Rudi Daelmans has been Director of Sustainability at Dutch carpet manufacturer DESSO since 2007. DESSO produces carpets for commercial use, for the hospitality, marine and aviation sectors and for consumers. In 2008, DESSO embraced the Cradle to Cradle® principle. This is a design concept, formulated by chemist Prof. Dr. Michael Braungart, under which products are made from components that are easy to disassemble, in order to create new products.
Rudi Daelmans: In 2007 the current management took over. They saw the opportunities of sustainability and made me responsible for it. My first task was to make an inventory of DESSO's sustainability activities and to come up with a strategy.
I came to the conclusion that sustainability is in fact a form of cost saving. DESSO was already an energy saving frontrunner, but I thought that sustainability should go further than saving energy and reducing carbon dioxide. I visited conferences and listened to pioneers. I met Michael Braungart, the initiator of the Cradle to Cradle principle. I immediately had the feeling, 'this is it'. The good thing about this principle is its wide scope. It looks at social aspects, energy, water, and materials used in products. Even better, it’s not about reducing footprints; doing the wrong things less bad, embracing a Cradle to Cradle strategy is about doing the right things right. The Cradle to Cradle philosophy has a certification system. It is not one for which you have to jump over a hurdle to obtain. Instead, it sees certification as a journey with milestones: basic, silver, gold and platinum.
RD: The coincidence was that DESSO CEO Stef Kranendijk was tipped to read a book about the Cradle to Cradle principle and visited a seminar with Michael Braungart. He was immediately convinced. So when Kranendijk and I met, it was a very short meeting. We hired Michael Braungart's people as consultants and organised workshops. Michael Braungart gave a presentation at all our sites. At these meetings, Stef Kranendijk made it clear that he was convinced this was the future.
RD: The organisation had to start thinking about bringing a product to the market for which it had been thought out, during the development phase already, how it would be dismantled to be recycled at the end of its useful life.
RD: It means that we have to see if the construction we have is the right one and if we can find the technology to dismantle that construction. We also have to look at the materials we use and their eco-toxicity. That meant that we had, and still have, a lot of work to do with our purchasing department and with our suppliers.
RD: At first they were not enthusiastic. So Kranendijk and I went to our suppliers to explain what we wanted and what was needed for that. In general, if you ask suppliers to give details of the raw materials they use in their products, they won't. But if you explain the Cradle to Cradle principle, they become a bit more enthusiastic. If they don't want to tell us, they can let the Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency (EPEA), a Hamburg based institute founded by Michael Braungart, look at their products. EPEA will give us an 'OK' or not 'OK'.
RD: One of the successes is the replacement of bitumen in our tiles. That product, a left-over in an oil-barrel, doesn't fit with the Cradle to Cradle principles. To replace it, we developed DESSO EcoBase®. The polyolefin based layer of our EcoBase backing is 100% safely recyclable in our own production process. Sadly, the final product is 10 to 15 % more expensive, so we cannot use it for our whole production. We are trying to close the price gap by further optimising the DESSO EcoBase backing.
RD: One of the things Cradle to Cradle tries to do is to improve quality of life. Our people have been thinking how to realise that. That led to the development of DESSO AirMaster®. We combined kinds of threads (yarns) that you normally don't see in a carpet tile. The result is that the DESSO AirMaster captures and retains up to eight times more fine dust than hard flooring and is four times more effective than standard carpet solutions. We got the idea after we came across a survey from the German Asthma organisation DAAB (Deutscher Allergie- und Asthmabund) that showed that carpet is better than hard flooring to decrease dust concentrations in buildings.
RD: We are in principle still working with the same people, but we hired one person for the more complicated things one would normally not think about. His task is to look for innovative materials and technical methods. He is looking at patents and has contacts at universities.
RD: We take responsibility for the products we put on the market. Cradle to Cradle searches for endless cycles and responsible material management. That is why we started to look for a way of re-using old carpet tiles. Waste management companies said they collect them and make sustainable energy from them but we wanted to do more. Why should you burn things you can re-use? That is why we decided to do it on our own and started our own Take Back Programme in 2008.
RD: To take carpet tiles back is not so difficult. But you also have to easily collect the tiles. The problem was that it cost us so much that it would have bankrupted us. Within the carpet industry, there are also still a number of manufacturers using PVC in their backing. Soft PVC mostly contains high levels of phthalate plasticisers to make it flexible. Several of these phthalates are classified as reprotoxic substances. So we decided to take back only tiles without PVC.
We received €1.6 million grant (50% of the total budget) from the European Commission's Competitiveness and Innovation Programme to roll out the Take Back Programme in Benelux, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. The idea was to scale up the pilot to full blown production, but that is still ongoing.
[Editor's note: the grant was given to the EUROC2C CARPETCHAINS project, to establish a a carpet collection and recycling scheme in six European countries.
Cradle to Cradle is a registered trademark of MBDC. EcoBase and AirMaster are registered trademarks of DESSO Holding NV.].