Decathlon: design for a regenerative economy


Decathlon: design for a regenerative economy

Recently, tocco had an insightful conversation with a talented product designer, who has been an advocate for low-carbon and regenerative materials for product design.

The discussion was eye-opening, and we would love to share their story of going beyond the conventional approach to eco-design.

With a decade of experience in retail in Paris and three years in product design in Lille, this designer has been instrumental in shaping commercial strategies and product offerings.

Despite being one of France’s most innovative companies when it comes to sustainability, Decathlon still wished to push further. As a matter of fact, many fitness products they have been working on happened to be among the most polluting items in their company's portfolio, due to their batteries and non-recyclable, virgin materials.

Recognizing the need for emission reductions and a radical business model change, the design team embarked on a mission to revolutionize their product line. Their focus extended beyond the choice of materials, aiming to tackle the underlying issue of product renewal and promote durability. The goal was clear: products that last longer, require fewer renewals, and have a reduced impact on the environment.

Different product design strategies with low-carbon materials

The team explored different product design strategies.

Low-carbon materials to enhance reusability and reparability

With this strategy, the team proposes two product and usage designs:

  • experimenting with rental services so that one product can be used over and over by many different customers
  • extending the lifespan of the products, as a massive reduction of impact lies not just in the materials themselves but also in the number of times a product can be used.

As for rental services, the team understood that a seamless experience must be assured in order for customers to adopt this rather new practice. The first product used as a prototype is a rowing machine for a home gym. For a rather heavy and big object, a low-carbon delivery, as well as an efficient return process, was quite a puzzle to solve. In several customer surveys conducted by the team, this delivery process was noted as the main pain point that refrains customers from adopting this rental service.

Decathlon’s wood and water rowing machine (Source)Decathlon’s wood and water rowing machine (Source)

Regarding the expansion of the product’s lifespan, the team’s vision is to transition from the traditional "sale, usage, throw" linear thinking, to making their product 100% repairable and reusable for an extended period of time, with an impressive five-year warranty.

Recycled materials

Recycled materials, indeed, also have a place in Decathlon’s product design strategies. The team, however, was cautious against viewing plastic recyclability as a one-size-fits-all solution.

The energy-intensive recycling processes associated with plastic are often ignored, leading to misinformed perceptions.

While material choice remains crucial, their quest for sustainability goes beyond recyclability. They are exploring mono-component products, such as full wood, which facilitates dismantling and recycling.

Transparency is also key, with plans to label products and components, clearly indicating the materials used. By doing so, they empower consumers to make informed choices and contribute to a more circular economy.

Extremely durable products

The last but most important product design strategy is to shift towards extremely durable products. This challenges the dominant design of fast fashion in sportswear and hence, the supply chain, the production process as well as the product design.

In order to make this material and design transition happen on an industrial scale, it is also crucial to look beyond the product design process itself. Questions about the availability of raw low-carbon materials, relationships with supply chain partners, marketing and communication to generate demand, etc. are all needed to be answered.


If there should be one key takeaway from this product design story, it should be this: to design truly sustainable products, designers need to take into account many different aspects and criteria: durability, reusability, reparability, and an unwavering commitment to addressing pain points that will truly shape a more sustainable, regenerative future.

💡 Discover a library of more than 1000 alternative materials on tocco's marketplace tocco's marketplace

Written by Anh N. on 06/07/2023

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