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Circular Thinking

Giampiero Frisio, ABB Electrification’s Smart Power Division President, explains why it’s time for the modern facilities manager to ‘think circular’.

We cannot ignore the escalating environmental crisis. By 2030 the planet will be home to over 8.5 billion people, meaning the challenges of urbanisation, resource scarcity, waste, pollution and emissions will continue to increase – unless we act now. 

Although many believe the answer to these challenges lie in electrification, clean energy and technologies, the solution requires much more. In our experience, the circular economy is a key part of this solution, aiming to preserve resources and minimise impacts at every stage of the value chain.

The transition from a ‘take-make-waste’ linear model to a circular one, in which resources are continuously reused for as long as possible, will help to preserve resources and reduce waste. As a secondary benefit, applying circularity can also reduce the high emissions associated with creating new products from virgin materials.

The result is that the circular concept, while not new, is quickly coming to the fore as economies around the world step up to the climate challenge and seek to embed circularity for the benefit of environmental, social and economic progress.  

The 2020 European Commission prioritised this approach through the implementation of a Circular Economy Action Plan across Europe, with measures such as mandatory green public procurement criteria and reporting, and a sustainable products policy initiative expected to come into effect later this year.

At the same time, investors, customers, suppliers, and employers are also adding pressure for businesses to behave with a social conscience and to take positive steps to reduce their impact on the environment, including the reusing and recycling of materials and reducing their waste. 

Given the reach of facilities services, which can involve everything from procurement to waste management, facilities managers have a central role to play in this. 

Verify materials and suppliers
With the aim of the circular economy to carefully manage existing resources to ensure products and materials are kept in use for as long as possible to preserve raw materials and minimise waste, start by asking suppliers for more eco-efficient options. It may be that there is a new alternative product or piece of equipment available which has been built using recycled options or offers a vastly improved carbon footprint. At ABB, for example, we continue to work towards our target of ensuring at least 80 per cent of our products and solutions are covered by our circularity approach by 2030.

Take the time to regularly assess suppliers. How advanced are they in their circular designs? Can they work with you to support yours? What is the carbon trail of their products and operations? Achieving this transition requires close collaboration, so it’s important to work with businesses whose circular ambitions closely align with yours. 

Upgrade equipment
A more strategic approach to equipment updates can pay dividends too. Inherently, the cost and environmental impact of investing in a new piece of equipment or component will always be much greater than repairing or updating an existing one. In this vein, it becomes important to specify long-life options that can be upgraded over time. Monitoring and predictive maintenance equipment can also ensure durability too while minimising the risk of downtime and improving production schedules. 

Culture of circularity
Equally, the importance of curating a circular culture from within cannot be underestimated. From regular communications to training and initiatives, it is vital to empower employees with the knowledge and tools needed to make change happen.

There is a wealth of support out there from industry experts too. At ABB for example, we continue to embed circularity throughout our entire organisation – both in our operations and in collaborating with our customers to help them become more circular. The result is that customers can rely on us to provide the solutions needed to power a sustainable economy with the assurance of optimised circularity. As part of this, we provide a helping hand throughout their transition; from making recommendations for change through to, where possible, delivering bespoke solutions.

A World of Difference
Aside from the huge potential contribution to net-zero that a circularity approach can yield, the good news is that creating a circular economy can be good for business too. By its very nature, the principle of recycling, reusing and prolonging product life for as long as possible can make a world of difference to business competitiveness. The World Economic Forum estimates there is a potential $4.5 trillion to be saved by adopting the circular model by 2030. As facilities managers seek to add value and contribute to performance, this could make a huge impact on the bottom line.

There is no question about it; the business model of the future will be circular. As the world comes together to preserve the earth’s resources today and for future generations, the transition to the circular economy model, paired with cleaner energy and renewable fuel sources, is essential to realising global sustainability ambitions and targets for net-zero globally. Now is the time for facilities managers to take positive action and think ‘circularity’ by focusing on the benefits that the circular economy can bring, to conserve natural resources, limit waste and reduce emissions. 

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