Circular Economy

Growing with the available resources

Cradle to Cradle® and Circular Design Rules

The transition from a linear economy to a circular economy requires companies to fundamentally rethink their processes. New growth opportunities are also developing for Zumtobel from its focus on circular product cycles. We are developing innovative products and services in the field of recycling and repair, reuse and remanufacture.

The key to success is to incorporate circular economy principles into product design and management processes right from the start. The Circular Design Rules (CDR), which Zumtobel developed in close collaboration with design studio EOOS and consultancy EPEA, help with this. In addition, external sustainability certification in accordance with the Cradle to Cradle® standard is also vital.

A circular economy pilot Project with EUROSPAR & Caritas

In collaboration with carla, a social enterprise of Caritas, the TECTON lighting system by Zumtobel was tested as an example of circular economy principles. The objective was to develop a sustainable dismantling process and an efficient return logistics system in partnership with Voestalpine and Spar.

Rethinking for a climate-neutral Europe

Reinventing existing product development processes and optimising them in terms of sustainability: where does the need for this come from? The answer lies in the vision of a climate-neutral Europe by 2050. In order to reach this ambitious goal, the European Union is counting on comprehensive funding programmes for sustainable and future-oriented companies and their products as part of the ‘EU Green Deal’. It is also considering these topics within the framework of its own legislation: the most well-known initiative in this context is the EU Taxonomy. It ensures that financing and funding will be available in the future primarily for those market participants that are committed to sustainability objectives and further developing their business model in line with the circular economy.

Inspired by nature: The Cradle to Cradle® concept

Two leading circular economy pioneers are Michael Braungart and William McDonough, authors of the book ‘Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things’. The term they coined literally means from origin to origin. Cradle to Cradle® is modelled on nature and refers to the fact that biological cycles do not produce waste. Example: the leaves of autumn become the humus of spring. By this analogy, products that are designed in accordance with the Cradle to Cradle® concept should be reused and incorporated into new biological or technical cycles at the end of their product life cycle. The ideas from the Cradle to Cradle® concept have had a significant influence on today’s understanding of the circular economy in Europe – and have also inspired Zumtobel to develop its own Circular Design Rules (CDR).

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

Circular economy – a definition

The conceptual model behind this combines economic growth with the lowest possible consumption of natural, non-renewable resources. The aim of the circular economy is to use raw materials effectively and sustainably. On the one hand, this means avoiding waste and on the other, making sure that raw materials that have already been used are fed back into the product cycle through repairs, reuse, remanufacturing and recycling. The end of a product is therefore not its disposal, but rather the existing product generation serves as ‘nutrition’ for the next new life cycle. The so-called ‘three Rs’ are often cited as the keywords to describe these efforts: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. 

Corporate action in line with the circular economy is not only more sustainable but also presents significant economic advantages: for example, companies that make plans in relation to circularity and reuse or remanufacture of valuable raw materials can save on material costs, compensate for price fluctuations and avoid supply shortages.

Cradle to Cradle® product certification

Originally initiated by the founders of the concept and further developed by EPEA, today the Cradle to Cradle® Products Innovation Institute offers Cradle to Cradle® product certification. The San Francisco-based institute issues a suitably rigorous certification standard that is currently available in version 4.0. There are five different aspects that are considered for achieving Cradle to Cradle® certification. While the first two aspects, ‘material health’ and ‘product circularity’, are related to the product itself, the remaining three – ‘clean air and climate protection’, ‘water and soil stewardship’ and ‘social fairness’ – hold the manufacturing companies accountable. Companies can apply for Cradle to Cradle® certification with their products that are designed for circularity. Different certification levels can be achieved depending on a company’s performance.

Striving for certification

Certification in accordance with the current Cradle to Cradle® Standard 4.0 is complex, time-consuming and costly. However, Zumtobel is making every effort to meet the certification organisation’s standards with selected new products. Firstly, the corresponding certificate serves as internationally recognised, independent proof of continuing sustainability efforts. Our customers can then be sure that they are purchasing products that are future-proof and fully optimised for the circular economy. Secondly, the Cradle to Cradle® certification process also helps us to reflect on our efforts internally, to scrutinise certain issues and to become even better when it comes to sustainability.  

Cradle to Cradle® certification assessment levels

The certification process requires proof of the following five aspects:

  • Material health
  • Product circularity
  • Clean air and climate protection
  • Water and soil stewardship
  • Social fairness

‘Creating designs for the circular economy means designing a spotlight’s life cycle scenarios as well as choosing its shape, colour and materials. VIVO II goes well beyond the requirement for good recyclability. Our vision is to double the service life through remanufacturing but also to provide support for maintenance, care and reuse scenarios.’

Harald Gründl, EOOS design office

Circular Design Rules for new products

Cradle to Cradle® is a universal standard that applies equally to products and services across all industries. In order to meet the needs of the lighting industry and our customers in the best way possible, Zumtobel also works with its own rules for circular design: we began work on the Zumtobel Circular Design Rules (CDR) in collaboration with consultants EPEA Switzerland and with design studio EOOS led by Harald Gründl, and further developed the rules in-house.

The main components of the Circular Design Rules:

  1. The CDR aim to evaluate material health and product circularity, thus covering two of the five assessment levels for Cradle to Cradle® certification.

  2. They are specially tailored to the construction of luminaires. The environmentally friendly VIVO II luminaire series served as a pilot project to establish and formulate this self-imposed set of rules.

  3. Since May 2021, the Circular Design Rules must be applied to all new product developments by Zumtobel. It is important that this is not a static set of rules, but rather a basic concept that is continually being intelligently amended and optimised through practical experience and changing legal frameworks.

  4. At the same time, we would like to achieve concrete goals with our Circular Design Rules that support three aspects: circular procurement, circular design and circular systems.

Circularity as a pillar of the Zumtobel Group strategy

In the lighting industry, circular business models are becoming increasingly important. An example of this is the EU Ecodesign Directive that also includes the Single Lighting Regulation. Among other things, it guarantees users a right to repair and thus has a direct effect on the lifetime of a luminaire.

We are aware that the upcoming transformation from a linear throw-away economy to a circular economy also requires a fundamental change in corporate strategy as well as in the way employees think and act. It’s no coincidence that the circular economy represents one of the three pillars of the Zumtobel Group’s sustainability strategy – alongside climate-neutrality and partners of choice. Three key concepts that are backed by ambitious goals: as a company, the Zumtobel Group would like its business operations to be climate-neutral by 2025 and to implement the principle of the circular economy. In addition, it would like to act as a reliable and trusted partner – with sustainable procurement, optimal working conditions for employees and innovative solutions for its customers.

Circularity knows no status quo

The idea of a circular economy has inspired Zumtobel to develop innovative approaches and development processes that all contribute to future-proof, resource-saving products and services, always with the goal of climate neutrality in sight – and the aim of reconciling economic success with the needs of people and the environment. It’s not about being perfect from the very beginning. After all, circularity knows no status quo, has no final destination and isn’t something that can be checked off a list.

Instead, it’s about moving in the right direction step by step – and pausing along the way to incorporate new developments into our approach to product circularity. These might include improved, energy-efficient technologies or new legal regulations that we want to comply with. Our Circular Design Rules are our most important internal guides in this process. Cradle to Cradle® certification draws attention to our sustainability efforts and makes them visible to the outside world.