Desso’s Cradle to Cradle strategy pays off
In 2007, Stef Kranendijk, CEO of Desso, a European carpet manufacturer based in the Netherlands had to decide a route forward for the company.
The wider economic scene was looking darker as the full impact of the financial crisis started to become apparent. In that inauspicious commercial climate, Kranendijk faced two choices: either carry on as before and try to compete for market share using tried and tested methods or find a completely new strategy.
The company had been bought out from a US company, the Armstrong Group by private investors (including Kranendijk and the other members of the board). It was at that time that Kranendijk watched a documentary about the Cradle to Cradle concept. Developed by the German chemist Dr Michael Braungart with the US architect William McDonough, the idea was to encourage businesses to develop eco-efficient manufacturing that emulated the continuous cycle in nature.
Like the Cherry Tree, referred to in the book Cradle to Cradle by Braungart and McDonough, manufacturers should produce goods made of materials that are so pure that they can be recycled again and again without ending up in landfill.
After reading the book, Kranendijk recalls: “I decided to commit Desso to becoming a Cradle to Cradle company by 2020”. Not only did he believe that this was the ethical and sensible way to conduct business, he also thought it would help win them competitive edge.
With Braungart’s help, Desso’s technical and design team analysed all the chemicals in their products and found replacements where necessary with the aim of creating materials that were pure enough to be certified as Cradle to Cradle.
“We started with the largest share of the business; our commercial carpet tiles, because we felt that we would achieve the greatest impact in that category,” recalls Kranendijk.
After a lot of hard work, they created a new carpet tile backing, called EcoBase – a backing designed with disassembly and recycling in mind. It is 100% safely recyclable in Desso’s production process. The yarn, Polyamide (PA), is converted back to the basic material so that the yarn manufacturers can use it again to produce new yarn.
With the launch of DESSO EcoBase Desso achieved Cradle to Cradle Silver Certification for its carpet tiles, having reached a level where 97% of all its materials were positively defined in a process where ingredients have to be either Green (optimal) or Yellow (tolerable).
With the introduction of its new strategy, the company managed to survive the recession in good shape. By 2010, earnings had shot up year by year from 1% at the start of Kranendijk’s tenure in 2007 to 9% in 2010 and the company’s market share in carpet tiles had increased from 15% to 21%.
In addition, Cradle to Cradle design, with its concerns about the health of people and the environment sparked off unexpected innovations. It was out of this thinking that Desso developed a new carpet known as AirMaster, for example, which is eight times more effective at capturing and retaining fine dust than hard floors.
This new product helps customers meet air quality requirements as set by the World Health Organization which has clear guidelines on air pollution from fine dust (indoor and outdoors), indicating that presence with an aerodynamic diameter of 10 μm or smaller (PM10) is damaging to human health.
Cradle to Cradle is now firmly embedded as one the core drivers of innovation at Desso as it moves forward to reach its full target