In 2008, Desso took a radical step to transform its business model along Cradle to Cradle® lines, promoting the “use of non-toxic manufacturing systems where products are designed for disassembly using pure materials which can be safely recycled.”1 The purpose of the change was to create a way of making products so they can be endlessly recycled, replacing the ‘take, make and waste’ linear model with the more environmentally responsible circular economic approach.
Taking its inspiration from nature, Cradle to Cradle® aims to mimic the planet’s natural cyclical nutrient flows, its use of renewable energy, and its creation of diversity and abundance. Cradle to Cradle® co-founders William McDonough and Dr. Michael Braungart set out their vision in their book, Cradle to Cradle: Re-Making the Way We Make Things:
“Buildings that, like trees, produce more energy than they consume and purify their own water; factories that produce effluents that are drinking water; products, that, when their useful life is over, do not become useless waste but can be tossed on the ground to decompose or alternatively that can return to industrial cycles to supply high quality raw materials for new products.”
Making it happen
Desso discovered that it is tough to change the company’s way of thinking and processes to fit with Cradle to Cradle® criteria. It is even tougher to persuade suppliers to change as well. But this was the task that faced Desso if it was to change its supply chain accordingly. Rethinking the supply chain according to Cradle to Cradle® included the following changes:
1. Material health: Product designers must analyse all the ingredients used to make their products, eradicating and phasing out those that don’t pass the high standards of Cradle to Cradle®.
2. Design for disassembly: Products must be designed for disassembly, so on return they can be upcycled.
3. New material flows: Cradle to Cradle® introduces a new concept of material flows, such that manufacturers must see the materials as nutrients (on their return) for the technical cycle (production of new goods) or for the biosphere (decomposed into the earth).
4. Upcycling: The aim is to move away from recycling to upcycling, where the materials from returned goods are disassembled and used to make other high value products.
5. Service based approach: The Cradle to Cradle® vision also entails trying to shift to a service-based sales model, whereby customers rent or lease products from producers. When they upgrade to a new service, the manufacturer takes back the goods and upcycles the materials.3
6. Eco-effectiveness: Designing goods so they have a positive environmental and human health impact from the start. This means that the goals of eco-efficiency (reduce, recycle and regulate) become secondary to the goals of eco-effectiveness (being good from the start, not trying to reduce the impact of less well designed products).
Desso faces a number of challenges in developing a Cradle to Cradle® supply chain:
1. Working with suppliers: Desso needs to know what is in the material it uses and has developed a ‘supplier declaration’ asking suppliers to provide a list of their ingredients.
2. Reverse logistics: Desso has developed the technology to take back used carpets and separate the materials through its Refinity® process. However, they must be able to persuade contractors from buildings undergoing refurbishment to return the used carpets to them. They must also be able to determine the materials used in tiles which may be manufactured by competitors.
3. Changing the ‘rules of the game’: A government ban on carpet landfill would trigger innovation, encourage the development of new markets in waste management and create new jobs, says Desso’s Sustainability Director Rudi Daelmans.
4. Economics and the Circular Value Chain: Closing the loop is a key part of the Cradle to Cradle® approach. As part of this journey, Desso created with Dow Chemicals a new carpet tile backing to replace the bitumen commonly used in Europe. Called DESSO EcoBase®, this contains a polyolefin based layer which can be fully and safely recycled at a high level in Desso’s own production process. It is designed with disassembly in mind and achieved a Cradle to Cradle® Silver Certificate for having reached a level where 97% of the materials are positively defined.4
Desso CEO Alexander Collot d’Escury reinforces the point that Cradle to Cradle® is not a quixotic gesture, it is rooted in commercial realities: “We do things not only because it’s what we believe in, but because it is customer driven. We are not altruists or philanthropists who want to make the world a better place. It is all about people, planet and profits. If you make your customer happy, you will be happy.”5