top of page

Frugality and Circularity - Aiming for Sustainable Growth

The circular economy does not only mean increased recycling. It can also be translated into a reduction of material input in production, different reuse and reproduction opportunities, intelligent resource management (including energy resources) and changes in consumer behaviour and business models. What could we learn from Frugal Innovations and Grassroot innovation and how could they contribute to the Circular Economy discourse?

Achieving sustainable development with prima-facie importance to the society, economy and environment can only be facilitated by a paradigm shift in the modes of resource extraction and consumption. Returning a product to the resource level is a necessary fundamental shift required, as resources are finite and a circular economy is essential. Circularity or Circular Economy (CE) not only emphasizes on Reduce, Reuse and Recycle but also gives high priority for the elements of Re-imagine and Re-design to maximize the resource efficiencies by reconsidering the processes and the designing-out the wastages. But Frugality or Frugal Innovation (FI) refers to formulating faster, better and sustainable solutions for more people utilizing minimal resources. FI ensures that the frugally designed products have their main functionalities kept intact but all luxury /over-engineered features are removed from them which otherwise makes it expensive.

Jugaad is the Indian terminology for Frugal Engineering. “Jugaad” describes an improvised or makeshift solution using scarce resources. An attitude of finding quick, creative, less cost, local market solutions using available resources, test locally and apply the same to other markets is roughly called as Jugaad (Frugal) Innovation process in the world of the business community. As quoted by Prof. Jaideep Prabhu, University of Cambridge and Navi Radjou, World famous proponents of Frugal innovation and “Doing more and better with less” concept, products or ideas must be developed to ensure the greatest value to customers as well as provide core functions that are really necessary and important. There shall be NO OVER ENGINEERING! They believe that innovating with less doesn’t mean compromising on quality. “Frugality” is not necessarily about saving money but rather as a forcing function that can help drive creativity and innovation.

The new models of systemic design thinking that combine circularity and frugality can help in identifying sustainable business and social opportunities capable of tackling different forms of resource scarcity in novel ways. In this context, it is interesting to quote a book from the 1800s by Lydia Maria Child who at that time advised people especially housewives (relating to the old context and structure of society) to return the used bottles and containers to the sources it came from, be it apothecaries and grocers.

While we navigate society for achieving resource sufficiency and efficiency, it is essential to remember that,

The ·Old-fashioned division between developed and developing countries shouldn’t/ doesn’t exist anymore and

·Systemic thinking and Interdependencies between ideas and practices in various sectors, continents and regions must exist

An ideal Frugal innovation (FI) framework must encompass the following elements:

CE appears as the sustainable solution which can empower environmental sustainability throughout an entire value chain of a product or service. Thus, incorporating circularity into "innovation" can definitely be an excellent approach to increase the environmental sustainability of the Frugal Innovation value chain.

Frugal techniques boost modular and easy to disassemble ideas for products design and use, wherein components can be easily repaired and replaced and therefore, the products’ effective life can be extended and the waste production decreased. Frugal innovation is NOT limited to the idea of using cheap materials but rather innovate under resource constraints and turn all adversities into growth opportunities. This will help in achieving an environmental sustainable value creation.

To generate more value with the use of less resources especially in the context of global shortages and unprecedented shocks like COVID Pandemic, businesses have to learn to be circular and frugal.

Encouraging Frugal Innovations and Entrepreneurship

To promote and develop the frugal innovation process in business and growth of a sustainable-equitable society:

  1. Build circular value networks -A sustainable community growth based on CE has to redefine the concepts of designing and producing, as well as using various products and services. The business models are to be based on maximizing the usable lifetime of any asset with minimal wastages.

  2. Crowdsource solutions- Develop solutions with all possible collaborations.

  3. Simplify structures and empower employees- Empowering the human resources within an organization.

  4. Use KPIs to incentivize and sustain frugal behaviour across the organization

  5. Evangelize the “do better with less” mantra

  6. Social and Solidarity model within communities: Social and Solidarity model in growth will try to integrate enterprises into cooperatives, or associations focused on democratic and participatory management methods.

  7. Innovations and novelties aimed to rejuvenate (urban) ecosystem. Frugal and disruptive innovations try to decouple unsustainable practices and create newer jobs. This will help in the local and national level growth of human-social-economic capital.

  8. Building citizen-centric and resilient innovation networks

[Adapted from Radjou and Prabhu (2014)]

Closing remarks

Frugal Innovation is thus a concept/ practice that urges and motivates businesses to respond to limitations in resources; whether financial, material or institutional, and turn these constraints into innovative ideas and practical solutions. For any model of innovation to be sustainable and economic, it must be - decentralized, local, regenerative, as well as self-organized so as to adapt to the external shocks (like COVID pandemic). While we look at organizations adopting frugal ideas and principles, it is also essential that the perspectives of employees and stakeholders must also be broadened. “Autonomous” institutional level innovation is essential in the current digitally evolving era- mitigate any disruptions and ensure resilience -while all the actors should co-create and “mainstream” adopt such innovations. These resilient systems must also be open to feedback (internal and external communication) to foster connectedness and adaptive learning.


1. Herstatt, C., & Tiwari, R. (2020). Opportunities for Frugality in the Post-Corona Era.

2. Radjou, N., & Prabhu, J. (2014). What frugal innovators do. Harvard Business Review, 10.

3. Radjou, N., & Prabhu, J. (2015). Frugal Innovation: How to do more with less. The Economist.


5. Child, L. M. (1999). The American frugal housewife. Courier Corporation.

531 views0 comments
bottom of page