Circular economy’ good practices in the manufacturing sector.

When the industry foster opportunities to positively impact the world

  • Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises must be empowered to adopt circular economy concepts by designing products that positively impact the world.    
  • Adopting a circular economy in the manufacturing sector still has a long way to go, but progress is being made, and big companies are also coming on board.    
  • CIRCULOOS helps micro, small and medium-sized production companies redefine their supply chains through Circular Economy. 

Can you imagine for a moment wearing the same clothes while you are growing up? People with children reading those lines would appreciate this technology entering their daily lives. No more monthly shopping, no more clothes boxes taking spaces where there is none, and no more bad feelings thinking, well, I am contaminating the planet, but what else can I do? Ryan Mario Yasin is an aeronautical engineer who happened to be also an uncle. His good intention of gifting his nephew clothes was frustrated. Every time he bought new clothing, the garments were already too small when they arrived. At this point, Ryan discovered that a child grows up to seven sizes in the first two years. At this time, he wanted to create a business that could be self-sustainable and positively impact the world. His background in deployable satellite technology and his interest in understanding the whole value chain of the garment industry helped him to create a garment that can grow with a child from 9 months to 4 years. In 2017 Petit Pli was born.  

Taking the pledge to circular economy will not give you extra points for your retirement plans instead it will give a positive impact in the world 

This inspirational story tells us that the manufacturing sector and especially the fashion one can have a positive impact. In an interview for the magazine Cool Hunting, the Petit Pli’s owner explained using recycled materials to manufacture the products, taking bottles out of waste and turning them into textile. In addition to that, the company reduces water and carbon footprints and the need to keep buying new clothes: “Instead of cutting seven different sizes and transporting the seven different sizes all over the world and having to worry about the stock levels of all of those different sizes, you only have one size to worry about”. His invention fulfils his need to positively impact society. 

The sector has already proven changes are possible and can have a positive impact through digitalization. The industry 4.0 concepts apply to factories have improved their efficiency, flexibility and agility through connectivity, analytics, human-machine interaction, and advanced engineering. This digital transformation, still on-going, has paved the way for a renewed sector and SMEs all over Europe can continue to benefit from financial support through different available programmes. Although the use of new technology combined with data analytics in the work floors has contributed to better optimizing the resources, the impact of certain manufacturing sectors and the waste for the environment are still high. Taking the example of the textile sector, according to the European Environment Agency, production has passed from 58 millions tons in 2000, to 109 millions tons in 2010 and is projected to grow to 145 millions tons in 2030. Europa had to have a plan. It came up with a roadmap for making the EU’s economy sustainable with the European Green Deal.    

The European Green Deal turns climate and environmental challenges into opportunities across all policy areas, making the transition just and inclusive. The commitment for future generations aims to boost the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean, circular economy and stopping climate change, reverting biodiversity loss and cutting pollution. One of the main buildings blocks, the new circular economy action plan (CEAP) adopted in March 2020, will reduce pressure on natural resources and will create sustainable growth and jobs. “Circular economy is the model of the future for Europe and the world”, said European Commission Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans, “It brings balance back in our relationship with nature and reduces our vulnerability to disruptions in global, complex supply chains”. 

“The long-term success of a company will soon be judged by its ability to manage the sustainability of its offers over the long term.” 

Repair, Reuse, Recycle, Refurbish, and Remanufacture is the circular economy’s slogan, but what changes are needed to move towards a circular manufacturing sector? The Ellen MacArthur Foundation states that materials should be kept in use while virgin material pressures should be reduced, production should occur locally and with a distributed production capacity, and digital technology should be harnessed to simplify this process. How does a French multinational tyre manufacturing company get to become a recognized circular economy model? Well, its Group’s Senior Executive Vice President, Florent Menegaux would say that circular economy is built into the Michelin Group’s DNA.  

At Michelin, the strategy focuses on reducing, reusing, recycling, and renewable. To reduce, the Centenarian brand designs tires requiring fewer raw materials and less energy, lasting longer. Reusing means repairing, reprofiling or replacing tire tread, which means a smaller carbon footprint while ensuring customer safety. To recycle, projects such as TREC within the group develop two different usages for used tires. The first is TREC Regeneration, which combines regenerating rubber compounds to manufacture new tires. The second one is called TREC Alcohol and enables the production of a chemical intermediate product needed to synthesize raw materials used in manufacturing. Finally, a quarter of the company uses renewable resources because raw materials are not unlimited. 

Elevate sustainability, try the circular way of manufacturing 

Michelin and Petit Pli are two cases that illustrate two different generations of companies whose products are circular by design. The future generations of product creators should first think about how their products will impact the world. Meanwhile, European SMEs should find a way to adopt a circular economy methodology applied to all the steps of the value chains. Thanks to CIRCULOOS, MSMEs and SMEs can make this step easier. CIRCULOOS is a project financed by the European Commission that focuses on assisting micro, small, and medium-sized production companies to redefine their supply chains through circular economy principles. CIRCULOOS aims at a case-driven framework that leverages digital tools and circular supply chain models. These tools are built upon collaborations among commercial entities, fostering innovation and sustainable practices. CIRCULOOS encourages participating companies to adopt circular economy principles through the project’s pilots and open calls. By allocating a substantial 3.6 million to open calls, CIRCULOOS believes in fostering agility and sustainability across supply chains, through innovative SMEs and startups driven by collaboration and innovation.  

Among the 18 experiments that will take place, three will be used as pilots to demonstrate and validate CIRCULOOS framework. The selected three pilots in the wood, leather, and plastic sectors have the mission to drive requirements and tools specifications and early test them with Agile and flexible supply chain orchestration. Technologies such as Digital Twin or robots will be used to integrate a circular economy vision in every step of the supply chain. 

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Marjorie Grassler
Mobile World Capital Foundation, European project manager.