Gaining competitive edge through Cradle to Cradle®

13 january 2014

Based on article published by Ethical Corporation: Sustainability commercialised – The bottom line of Cradle to Cradle® by Rob Bailes on Feb 6, 2013

Following a management buy-out in 2008, Desso, the Dutch manufacturer of carpets and carpet tiles, set out to achieve an ambitious vision: to Cradle to Cradle® certify 100% of its carpets by 2020. Four years on from that commitment and Desso is enjoying record growth, improved market share and a steady pipeline of new product innovation. The success comes in spite of a 10% retraction in the European carpet tile market in 2012.

Chief executive Alexander Collot d’Escury directly attributes Desso’s success to its adoption of the Cradle to Cradle® concept. The approach has, he says, required nothing less than a fundamental transformation in the way the business operates.

“Cradle to Cradle® is a holistic approach. It asks for a new supply chain, a new way of marketing, and a rigid overhaul of all your ingredients and the production process,” says d’Escury. “You need every discipline in the company to rethink the way you do business.”

Cradle to Cradle® is an approach for designing intelligent products, processes and systems that take into the account the entire lifecycle of a product. Unlike cradle-to-grave, Cradle to Cradle® takes its inspiration from nature and entirely eliminates the concept of waste.

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Like all companies that make bold, bar-raising commitments, Desso did not fully understand all the implications of the transformation, admits d’Escury. “You have a bit of an idea and then you start learning as you walk the route,” he says.

For Desso’s sustainability director, Rudi Daelmans, there has been a steep learning curve. “We have to rethink everything. There is no blueprint to refer to. Every step of the way we have to ask new questions to ensure we achieve Cradle to Cradle® standards and hit our targets. It is like learning a new language, except no one can teach us the language. We have to invent it ourselves.”

One of the biggest challenges the company has faced is defining all the ingredients used in its products. Cradle to Cradle® certification requires that Desso’s suppliers know every single ingredient in their materials so that the EPEA can rank those ingredients on the Cradle to Cradle® material health scale (red = high risk, green = safe).

In 2010, Desso launched the Desso AirMaster®: a carpet four times more effective at capturing and retaining hazardous particulate matter than standard carpeting. The development of the DESSO AirMaster® was driven by Desso’s new innovation strategy and a desire to make corresponding improvements in “health and wellness”.

Both the health and commercial arguments supporting the Desso AirMaster® are clear, says d’Escury. Typically 90% of our time is spent indoors and the prevalence of fine dust and particulate matter in the air directly contributes to lung and respiratory problems.

Desso is well on its way to achieving its 2020 goal. Today 90% of its Polyamide carpet tiles are Cradle to Cradle® certified and the company has just certified its first artificial grass.