The problem - A System Problem

July 9, 2020
The Problem

Often we got the question: What is the problem that you are trying to solve?

  • Food retailers lost cost in inefficient meals packaging? Definitely yes
  • Obstacles in consumer eating experience? Absolutely
  • The plastic waste challenge? - By all means 

However, these are just three of many challenging problems that our solutions tackle. They range from manufacturing, distribution, consumption, and the end life of the packaging. 

We are not just trying to solve the problem with takeaway food packaging as a sole product, we target the whole set-up around it, we are solving A System Problem. 

The System
Donella Meadows, a systems expert define a system is “an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organised in a way that achieves something”.

Thus, to solve a system problem, we have to know what is the reason it was created in a certain way, or in other words, the “why” of the system. Most organizations currently operate in the linear economy which is based on the “take, make, and dispose” model. They take exact raw materials from nature, process it to make a usable product to meet human needs, and later on discard it back to, ironically, where they got the resources from in the first place. The purpose: get the resources with the possible lowest price and sell as many as possible. However, the bigger picture is unseen, both the economy and society systems are under the environment system. 

3 interconnected systems.

On the other hand, Circular economy is a model where companies try to create the loop of “make, use, and return”. A company does not just recycle products but maintains ownership of them all along. The purpose: to create not just a stable economy but also a sustainable society and environment. 

Let’s just spend a minute to take a look at the quick drafted version of the Food packaging system map. 

The food packaging system map - simple version

It can be seen that the problem with existing takeaway packaging is that it just mainly serves the manufacturing and sales of the food partly but not much with the logistics, product use, and end of life. And in the real life system, every part is interconnected with each other, e.g. retailers and food producers are affected by the legislation. Consumers, one of the key actors, do not want to trade the convenience (food on the go) with being irresponsible (such an amount of waste for a 15 minutes meal), they want a sustainable option

In Koepala, in order to solve a system problem, we always try to see the bigger picture.  

The Approach to the Solution

To solve a system problem, we need to think in systems, which is “way of thinking that gives us the freedom to identify root causes of problems and see new opportunities” (Donella Meadows)

The value chain of a linear product.

To transform the current linear system of production to a circular one, we begin with what we believe is the root cause and happened to be the starting point of the current linear model: design. However, we are not solely focusing on redesigning the product, but we always consider the full-picture of every element and interaction in the life cycle of the product. There is a level of complexity to this approach, but everything worth desires work. 

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” ― R. Buckminster Fuller
Therefore, Koepala’s mission is to design disruptive innovations that will lead to creating a circular system around food packaging. 

To find out more about how we use design to solve a system problem, please stay in tune for the next update.


We are more than happy to hear your thoughts, feel free to reach out for a further discussion.

Hai Anh - Koepala's sustainability strategist

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