The subject of critical materials is part of the ‘wicked challenges’ of the 21st century. As Stahel states, the rate of per capita material consumption in the World is presenting serious challenges to the wellbeing to all living things on Earth. A number of publications have tackled the subject of critical materials from a range of perspectives, using differing criteria to define criticality. A wide range of products and equipment contains critical materials. The subject of has come to the attention of product manufacturers and governments over recent years. Materials are selected at the product design stage and this fact is both a significant contributor to the problem and also a good place to seek solutions. Even though product design could play a valuable role in finding solutions to the challenge, this is not being widely translated into activity in companies.
Part of the reason for this hesitancy on the part of companies is that in many cases there is simply a lack of awareness and for some a lack of clarity. In the case of a lack of clarity, there appears to have evolved a ‘Malthus vs Solow dueling’ situation, as proposed by Martin & Kemper. On one side research proposes rapid and wide ranging ‘resource efficiency’ measures be imposed, whilst on the other side research proposes that the challenge will be best addressed by scientific & technological developments over the coming years. There has, however, been a lack of academic research to show how companies view the situation.
In order to address this gap companies have been interviewed on the topic. The interviews explored the wider company critical materials knowledge, role of these materials, risk management strategies, business opportunities and future support needs. This new knowledge has developed our understanding of the perceived level of urgency concerning critical materials supply risks and if this urgency does translate into the selection of a more ‘Malthus or Solow’ based response.
Following these findings the principles of a circular economy, with a focus on circular product design in particular, are being developed with companies. These developments are presented as the optimal approach from product design to address critical materials and presents a roadmap out of the ‘Malthus or Solow’ stalemate.