Steel and the Circular Economy: A Guide to Sustainable Manufacturing and Construction
Sustainability has long been a pressing
issue on the minds of many socially conscious consumers and business owners
alike, and for good reason – the planet’s ecosystem depends on it.
For vital industries like construction and
manufacturing, the need to recognize and act upon the vast importance of
sustainability is not only a sensible business decision but also a duty to the
The circular economy is an effective process
adopted by many in an effort to improve overall sustainability, and for immensely
popular and critically important materials like steel, it may even be a
necessity in maximizing resources and minimizing carbon footprints.
How exactly does this make a difference in
terms of the future of sustainable production, and why should you be concerned?
Whether or not you happen to be in the industry yourself, it is important to
understand what exactly is being done to reduce the negative impact of
manufacturing and construction on the environment, as you too could be a part
of the solution. After all, sustainability is a subject that affects everyone.
Why is Sustainability Important?
According to the United
Nations, climate change is the greatest threat that humanity has ever
faced. Averting this crisis will no doubt require everyone to take action in
some capacity. It starts by raising awareness and realizing the catastrophic
consequences that await humankind if meaningful changes are not made.
What does this have to do with the manufacturing and construction industries? A great deal indeed. In fact, the construction industry is by far the biggest consumer of natural resources on the planet. Some reports show that around 75% of all natural resource use has been put into construction in years gone by, a worrying figure when you think about the finite nature of natural materials and the sheer level of global consumption.
Perhaps even more alarming is a
recent article from the OECD (Organization for Economic Development and
Co-Operation), which predicts that by 2060, the number of natural resources
consumed by the construction industry around the world will double.
Huge changes must be made to ensure the safety
and longevity of global humanity, and it comes with a host of unique business
benefits, too, a persuasive and potentially lucrative point for vigilant
In order to do this, the right materials
must be adopted, but so too must the methods in which they are worked on.
Sustainability in the Manufacturing Industry
A move toward sustainable manufacturing
practices is quickly becoming a mainstay of countless businesses, and it can’t
come soon enough. As it stands, around one-quarter of the energy in the U.S. is taken up by manufacturing
Those that are able to implement and hit
their sustainability goals can relish in the many additional benefits it
brings, such as easier brand building, better employee retention rates, and
possibly even greater product value.
The latter being so prevalent, in fact, that 66% of customers are more willing to spend more on products they know have been sustainably produced.
Perhaps one of the best and potentially
most straightforward methods of increasingly sustainability techniques is for
businesses to commit to reducing wastage. Proper inventory control is a great
way to do this, as is recycling in general.
As usual, technology has a large role to
play in the progression of industries, and manufacturing is no different. From
advanced 3D printers to a range of digital tools, the race for more sustainable
manufacturing can and should be aided by the latest and greatest technological
There are many wonderful software options available
to businesses nowadays, each of them offering up a wealth of unique benefits.
Companies using a dependable integrated software solution to help them tackle
their waste management and process optimization are likely going to have an
easier time reaching their sustainability goals than those who don’t choose the
more modern approach.
Sustainability in the Construction Industry
By its very nature, the construction
industry is responsible for taking a toll on the earth’s resources. There’s a
great deal riding on the construction industry in terms of their ability to
promote and practice sustainability.
For example, an article from the World Green Building Council states that the global green building industry has the potential to cut energy consumption by 50% or more by 2050.
Sustainable building practices are not only
good for the environment, but they often tend to save both companies and
consumers a huge amount of money, too, particularly when firms opt to utilize
Alternative building materials don’t have
to be more expensive by any means. Just take a
look at some of the more popular options like stone, concrete, and steel
As the world’s population continues to grow
and finite natural resources start to dwindle, circumstances demand that
current construction practices consistently evolve. Averting disaster by
changing the current trajectory is doable, provided companies recognize their
responsibility and play their part.
The Importance of Circular Principles
What is the circular economy?
Is it time you adopted a circular approach
in your own manufacturing efforts? Maybe you already do it to some degree, but
it’s certainly worth finding out a bit more about what it can offer you.
While there are plenty of different
definitions of what a circular economy is, in this case, it is a framework of
production that essentially serves to guarantee sustainable consumption over
Traditionally, as raw materials are worked,
they tend to lose much of their value, be it their resale value or the
integrity of their physical properties. A circular economy seeks to combat this
eventuality and maximize its lifecycle, allowing for the greatest possible
rates of sustainable production.
This tends to be done by adopting a no-waste
policy, a system that involves developing more durable products to begin with,
while streamlining the ease by which they can be reused and recycled over time.
This might come as a stark contrast to the
linear approach, a system that relies on the constant supply of natural raw
materials to the detriment of the environment. Acquiring these materials and
later disposing of them at the consumer’s end is ecologically and economically
taxing, hardly a sustainable option.
report from you matter.world states that only 9% of the world is circular
today. Adopting a circular economy can be difficult for a wide array of complex
reasons, which is why observable market incentives can be so crucial.
When it comes to adopting a set of circular
economy principles, it is worth taking a look at a few fundamentals, such as:
To meet these basic principles, production
processes must be optimized to cater to the materials at hand. It is worth
noting that steel is in many ways the ideal metal for manufacturing in a
circular economy, due in part to the ease by which it can be reused and
One of the main benefits a circular economy
can provide is the reduction of environmental pressure caused by the impact of
manufacturing, but there are countless bonuses the system might be able to
provide businesses of all different shapes and sizes.
A well-structured and dependable circular system
may prove to be a superb way of strengthening your supply chain, all while you reduce
the need for a constant influx of new natural materials, which is
environmentally strenuous and often an unreliable process.
For anyone who wants to cut inventory
costs, reduce their carbon emissions, meet sustainability quotas, and generally
contribute toward reducing the world’s greenhouse gas production, this could be
the best way forward.
The World Resources Institute claims that through the right circular strategies, greenhouse gas emissions can be cut by 39%, which is a monstrous 22.8 billion tons!
Plus, the adoption of a circular process
could end up creating many more jobs, particularly when compared to the linear
counterpart. For example, say you wanted to primarily work with steel – the
circular system could enable you to both directly and indirectly create jobs
for salvagers, recyclers, scrap metal workers, and countless others.
This could take time, of course, but the
opportunities are certainly there once you start to think about them.
Examples within manufacturing and
The lasting, impactful, and innovative ways
in which manufacturing and construction companies are opting for sustainability
are, in many ways, changing the shape of the modern business.
IKEA is committed to sustainability, and in
2021, they launched
a program to help them secure sustainable energy at the supplier’s end in
an effort to reach 100% renewable energy throughout their entire chain by 2030.
A prime example of a construction company
striving for sustainability and process optimization is Honeywell, which have been
a digital approach to their building management efforts.
The sustainable building giants Holcim have also committed to reducing its cement usage by 33%, its ready-mix concrete by 15%, and its aggregates by 20%. By continuing to pilot a nature-first approach to construction, some organizations are paving the way for others, setting an example and highlighting which changes need to be made before it becomes too late.
Admittedly, not everyone is in the position
of being able to suddenly alter their current processes to fit a more
sustainable agenda, be it a result of monetary constraints, a lack of workforce
availability, or market pressure.
It is worth noting that there are plenty of
options out there once you start looking, whether that’s in the form of
government support or tax incentives. There are methods of making the
transition to a sustainable operation, even if it starts by taking the smallest
The Lifecycle of Steel
Despite the significant evolution of highly
processes over the years, modern development techniques are still based on
Henry Bessemer’s process, first practiced back in 1856.
There are two main ways to produce steel in
the modern world, and they account for almost all steel that’s around today.
EAF (electronic arc furnace) production is a
production method that repurposes scrap steel, thus reducing the need for raw
material and therefore reducing overall environmental impact. Plus, it’s still
On the other hand, BOS steel, or virgin
steel, utilizes mainly raw materials and is responsible for the creation of around 70% of
the world’s steel.
EAF production consists of heating up steel
scrap (or pig iron) with electronic arcs in a furnace, which in turn creates
molten steel. Lime is added to the molten mix to remove the oxides, and after the
slag (waste matter) is removed, the mixture is ready for secondary steel-making.
BOS is a similar process in that it also
involves heating up materials in a furnace, but it uses the raw pig iron as its
base material. It also utilizes coal throughout the process, creating damaging carbon
monoxide at the same time, although both methods have a unique set of pros and
Steel’s Circular Economy Credentials
In terms of a circular economy, steel has
some impressive credentials, to say the least. Alongside being infinitely
recyclable, a compelling enough trait as it is, it’s immensely versatile and
From buildings and societal infrastructures
to knives and forks, steel is found everywhere you look, partly because it
lasts for so long.
Once you break the circle of production
down into its basic stages, it tends to consist of:
Raw material acquisition
Disposal and Recycling
Thankfully, steel is a material that has
the potential to excel at every stage of the process, making it an ideal candidate
for a circular economy material.
In fact, steel is so good at retaining its properties
despite being recycled over and over again that it has a global recycling rate
of 83%, but this figure goes as high as 90% in some countries, according
to Reuters Events.
This means that, in theory, the need for
virgin steel and the raw materials used to create it in manufacturing can be
drastically reduced, resulting in a net decline of harmful production emissions
like carbon monoxide.
The Future of Using Steel Sustainably
For a circular economy model to be
successful, everyone needs to be aware of its benefits and commit to operating
as part of a network.
A socially conscious, environmentally friendly
group of interlocking industries working collaborating together can make the
most out of the processes and materials at hand.
Essentials of a successful circular economy
From the steelmakers and recyclers to the architects
and researchers, cross-industry cooperation will likely be the key to success.
Public awareness can also be a big factor when
it comes to establishing a circular economy. For instance, if people are more
inclined to recycle their products and cut down on wastage, resources tend to
be able to last longer.
This behavioral change can be extremely difficult, particularly on a societal level, but thankfully, a recent study has shown that 85% of consumers have indeed become greener over the last few years.
The system will succeed when every aspect
of its cycle is optimized and accounted for. This infrastructural change starts
from the ground up and encompasses every part of the production process.
In construction, this means sourcing the
right materials and implementing the most sustainable tools and building
techniques (among a host of other undertakings).
The importance of designing for
deconstruction and reuse
Recycling is, of course, the preferred
alternative to simply disposing of buildings and products in landfills, but in
many cases, the process itself still takes a great deal of energy to pull off.
In this regard, those who instead design
their products for deconstruction may make much greater long-term savings than
those who do not.
This not only aids the construction and
manufacturing industries in the effectiveness of their resource management
endeavors, but it generally aids the establishment of a circular economy model.
Designing for deconstruction boils down to
material choice, construction methods, resource availability, and information,
i.e., whether or not contractors are aware of how to deconstruct buildings or
not in the first place.
Steel is a superb material to elect for
this method of design, as it can be developed in so many different grades with
various purpose-built properties. Steel is intrinsically more reusable in this
regard, making it a popular choice when designing for deconstruction and reuse.
Among supply chain disruption and a host of
various world events, the price of steel remains locked
at a high premium.
Perhaps a move toward a circular system is
a good way to reduce prices, maximize finite resources and ultimately, bolster
worldwide sustainability rates.
It’s not just the responsibility of the
manufacturers and the construction companies to figure this out either. It
requires the input of the consumer and governmental support to get it right.
The conditions can be met, and if
corporate responsibility and environmental awareness continue to rise, so too
can sustainability rates.
Technological innovation will likely have a
critical role to play in the future of both manufacturing and construction, and
steel, the wonder metal, probably won’t be going anywhere.
The right equipment goes a long way towards
a business achieving its sustainability goals. One such piece of equipment is a
baler. You can find the right baler at https://recyclingbalers.com/,
while https://fluentconveyors.com/ ensures
provides high-quality, well engineered conveyor systems.
Why the price of steel has risen - https://finance.yahoo.com/news/why-steel-prices-high-iron-163035831.html
How your company could benefit from
pursuing sustainability -https://www.epa.gov/sustainability/sustainable-manufacturing
Learn some tips about how making small
changes to your daily life can help the environment - https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/green-tips
Technology trends to watch out for in
Manufacturing trends to keep an eye on - https://www.startus-insights.com/innovators-guide/manufacturing-trends-innovation/
Four companies that use a form of circular
economy already -https://www.ecowatch.com/circular-economy-adidas-ikea-F2649689207.html