Going round in circles? Making sense of a more sustainable supply chain

Going round in circles? Making sense of a more sustainable supply chain

The road to Net Zero may be leading the construction industry in a new direction but some processes, like the reliance on linear supply chains, can prove to be hard habits to break. In our latest blog, we discuss the theory behind supply chain circularity and the ways specifiers and manufacturers can put it into practice.

Sustainability is, as it should be, a key priority for the construction industry and everyone has a role to play in reducing the environmental impact of the work we do. The latest uplift to the Building Regulations highlights the importance of making and using more energy-efficient products and the need to provide fully Part L compliant systems has certainly encouraged significant innovation within the fenestration sector. Other important regulatory changes, such as the Building Safety Act and the planned Future Homes Standard, further support the ideology that the performance of building materials when in situ is only really as good as the quality of technical information, test results and third-party accreditations that support them.

By only focusing on how well a window, door or other system performs when operational is to lose sight of the important issue of embodied carbon which is often the more accurate indication of how sustainable a product really is.

Looking at whether a circular supply chain is in place is one of the best ways to get the whole view.

Working in the right circles

A circular supply chain is often based on three broad principles – reduce, reuse, and recycle. This encourages the greater use of recycled materials in manufacturing to lessen the industry’s reliance on raw materials and natural resources. It also encourages the reuse of these materials at the end of a product or building’s life to reduce the amount of waste being produced and sent to landfill. Of course, this is a very simplistic overview as in reality, there are many specific environmental, economic, and logistical issues that need to be addressed and these vary greatly depending on the type of product in question. For example, some products may be able to be made from recycled materials but cannot be as easily recycled at the end of life. Others may be able to be recycled in theory but the process could be so energy intensive that it becomes prohibitive.

However, many manufacturers are increasingly being able to support the ‘cradle to cradle’ recyclability of their products and this closed loop is what gives a circular supply chain it’s shape. This has been widely adopted within the aluminium fenestration industry and has been a key focus for Senior as we look to reduce the environmental impact our own manufacturing process.

So, what does supply chain circularity look like in reality?

Sustainable supply chains in action

The aluminium industry is a good example of circular supply chain for many reasons, not least because aluminium is used to create numerous materials and products that are used extensively across the built environment. In fact, the development of thermally-efficient and low U-value aluminium windows and doors have been essential in providing a Part L complaint solution to reducing energy loss in new build properties. Aluminium can also be endlessly recycled, without any detriment to its quality, and this plentiful supply can be reused to create new aluminium products, thereby reducing the reliance on the use of raw materials.

Partnering with an experienced and reputable product manufacturer that already has invested heavily in the sustainability of its products is one of the easiest ways that specifiers can tap into the benefits of a circular supply chain. Working with a UK supplier, that also has a UK based supply chain will also reduce risk and embodied carbon generated though transportation. Another benchmark is to choose a supplier that holds accreditation to BRE Global’s BES 6001 standard, which supports their commitment to the responsible and sustainable sourcing of construction materials.

A circular supply chain is only as successful as each of its component parts. For example, there must be enough investment in the development of suitable recycling plants so that the building products can be broken down and the aluminium elements recycled for future use. Ideally these need to be located within the UK. Manufacturers must then commit to the responsible sourcing of recycled aluminium for use in the production of their own products. Architects, main contractors, and end-clients not only need to promote the use of sustainable materials but also need to ensure that they are disposed of correctly at the end of the building’s life.

Everyone has a role to play and by taking a more holistic approach to the whole life cycle of a product, collectively we will fuel the collaboration and innovation needed to make supply chain circularity more widely accessible.

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