waste to create its products, but later explored other materials like eggshells, tomatoes, and grape leftovers.

Working with partners from various sectors can also bear huge dividends. ‘It’s important to set up circular economy processes that involve companies throughout the supply chain’, Calimani explains. ‘We show companies how their food waste can be turned into valuable products for their customers. It’s an end-to-end approach’.

Educate and engage stakeholders

Effective communication is key for a winning sustainability strategy. Educate your employees through workshops and training on eco-design and sustainability. Keep them informed about your goals and encourage their input. Keeping investors in mind is important, too. Highlight the benefits of sustainability in your pitches and reports, whether that’s cutting back costs, mitigating risks, or boosting competitiveness.

Also help consumers make more sustainable choices. Focus your marketing messaging on the tangible benefits of your product, like healthier living, saving cash, or protecting the environment. Share informative content on your website, blog, or social media to raise awareness about eco-design. Partnering with other companies, influencers, or advocates is a great way to reach wider audiences. And why not offer product demos or factory tours to give customers a behind-the-scenes peek?

Build a strong support network

A strong network opens doors to resources, opportunities, and a supportive community. Krill Design, for example, collaborated with companies across the supply chain to tap into raw materials and distribution channels. Being part of a Lombardia’s vibrant start-up scene and partnering with Enterprise Europe Network helped them attract investors and customers. Curious about how the Network can help your business, too? Reach out to your Network local contact point to get free support.

About the author(s)

Marcello Panzone is a Project Manager at Enterprise Europe Network in Confindustria Lombardia. He also serves as an ambassador for the European IP Helpdesk, helping small and medium-sized companies manage their intellectual property.

Alessandro Ingegno is a Communications Manager at Confindustria Lombardia. He has a journalism background and vast experience in Italian media.

This article was co-authored by Ruxandra-Laura Bosilca, PhD, Social Media and Community Manager for Enterprise Europe Network.

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