Event report

February 1, 2022

crQlr Summit Opening: Design for a Sustainable Future

The first ever crQlr Awards were held in late 2021, amid growing calls for a shift to a circular economy on a global scale. Organized by FabCafe and Loftwork, the awards both recognize and catalyze projects that are helping to design the circular economy.

The two-month application period saw 204 entries from companies, organizations, startups, and designers in 24 countries worldwide. On December 1st and 2nd, 2021, the inaugural crQlr Summit brought together 16 of the award winners and 18 global judges for two days of feedback and discussion.

This report presents highlights of the Opening Session hosted by FabCafe Tokyo. At this session, the only one to be held in Japanese, representatives from Japan’s design and sustainability fields discussed how we might co-create a social shift from mass consumption to a circular society, while accommodating a diversity of perspectives.

Akihiro Yasui, Representative of Circular Initiatives & Partners

Kohei Kawasaki, Executive Officer/Chief Creative Officer, LIFULL Co., Ltd.

Yu Kato, Founder at Harch Inc.

Shogo Minemura, Musashino Art University / Service Designer, Fabric Tokyo

Tatsuya Takeda, General Manager, Sustainability Promotion Office, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, Inc.

David Glaettli, Design Director of Karimoku New Standard

Yutaka Higashino, Karimoku Furniture Inc.

Moderators at this session were Hiroki Tanahashi, Executive Officer and Innovation Maker at Loftwork, and Akane Sakaki, also of Loftwork.

Earth Cusine #1 Eatree Plates

Earth Cuisine, by LIFULL, is a project that aims to find new ingredients in nature. Its products so far include pound cakes made from thinned forest wood and sweets sourced from abandoned bamboo groves. Earth Cuisine is working to realize a sustainable society and protect the earth by coming up with new ways to think about eating. For these efforts, it was awarded the Rethink Prize by crQlr judge Akihiro Yasui.

Earth Cuisine’s latest focus is on cacao farming, said to be on the brink of extinction due to several factors: environmental destruction, the falling market price of cacao, and the resulting poverty of the farmers. LIFULL is trying to support growers financially by developing a new type of confectionery called ECOLATE made from previously discarded cacao waste. The company believes it can create a new food culture around cacao and is working to build a sustainable ecosystem together with cacao producers, researchers, and chefs.

Kohei Kawasaki, Chief Creative Officer of LIFULL and a member of the award-winning team, joined the session to discuss the edible resources we may have overlooked in nature.

Akihiro Yasui, Representative of Circular Initiatives & Partners

Akihiro: What surprised me is that Earth Cuisine is not just visually stunning, but also a project that really gets to the heart of an issue. You describe it as a project to find new ingredients from the earth, and this focus on edible resources is a completely different way of solving the food crisis caused by population growth and climate change.

Kohei Kawasaki, Executive Officer/CCO (Chief Creative Officer), LIFULL Co., Ltd.

Kohei: Thank you very much. For us, it’s about creating a new definition of taste. In our ECOLATE project, for example, we use cacao waste as an ingredient for its taste properties. But we wanted to transform the concept of taste from a pleasure you enjoy by yourself to something that pleases everyone, including the natural environment.

Hiroki: You’ve been using thinned wood and bamboo as ingredients, and your third product, ECOLATE, also focuses on the income of cacao farmers.

Earth Cusine #3 ECOLATE

Earth Cusine #3 ECOLATE

Kohei: Producers discard 70% of the cacao pod after removing the beans used to make chocolate. By creating a new foodstuff out of the discarded portion, we not only bring awareness to social issues faced by cacao farmers, we can also increase their revenue and maintain healthy production, which helps to protect the environment.

Akihiro: I was once served a dish of Haskap berries by some Ainu people and I was astounded to learn that there are still so many edible wild ingredients! Food is an experience through which we encounter locally specific ingredients, while tourism is a resource which adds local knowledge such as where to find the best ingredients. I really felt the potential of food as a source of happiness for people living in a place.

Kohei: That’s right, our eating habits are intimately connected to our daily lives. So, if we can change how we eat, we can also change our whole culture and create a more sustainable ecosystem. That’s what we’re hoping to achieve with this project.


Consumer Cotton Project

Consumer Cotton Project is recycling with a difference. It doesn’t just recycle used clothes, but allows consumers to play an active role in the process of reclamation. In doing so, consumers become part of the industrial ecosystem and create a new circulation loop. The project resulted from a detailed analysis and visualization of the complex supply chain and material flow of the Japanese apparel industry. For its efforts to revitalize post-consumer cotton, it received the IDEAS FOR GOOD Circular Design Prize from judge Yu Kato.


Diagram showing the overall picture of the apparel industry in Japan

Shogo Minemura, Service Designer at Fabric Tokyo, is one of the architects of the Consumer Cotton Project. He joined the session to discuss how we might proactively engage consumers in issues faced by the apparel industry and turn them from consumers into producers in the process.

Yu Kato, Founder at  Harch Inc.

Yu: What impressed me most about the Consumer Cotton Project is how you visualized the complex material flows of the Japanese apparel industry. You examined all parts of the supply chain one by one, including parts that had been black boxes, and even quantified the flow. I also thought it was great how you focused on the reclamation of cotton after it leaves the consumer.

Shogo Minemura, Musashino Art University / Service Designer, Fabric Tokyo

Shogo: I’m happy to hear you say that. In recent years, we’ve seen all kinds of solutions emerge from the apparel industry, but I’ve often wondered if we’re tackling the right problems. I thought it was essential to visualize the system in order to see where the issues really are. By mapping the system, we could clarify our vision of creating a new recycling route centred on the collection and sorting of used clothes.

Hiroki: So, visualizing helped you identify a concrete solution?

Shogo: I really felt the invisible come into view, become tangible. But I also learned the reality that when things become visible, more difficult problems can emerge. In the apparel industry, we need to leverage existing flows in order to create better ones. Opening up new circular routes can create a lot of pain in the industry. It’s one of those cases where the more you know about the problem, the more difficult solving it becomes. In that sense, trying to create a new circular system with less environmental impact  feels a bit like carrying a cross on my shoulders at times.


Yu: I think there’s also a lack of emotional connection to clothes these days. As well as physical durability through recycled materials, we can also create emotional durability by adding an NFC chip which tells us that the materials in this garment came from clothing worn by someone else.

Shogo: In my view, that emotional or sentimental value of apparel is all too easily reflected in the price. With this project, we’re trying to leverage consumers. But we also believe that adding emotional value to clothing through recycled material can spark social innovation.

Karimoku New Standard

Karimoku New Standard

Karimoku New Standard was established by Karimoku Furniture Co., Ltd. in 2009 to address problems faced by Japan’s forests. The company asked itself what it could do as a manufacturer of wooden furniture to tackle issues such as forest conservation and the revitalization of forestry regions. Karimoku’s work to utilize low-diameter trees which are considered unsuitable for furniture and be mainly used as chips for paper pulp was recognized by crQlr judge Tatsuya Takeda, who awarded it the Prize Every Tree Prize.

Karimoku’s Yutaka Higashino was joined by the firm’s design director David Glaettli, currently based in Switzerland, to discuss the project they’ve been working on for over a decade.

Tatsuya Takeda,General Manager, Sustainability Promotion Office, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, Inc.

Tatsuya: I awarded this prize for the concept of caring for things and materials. Karimoku New Standard found value in the thinned wood that is generated by maintaining the forest. It then helps to fix carbon by turning this wood into a high-quality product, which I thought was a wonderful concept.

左から)「Karimoku New Standard」ダヴィッド・グレットリ / カリモク家具 東野 豊

David Glaettli and Yutaka Higashino of Karimoku

David: As you kindly pointed out, forest thinning is an essential part of maintaining a mountain. Using that thinned wood to make furniture leads to both revitalization of the local forestry industry and conservation of the forest itself. It was wonderful for me personally to join this project as a director and share with other members my passion for wood as a material.

Tatsuya: On a personal note, my parents own a dining table from Karimoku that has been sitting in their house for about 40 years now.

Yutaka: Thank you! Making products that last for a long time is our basic stance, which has been handed down from generation to generation.

Tatsuya: Karimoku New Standard is also trying to make better use of hardwood. I was very interested in this because hardwoods are difficult to grow straight.


Yutaka: Small trees have not been used as effectively as they should be, but with the right effort they can become very good quality furniture. To be usable as furniture, the wood has to be laminated together. If you actually take the time to do that, it becomes a wonderful material. There was no precedent for trying to create new value out of this timber, so we faced some dissenting opinions when we started out in 2009. Now, thanks to the efforts of David and other designers, everyone is working together with a shared awareness of the possibilities.

Hiroki: Biodiversity can be maintained by humans doing moderate thinning. Karimoku is working on this project in the hope of creating a system in which people and nature can properly circulate, and I think that’s very significant.

In the second half of the session, the judges and winners discussed projects other than the prize-winning entries, as well as sharing new thoughts that came to light.

Tatsuya: So far, the Earth Cuisine project has focused on thinned forest wood, bamboo, and cacao. What kind of products are you planning to produce in the future?

Kohei: We are still doing in-house research and development, so I’m afraid I can’t provide specific information yet. But I’m proud that we’ve shed light on environmental issues in Japan, and now on a global issue with cacao. Based on this, I want to make this project more socially impactful than ever so that it becomes more widely known on the global stage.

Akihiro: Minemura-san, when you were working on the Consumer Cotton Project, did you find any examples from overseas that were helpful?

Shogo: When we started the project, we looked at relevant things happening overseas, but we tended to find useful hints rather than actual models to follow. For example, the spirit of giving and receiving is deeply rooted in Islamic cultures, and collection boxes are placed on the streets. By taking this into account and digging deeper into the history of the Japanese culture of throwing away, I’d say we were able to add a more spiritual dimension to the project.

Kohei: I thought Karimoku New Standard was also a unique and meaningful project. Although it’s trying to stimulate demand for thinned timber and hardwoods, I think economic efficiency will be critical to its success in the long term. It’s great that the project incorporates benefits for people working in the forestry industry.

Akihiro: I hope this project can change attitudes towards hardwoods, as that could lead to a regeneration of hardwood forests in future.

Yutaka: We can only manufacture our products thanks to nature and forestry, so I hope that we can support the people who maintain the environment and that the next generation can continue to use wood in the same way we do.

Reflecting a growing worldwide interest in circular design, the crQlr Awards received a far higher number of entries than expected, more than 200 in total from all over the world. The high quality of the entries was also testament to the passion and seriousness of the creators and project leaders. The final words of the judges in Tokyo attempted to sum up what this means for the current state of circular design.

Tatsuya: The timing of this year’s awards coincided with COP26 in Glasgow. Countries around the world have finally reached a common understanding that climate change is an issue that needs to be addressed globally. When it comes to the issue of resource use, circularity is unavoidable. Awareness of the circular economy is set to grow and grow, and I believe we’ll see more and more business models that incorporate circular thinking. This year’s award entries are leading from the front and opening up incredible possibilities.

Yu: All of the projects I saw, not just the 63 prize winners, were wonderful embodiments of the circular economy. Bringing all these projects together would make for an incredibly valuable resource. There are so many meaningful models here for students who want to learn about the circular economy.

Akihiro: Europe is said to be leading the movement towards a circular economy. However, I realized through the screening process that Japan and Asia are not lagging behind at all. One feature of these projects is that they address regional issues using ideas that have already been implemented. I’m sure these awards will create many new connections between projects, and I hope that we can make use of this network to co-create a system that works better for each region.


The crQlr Awards received a total 204 entries from 24 countries worldwide.

Hiroki: In addition to the prize winners, I was impressed by the potential of each of the 204 projects that were submitted. Not only does each serve as a great model, I felt that by visualizing these projects and organically connecting them, even greater possibilities would emerge. As a circular consortium, and with support from our judges, I hope that we can help these projects achieve even greater things.

About the crQlr Awards

The crQlr Awards are for projects that are helping to design the circular economy. The awards are designed to be circular, not linear: a place where ideas are developed and catalyzed through exchange. During the two-month application period, 204 entries were received from companies, organizations, startups and designers in 24 countries worldwide.

The jury consisted of 19 creators and professionals, including Guillaume Charny Brunet, co-founder of SPACE10, Fumio Nanjo, special advisor to the Mori Art Museum, and Akihiro Yasui, representative of Circular Initiatives & Partners. The projects were selected based on their contribution to life, the environment, and the economy. The selected projects received a certificate and a brand kit, as well as a prize set by the jury.


  • FabCafe Global Editorial Team

    This articles is edited by FabCafe Global.

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    This articles is edited by FabCafe Global.

    Please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions on this article with us.
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