Kvadrat is a proud and active partner in the innovative LAUNCH Circular scheme. LAUNCH was originally begun in the USA where high profile brands such as Nike and public organisations like NASA first came together to use their influence and experience to accelerate the transition towards a more sustainable society. LAUNCH Circular, as the name suggests, is the Nordic region’s arm of the same initiative. Anders Byriel, Kvadrat CEO, explains LAUNCH Circular’s ambitions and how being involved has helped shape Kvadrat’s own sustainability agenda.
LAUNCH Circular includes Kvadrat and the IKEA Group, Novozymes, The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Danish Environmental Protection Agency and Region Skåne. How important is it that the companies and organisations involved are substantial and influential?
It is not so much about scale as it is about these companies coming together. What makes this project interesting and special is that it is creating a form of systems innovation. It is very difficult for an individual company to change its’ industrial structures and patterns but by collaborating we can work together to introduce innovation. We are leveraging our sustainability research and our resources by working together.
How does the diversity of the companies and organisations involved help?
We each have different networks, different scopes, bringing these together and looking at them as a whole is very impactful.
How do you participate?
This is Kvadrat’s third year of involvement in LAUNCH Circular and this cycle we are exploring the circular economy. Each year we are getting better and more precise about how to achieve things with this initiative. In the beginning, it was a little bit abstract but now it is more and more concrete. From Kvadrat’s perspective we are very focused on trying to find one or two new sustainability innovations that we can directly support by either partnering with or investing in or becoming a client of. Learning how to manage sustainability challenges, and applying that knowledge, is the second area we are focusing on.
In what ways can LAUNCH Circular make a real difference? What are the key objectives of the project?
We have a belief that companies can genuinely help to make the world more sustainable. In many ways, they may be better vehicles for this kind of change than governments can: Companies are more agile, they have a lot of resources, they are global and they can drive a strong sustainable agenda. If you look to Kvadrat’s cliental for example, where we see the most demand for sustainable solutions is from blue-chip companies, this is the area that is driving our own exploration and pushing us forward. Meanwhile there is very little in the way of sustainability demands from our work in the public sector; hospitals, cultural centres, etc. You can talk about the downsides of capitalism, but it is clear that major companies are driving global sustainable development. To be super specific, LAUNCH Circular has a clear objective to support new sustainable innovations. We aim to select one or two partners who have an exciting but not-yet-realized ideas and help them grow their businesses by allocating resources and support to them. Lastly, learning is an important part of the whole project. By going through this process all the companies involved are learning a lot about important new technology and strategy.
Can you tell us about any of the new companies or ideas that LAUNCH Circular is currently helping?
One of the projects from the last cycle was something called POND. It is a new sustainable glue made from natural oil. We are currently testing the product and working with them. Several of the innovators are working on different projects involving upcycling. One Dutch group Dutch Awareness is upcycling a certain type of textile and making uniforms.
LAUNCH Circular talk about ‘closing the loop’ and ‘closed loop solutions’. What do those terms mean?
Closing the loop is a theory that was first discussed in the USA around 10-15 years ago. It suggests that systems where we can keep using the same materials, the same resources, over and over are the most efficient and sustainable. There is a difference between cycling down, recycling or upcycling a material. If you down cycle you are getting the maximum out of a material but creating a second product that is worth less than the first. Recycling is good, but upcycling has the highest and best sustainable impact because you are taking a used product and producing a new product worth more. In the last few years the theory has becoming a reality. We, Kvadrat, are investing in a company called REALLY that will help us to create our own circular economy. REALLY produce a composite material, made from used textiles.
Launch Circular is designed to aid and propel sustainable solutions and as a core partner you help others achieve their ambitions. But how does being involved in LAUNCH Circular directly benefit your own sustainable path at Kvadrat?
It has helped us to move faster in the area of sustainability than we would otherwise have could. The research we do with the new innovators involves different institutions and experts and makes for an especially diverse pool of knowledge. Those learning exercises are very exciting and we benefit directly from them. Our challenge is to make sure we collect and anchor the knowledge that comes out of those sessions. And to go on to create real situations ourselves where we can see innovations applied directly.
Would you like to see more industries or public bodies join you and come on board with the Launch Circular project?
Absolutely. We have one or two new partners in the pipeline right now. And now there is dialogue about how to create a closer alliance between LAUNCH in the USA and LAUNCH Circular.
What is the single most important thing you would like to see Launch Circular achieve?
To help a company outside of the LAUNCH Circular group to become very successful. That is my first goal. That would be the first milestone and then, going forward, I want us to reenergise our own industry over the next five or six years. Kvadrat has been a Good Citizen: With our environmental management system, with our products that are sustainable from a lifestyle perspective, with our use of clean energy and efficient production. But we want to go from simply being a Good Citizen to being progressive/aggressive in our sustainable approach. We are looking to change focus and become braver.