“We’re starting to see business in all parts of the circular economy.” That’s what Anders Gottes thinks, who is Head of the Department for Manufacturing Processes at RISE. Together with his colleague, Christina Jönsson, he summarizes his conclusions after many years of collaboration with small and medium-sized companies in the Swedish manufacturing industry.
– “Unless all parts of the circle are financially viable, you won’t end up with a sustainable value chain. But now, we’re starting to achieve just that. Society stipulates requirements in the form of laws. And consumer requirements lead to large companies putting requirements on their subcontractors. Major investors have certain requirements as well. And then, money starts flowing in, because there is a willingness to pay for sustainability,” says Anders Gotte.
– “It also means that there must be substance behind the words. You can’t get by on vague promises,” adds Christina Jönsson.
She goes on to say that major investors have the resources required for reviewing their claims and customers will quickly act if any irregularities are discovered that the company is unable to explain.
– “There is a need for scientifically based decision documentation. And not all of the trade-offs are easy. For example, by pursuing one particular path, you might win on the climate side, even though it would increase the amount of hazardous chemicals. So, what do you do? That’s where RISE comes in. We can help provide the input and documentation needed for seeing the overall picture and making well-founded decisions. Customers will cut you some slack if you’re not the best at everything all at once. Just as long as you yourself know what you’re doing and can defend it. But what customers and investors won’t accept is lack of transparency and not providing them with full information. Or, if the company hasn’t bothered to find out how things really are,” she says.
Sustainability requirements along the entire value chain
In the field of materials and production, which is what Christina Jönsson’s department is working with, sustainability requirements have an impact both upstream and downstream. It involves such things as the selection of materials, how long the product can be used and what happens to it at the end of its useful life.
– “We have extensive experience in testing and verification in both real environments and laboratories. As such, we frequently deal with questions about product durability. The ‘circle’ in the circular economy mustn’t spin too quickly. What we’re trying to do is generate profitability in an oval economy, where products last a long time,” she says.
Anders Gotte gives an example:
– “When a product approaches the end of its useful life, collaboration between various industries is typically required in order to achieve the set goals. One example is the car industry. It is facing major challenges in recycling all of the plastic contained in a car in the various features that enhance its performance, yet which present obstacles when trying to recycle the material for new products. Thanks to our expertise in crash testing and fire protection, we can offer assistance already during the development stage when selecting materials. We can also help with networking and forming contacts with other industries where they might have other ways of using the waste streams,” he says.
The ‘circle’ in the circular economy mustn’t spin too quickly
RISE enables broad collaboration
Anders and Christina describe RISE as a sort of “matchmaker”. The scope of its reach generates collaboration between various industries, and between industry and academia. But they also emphasize that, even though there are new requirements pertaining to sustainability, it doesn’t involve a new way of working for RISE.
– “Our job is to know what the regulations say, the level of quality required for various types of products and what the customer requirements look like. For example, when we’re working with digitalization or additive manufacturing, we now naturally think about how it can create environmental benefits,” explains Christina Jönsson
– “Sometimes, it involves doing what we’re already doing, but on a much larger scale. Today, we have smart maintenance with variable service levels for cars. But why not have the same for bridges? Or other types of infrastructure? Collaboration between academia and industry would make that possible,” says Anders Gotte.
Infrastructure for testing and evaluation
At the many RISE test beds and demo facilities, it is possible to, at an overall level, see and evaluate how new technology can contribute to a sustainable development of society.
– “When it all works at its best, we can not only evaluate the current status of something, but also where we’re headed. That is extremely important. Otherwise, companies will lag behind. Electrification is a good example. Everyone knew that it was the future for many sectors. Lots of people were talking about it. But when push came to shove, few had really prepared for it. We see the same thing happening with sustainable production. We want to offer our support for making the transition. Sweden is considered to be one of the world’s most innovative countries. But our position is less impressive when it comes to industrial implementation. If we are able to meet the requirements now being set for sustainability, we could change that,” concludes Anders Gotte.