Closing the circle

Closing the circle

For a company to say it’s a strong advocate of sustainability is one thing – to really bring the concept to life for its customers is quite another.

“Sustainability is a core element of Covestro’s mission and is fully embedded in our strategy,” says Dr Stephanie Vogel, Head of Sustainability for PUR. “We live and breathe innovation and want to develop products and technologies that benefit society and reduce the impact on our environment.”

Global challenges such as climate change, rapid population growth, rising life expectancy and urbanization require sustainable solutions, making sustainability increasingly a matter for the manufacturing industry to tackle. Only through sustainable development, guided by the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), can we meet challenges such as the preservation of our planet while retaining our quality of life.

“This is why Covestro pursues a ‘People, Planet, Profit’ policy in its business operations,” Stephanie says. “We see value creation cycles in their entirety, from a social, environmental and economic perspective, and aim to operate for the benefit of society, environment and our business.”

However, according to Covestro’s recent market study on polyurethanes while many customers believe sustainability is important, they still see it as ‘nice to have’ rather than essential.

“It’s up to us to convince others and get them on board by continually demonstrating the benefits of our innovative and sustainable product solutions,” says Stephanie. “This also means taking a proactive role and enabling a truly circular economy.”

The circular economy goes beyond recycling as it is based around a restorative industrial system geared towards designing out waste:

The Financial Times describes the circular economy as ‘taking business sustainability to a whole new level’ where the re-use and recycling of resources is nothing new, but with more cross-industry collaboration and increasingly advanced enabling technologies, a truly waste-free economy today seems to be achievable.

“We want to look beyond the take, make, dispose industrial model and consider the whole life cycle to save resources and reduce waste, reuse as much as possible and recycle as appropriate,” says Stephanie. “We want to completely assess individual value chains on a case-by-case basis in order to find meaningful end-of-life solutions. There’s no single way to recycle polyurethane but a plethora of options to explore.

“Customers want to know our position on sustainability and what we can do to support them to be more circular. We want and need to team up with our customers and complete value chains to achieve greater circularity.”

Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2016

Meeting the challenges

As a leading supplier of high-tech polymer materials, Covestro is well placed to make a significant contribution to overcome global challenges. This includes enhancing the durability of products, reducing CO2 emissions in production and, over the lifetime of products, increasing energy efficiency and improving the use of resources along the value chain.

“With challenges also come opportunities,” says Stephanie. “A great example is our product cardyon, where we chemically bind CO2 into a polyol. This creates a raw material that can be used to produce flexible foams, for example in the manufacture of mattresses. With this process, we’re reusing emitted carbon dioxide and cutting down on the amount of fossil fuel used in production.

“And, of course, finding the right end-of-life solution for a product like mattresses is key to closing this particular circle. We’re actively talking to potential partners right along the value chain to identify feasible solutions. It’s very much a joint collaborative effort.”

Mattress recycling innovation in Australia

Each year in Australia around 1.6 million mattresses end up in landfill and today only around 10% are recycled. An average mattress contains 1.5 kg of polyurethane foam which means over 2,000 tonnes of foam is thrown away.

To address this growing concern, Covestro has joined with other passionate industry members to found the Soft Landing Product Stewardship Scheme, along with companies such as AH Beard, Sealy, Tempur, Harvey Norman, Domayne, Thermotec, TIC Global, SleepMaker and Joyce Foam Products. The scheme aims to change this and over the next five years its goal is no mattresses to landfill in Australia.

Soft Landing is Australia’s largest mattress recycler, last year winning Social Enterprise of the Year. It diverts waste mattresses from landfill and strips the components for reuse. Soft Landing has developed a closed-loop material recovery for mattresses.

As a founding member of the scheme, Covestro shares the same vision of the UN SDGs as a roadmap for future business prosperity and sustainability. Covestro has set ambitious sustainability targets for 2025, to align within every facet of the company – reduce specific CO2 emissions by half, align the portfolio of research projects on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and help 10 million people in underserved markets with Covestro products and solutions.

‘Polyurethane contributes significantly to the quality of our modern life’

“The Soft Landing scheme aligns with our desire to preserve our planet and improve the quality and safety of the lives of millions,” says Rebecca Lee, Managing Director, Covestro Australia. “If we can recover from the mattress components like steel and foam, recycling and reusing these components, it reduces our reliance on virgin materials, thus closing the loop.”

Through the scheme’s recycling partners Soft Landing and TIC Global, steel springs, foam and fabrics are recovered, recycled or rebirthed into new products. Scheme members are also working with the SMaRT centre at the University of New South Wales in researching and developing new materials from the recovered mattress components, including acoustic panels and high strength, non-flammable building panels.

This is a welcome innovation, creating a sustainable mattress industry for Australia. “Polyurethane contributes significantly to the quality of our modern life,” says Rebecca. “It is too valuable to end up in landfill.”

For more on our circular economy positioning please visit the Sustainability section of our website or contact Dr Stephanie Vogel directly at stephanie.vogel@covestro.com

For more information on the Soft Landing Product Stewardship Scheme visit www.softlanding.com.au

Proactive support for the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Covestro has set ambitious sustainability targets for 2025 to align with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The company will target 80% of R&D project spending towards achieving the SDGs and its major suppliers will have to be compliant with its sustainability requirements. It has committed to reduce specific greenhouse gas emissions by 50% as well as enable 10 million people in underserved markets to benefit from Covestro solutions.

The company will also maximise the possibilities of carbon with its carbon productivity initiative.

Covestro aligns with the SDGs in various ways, supporting initiatives for sustainable development. Since 2017, together with leading global authority UN Environment, it has promoted Young Champions of the Earth which seeks out young people aged between 18 – 30 with bright ideas that contribute to environmental protection and serve society. Through this initiative Covestro directly supports SDG number 17 ‘Partnerships for the Goals’, and at the same time helps young, talented people to make their own contribution.

Covestro also supports goal number 4 ‘Quality Education’ and 5 ‘Gender Equality’ by partnering with Greenlight for Girls, an international organisation dedicated to inspire girls of all ages and backgrounds to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects by introducing them to the world of science.

In addition, Covestro’s core business produces materials that function as solution providers for sustainable development. Wind turbine rotor blades can be made with polyurethane which supports the renewable energy sector and contributes to SDG number 7 ‘Affordable and Clean Energy’.

These are just some examples of how Covestro implements sustainability as part of its business. The SDGs serve as guidelines for sustainable development and shine a light on the future Covestro aims to achieve, connecting directly to the company’s aim to ‘make the world a brighter place’. Without doubt sustainability is a vital part of Covestro’s strategy.

Find out more about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

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