The quest for environmental responsibility is driving companies across various industries to rethink their products and processes. Until now, in the construction world, the focus has centered mainly on reducing energy consumption and innovating the main construction materials. However, there's one understudied aspect that contributes significantly to emissions in buildings - technical building products. These include other products like ventilation systems, elevators, and automatic doors, which can leave a substantial carbon footprint when produced and used inefficiently.
A Year-Long Commitment to Circular Economy
As a result, to enhance the circularity of technical building products, Combient Pure developed its first Circularity Development Program for technical building solution providers to increase the participating companies’ circular economy skills, to understand what opportunities it offers, and offer concrete tools that can be used to develop operations. In the inspiring initiative, Combient Pure, in collaboration with industry giants ASSA ABLOY, KONE, Swegon, and Vasakronan, embarked on a groundbreaking 12-month program with an ambitious endeavor that seeks to revolutionise how these technical building products are designed, manufactured, and utilised, ultimately contributing to a more sustainable and circular future for the building industry.
The Circularity Development Program, spearheaded by a team from Combient Pure, revolves around six core themes in circularity development: Understanding the Customer, Measuring Impact, Dismantling and Reverse Logistics, Product Life Extension, Sourcing and Procurement, and Aligning Internal Processes.
Learning together for a common goal
Why multi-company cooperation? The program focuses on learning together and from others, each offering unique solutions to tackle complex problems efficiently. The program accelerates circularity developments through practical tools, peer-to-peer learning, meaningful discussions with customers and other stakeholders in the value chain, and workshops. The aim is to bring companies together - to share information between companies, learn from others, and share perspectives and ideas regarding thoughts and possibly new concepts.
Only halfway through the program, Swegon has already learned so much from other participating companies that our internal developments happen faster than expected. The collaborative mindset of the involved people is highly appreciated and helped Swegon to kick off impactful changes in its circularity market offer,
Mirko Sauvan, Sustainability Manager at Swegon
Learnings from the First Six Months of The Circular Development Program
Sprint 1 - Understanding the customer - The initial phase focused on understanding customer needs in the context of circularity within building products and solutions.
We found a lack of dialogue throughout the value chain, which can be attributed to the novelty of circularity in technical building products. Recognising the importance of collective participation in creating new processes, we also realised that in the circular economy, instead of focusing on a single customer need, you need to plan and consider the entire loop.
The absence of fully circular solutions identified in building technical products motivates to pioneer something new, aligning with customer companies' desires for groundbreaking solutions. Communication along the value chain gained prominence, highlighting the need for better channels from product manufacturers to customers and stakeholders.
Additionally, the industry lacks a common language and shared standards, which would be valuable for guiding discussions. Despite these challenges, the program succeeded in uniting stakeholders with a collective aspiration to advance circular economy principles. The Combient Pure network played a pivotal role, fostering collaborative innovation in an unprecedented manner.
Historically, the construction sector's decision-making has been siloed, emphasizing the need for new collaborative procedures as we pioneer circular economy solutions. These insights emerged through a 'speed dating' methodology carried out between NCC, Bengt Dahlgren, Vasakronan, and the product providers. The speed dating facilitated an efficient exploration of diverse subjects, including customer demands, stakeholder roles, expectations, and essential solutions, and encountered challenges on the path to circularity.
One of our sustainability targets is to build entirely with renewable, reused, or recycled material by 2030. This is a very ambitious target and we need to work together with all of our suppliers and industry partners. The program has given us a better insight into our suppliers' challenges, and we have learned a lot during the workshops thanks to the other participating companies and a high diversity of speakers.
Claire Mirjolet, Sustainability Project Manager at Vasakronan
Sprint 2 - Measuring Impact - The second sprint focused on understanding where a company should focus its circularity development to make the most impact. Goals included examining the company's current circularity baseline and identifying relevant KPIs for circular development.
One important discovery stood out - measuring impact thematically can be quite complex, mainly due to the lack of standard measurement frameworks and benchmarks to rely on. The complexity arises from the various aspects of products and services, creating a multifaceted landscape. Furthermore, the challenge is compounded by the lack of benchmarks to help determine what constitutes a positive outcome. However, progress was made by introducing a variety of KPIs, offering different options to measure impact. OneClick LCA and Ethica joined this step to give the companies guidance, inspiration, and options to measure the circularity activities.
The obstacle of limited data availability is still a significant challenge. Yet, the most crucial insight gained was knowing where to start, especially regarding collecting data. Consequently, by the end of the sprint, the essential circular economy metrics - that fit our specific needs - were identified. This process laid a foundation for their efforts to advance circularity.
It's also vital to emphasise the importance of sharing knowledge and best practices across different industries. For instance, another Combient network company, H&M, shared valuable insights about their journey to circularity, including the "Circulytics" tool to measure circular economy and experience from practice.
Sprint 3 - Dismantling and reverse logistics - The third sprint looks into maintaining the value of products and components after the first use cycle and how to seize value from end-of-(1st)-life products through dismantling, reverse logistics, and take back systems.
In the third sprint, there was a transition from discussions to taking more tangible development actions. Dismantling and reverse logistics as a phase is unique, as it doesn't exist in the linear economy, making it quite challenging.
Since the linear model has been refined for ages, shifting to reverse logic requires the creation of entirely new processes. For instance, we need to rethink how to construct a building so it's easy to dismantle the ventilation systems or replace elevators. Such features aren't integrated into current building technology, so it's not straightforward to implement them in existing structures. We must consider how to design products and buildings for future circularity while also addressing the retrofitting of existing products.
Roles in the new process also take on a different dimension. Ahlsell, as an established wholesaler, RISE, a (CE) verification party, and Demontera, a future dismantling partner, were present in the meeting to bring new, out-of-the-box thinking to the table. The key insight here is that many individuals must adopt new roles, impacting costs and business logic, to ensure everything functions smoothly. The timeline also undergoes a logical shift; it's not feasible to monitor progress quarterly, for example. In the sprint, the importance of pilot thinking was emphasised. This means, in collaboration with Vasakronan, we are starting to pilot the return of products. In other words, we need to start somewhere.
There were multiple learnings and insights from the interesting speakers and discussions during sprint 3, where we studied dismantling and reverse logistics. I believe the main takeaway has been an understanding that the key to creating and managing reverse logistics in ‘circular’ supply chains is to adopt a holistic approach that considers the entire product lifecycle. Also, tracking, data, and transparency are the crucial enablers creating more sustainable and resilient supply chains that also benefit the environment.
Mari Lemberg, Circularity Development and Sustainability at KONE.
The road ahead
By reflecting on these learnings, the participants are poised to bring change in the next half of the program, further advancing the cause of circularity in the construction industry. Over the next three sprints, we will focus on action and concrete change because, during them, we will get to the level of concreteness and delve into what each actor will do - creating concepts and roadmaps. Stay tuned for updates on the program's progress and impact on the future of technical building products.
We have been impressed by the bold and open-minded approach that the companies have taken in sharing their insights and co-developing their circular practices. Remarkable progress has already been made during this first sprints of the program, and we eagerly anticipate the upcoming sprints to continue supporting these companies on their journey toward a more circular business.
Louna Laurila, Program Manager, Combient Pure
Louna Laurila, Program manager, Combient Pure, firstname.lastname@example.org, +358 400 628 521