Cooperation across sector boundaries is so incredebly important for startups that want to scale their impact. For get to scale quickly, we collaborate with larger companies that have established product lines, and co-create fossil-free products made from our material. This collaborative way of working won the Environment Gold Award at the Henry van de Velde Awards 2022 by Flanders DC.


Since 1994, the Henry van de Velde Awards have honoured the best designs and designers on the Flemish design scene. Organizer Flanders DC regularly adjusts the categories to the changing field. For this edition, the Environment Award was created. This awards research, systems, services and products that tackle complex social and ecological issues – such as air pollution, traffic jams or the shortage of raw materials – and are the result of a collaborative process.

With the ONTketen project, Circular Matters and Livable are following exactly this path. In close consultation with designers and industrial companies, they look for ways to integrate a brand new circular material into regular industry. For that material, Circular Matters transforms natural waste streams into a natural biopolymer. It forms a healthy and fossil-free alternative to hard plastics or wood-based panels.

By taking that material as a basis, ONTketen promotes shorter chains and lower CO2 emissions. “The chains of plastics are often very long and not transparent. We want to shorten these long chains in order not to shift responsibility to another link in the chain,” says Sep Verboom of Livable.

Co-creation process 2.0

With ONTketen, the partners are setting up a co-creation process 2.0. They not only exchange knowledge, but also involve production companies and designers in the process from the start. Since the exact product or material had not yet been determined, they were free to help steer the process and material. In the past few months, for example, several new processes and techniques have been researched from the practical side, and the material has been developed further.

After an open call, Livable and Circular Matters matched three production companies with three design studios. Textile designer Esther Van Schuylenbergh, for instance, investigates how she can give Niko’s switches and home automation products more tactility through the circular material, Brent Neve and Giel Dedeurwaerder work on a modular cabinet storage system with Van Hoecke, and Studio Part investigates how the non-renewable materials can be replaced by the regenerable alternative for ETAP’s emergency lighting. The prototypes are in development and will be launched at the end of April during Design Fest Ghent.

Since a product can only generate real impact if it has a real market value, all partners have an interest in working collectively towards this goal. With this, ONTketen wants to give the initial impulse to a more ecological model and a different kind of economy, in which there is more room for human creation and meaningful work.  

With this inclusive approach, ONTketen is undoubtedly doing pioneering work, which has now been honoured with a Henry van de Velde Gold Award. By innovating together, circular ambitions are accelerated and the partners can scale up in close consultation. ONTketen also offers new insights and socially relevant answers to the wider sector.

Sustainable on three fronts

At ONTketen, the three partners – the cleantech start-up Circular Matters, design platform Livable and the social economy company Pro Natura – see sustainability in the broad sense of the word, in ecological, social and economic terms. By combining cross-disciplinary forces, they offer an alternative to our current economic and social system.

On an ecological level, ONTketen stimulates sustainability by working with natural raw materials. Because these come from residual streams such as reeds and grasses, the project gives a second life to waste and avoids the use of scarce raw materials. Thanks to the developments of Circular Matters, the material can be made 100% from these natural side streams, and the danger of (micro) plastics is completely excluded.

Because the raw materials are processed by the Pro Natura team, the project creates more meaningful employment within the social economy. In addition, ONTketen shortens the long, often non-transparent production chains by working with local raw materials.

Livable Platform coordinates the entire process and challenges fellow designers and the industry to explore a sustainable alternative together, and to find a better balance between people and the environment. In doing so, ONTketen embodies the principles of the ‘fourth sector’, in which financial, social and ecological objectives go hand in hand.