Building a more sustainable world means consuming fewer resources, and companies have a fundamental role to play in this collective effort. That means changing the way we design, manufacture and distribute our products and solutions, whether in terms of production (Industry 4.0, data, etc.), the way we use and recycle materials, or how we protect the environment around our production facilities. This overview looks at some solutions that are beginning to make a difference.
Cristina Gamboa, CEO Of World Green Building Council
"Businesses and industries that embrace sustainable approaches not only create competitive advantage, they become part of the solution." by Cristina Gamboa, CEO Of World Green Building Council.
"The built environment creates significant impacts on our environment and defines the quality of life for millions all over the world. It presents a massive opportunity to tackle the world’s most pressing sustainability priorities: businesses and industries that embrace sustainable approaches not only create competitive advantage, they become part of the solution to challenges we face as a species. On 1st September 2020, the World Green Building Council network launched Sustainable Buildings for Everyone, Everywhere, a new strategy. After a global consultation with our Green Building Councils, partners, and using the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals as a framework, we identified three impact areas: climate action, health and wellbeing, and resources and circularity. In these areas, we have determined a series of objectives for 2030 and 2050, regarding embodied carbon and net zero operational carbon, quality housing for all, the reduction (or elimination) of air, soil and water pollution, and the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources. By 2050, we aim for the achievement of a sustainable urban planning that advances healthy, equitable and resilient communities, and a built environment with net zero whole life resource depletion, that embraces a regenerative vision working towards restoration of resources and natural systems within a thriving circular economy.
'Advancing Net Zero' is our global project accelerating the uptake of Net Zero Carbon Buildings to 100% by 2050. The Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment (which currently has 110 signatories including Saint-Gobain) challenges business, organisations, cities, states and regions to reach net zero carbon in operation for all assets under their direct control by 2030, and to advocate for all buildings to be net zero carbon in operation by 2050. Our global project Better Places for People aims at eliminating the contribution from the built environment to global health crises, such as air pollution, increasing awareness and proving the business cases on sustainable, healthy buildings. We recently launched a revised Health & Wellbeing Framework, which outlines a set of principles to advance this important strategy. Our Europe Regional Network is accelerating a circular economy in the building and construction sector: over the past six years, our Europe Regional Network has worked with the European Commission to develop Level(s), the world’s first regional framework for reporting on the whole lifecycle performance of buildings. In 2020, we continue to drive European political and business support for Level(s) through a new campaign called #BuildingLife.”
Saint-Gobain & the World Green Building Council: the Group is a Partner of the Europe Regional Network, a sponsor of Better Places for People and a member of the Corporate Advisory Board.
As the construction industry rallies its efforts, Industry 4.0 - the data-driven fourth industrial revolution - is emerging as a powerful resource for analyzing, controlling and therefore using resources more efficiently at every stage of the construction process.
“To reconcile performance with economizing on resources, industry must rely on humans”
“Industry 4.0 converges human intelligence with the power of algorithms, and the ‘mine of information’ that is data. Its key feature is its ability to leverage data in order to solve problems faster and more effectively. Data is changing production methods in ways that consume fewer resources, whether electricity or gas - for example, a Saint-Gobain plant in Poland has cut its consumption by 11% - and/or raw materials, without compromising on either production volumes or quality.
Data is also having a positive impact on production processes: so at Saint-Gobain, for example, we have successfully cut production changeover times by 50% on some of our production lines. And it goes further still, because constantly improving performance means fewer defective products, and therefore less waste and fewer rejects. But where waste still occurs, using data makes it possible to guarantee traceability of its composition and effective recycling.
In a Group with operations worldwide, the challenges vary from country to country, plant to plant and team to team. But without hands-on shop floor knowledge and detailed expertise of particular production processes or domains, data alone is not an effective problem solver. We need people to interpret and give it meaning. So it’s about investing first and foremost in people, and then giving them the data they need. This is precisely the purpose of the Saint-Gobain Data and Analytics (DnA) Academy transformational change program: to give everyone the opportunity to use data effectively. By providing all our people with training and coaching, it empowers them to achieve their local goals. And we know it works, because demand for this program is consistently growing. It is this multiplying factor - this data driven mindset - among all our teams that will allow us to achieve our environmental goals without compromising our growth.”
Sometimes, reducing the amount of resources used also means changing sources of supply, and viewing waste as a new resource that can be used to produce new building materials. To achieve this, the entire industry must change its perspective on product life cycles and build new markets.
They did it
“Through upcycling, marrying the waste and building industries offers some opportunities for a significant positive change”.
What was the starting point for your vocation and business?
In the early 2000s I came to the US as an intern, and during my internship managed post-hurricane cleanup and rebuild projects along the Southern Atlantic seaboard. That gave me an inside view of the American construction industry, where I saw that many traditional materials were not up to the task of protecting people’s most valued investments. In 2008, I co-founded a startup, and over the years came to realize that construction was one of the very few industries - if not the only one - with the potential to absorb a huge proportion of the waste materials we humans generate.
How are these new generation materials locally sourced, produced and manufactured?
The input materials are collected through community and industrial recycling programs, sorted by and bought from local Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs), ideally processed by local manufacturers and sold to local builders. It only makes sense that we connect these streams and their infrastructures and evolve into societies that turn locally collected waste into locally used building materials. We just need to innovate the way see and treat the discarded materials. We can harness the properties of these safe, smartly engineered materials and use them to make equally safe materials for construction.
How do you involve all the stakeholders in the product lifecycle?
The key is to activate and include all participants in the product’s life cycle in its end-of-life solution. Marrying the waste and building industries actually offers some ‘easy to understand’ and relatively ‘easy to execute’ opportunities for a significant positive change. Let’s stick with the beverage cartons for the example – every year, millions of tons of these boxes, made by global manufacturers, enter our waste streams. Turn these into a healthy building material that performs better at price parity with the incumbent materials, and these big companies can now save money, get closer to their zero-waste goals and increase their contribution to the Circular Economy simply by building their offices, manufacturing facilities, distribution centers and retail stores from the very same waste they originated.
What are the next steps? The reasons to have faith in the future?
Circular Economy is now part of the agenda for sustainable growth, like the European Union’s Circular Economy Action Plan. The public and non-profit sectors are already there, offering structural, legislative and financial support for the private sector to act. The Circular Economy injects real momentum and creates many opportunities. When entire industries work together to turn the problems of today into the wins of tomorrow, then we will come out on top.
Creating virtuous circles also applies to production facilities, and involves introducing systems to recover and reuse water and/or heat, for example.
Manufacturing products in new ways also means considering the environment around each production facility from the viewpoint of protecting quality of life for local residents and employees.
"A FACTORY IN THE FOREST"
By reintroducing nature into the city, the World Glass Complex wanted to maximize the everyday health and well-being of employees and local communities. The reality delivers many benefits: creating this urban forest has reduced noise pollution, enabled CO2 capture, lowered the temperature by several degrees, and protected the soil against erosion. Powered by one of the largest rainwater reservoirs in Asia, it also provides a habitat for many local birds, other wildlife and plants.
Factory manager Mahaboob Subani Shaik, Team Member, Civil Saint-Gobain India, Glass Business tells us more about this incredible project: