Taking a long-term view is the only way to avoid unintended consequences
Sustainable in every sense
As one of the world’s leading steel producers, we are dedicated to both managing our operations responsibly and to continuous improvement. We are driving our class leading low CO2 steel making with an ambition to be a carbon neutral steelmaker by 2050. Today, through embracing innovation and new technologies, we are producing products that enable our customers to become more sustainable, whether that is lighter steel products or products that are guaranteed to be more durable, thereby extending their life cycle. A key enabler of more sustainable and circular economic products is the ability to capture data associated with the product during the whole of its lifecycle.
From birth certificate to passport
When we understand the provenance and history of our products, we can use this information to extend the useful life of that product. This can be an extension of the current use of the product, or reusing the product for a different purpose. All of which help to reduce the use of resources which are required to make the product ‘from scratch’. To accomplish this, we need to gather all kinds of data. We need the ability to manage and build data which contains information about:
- Where the product came from
- What the product is made from
- What impact it had on the environment during manufacturing
This historical data could be termed a ‘material birth certificate’. However if we are to extend the useful life of a product we also need to understand what it has experienced in its lifetime (telling us about its condition). We might term this the ‘material passport’ which will explain the impact of the environment on the material/product itself (during its use).
With current available technologies it is possible for in-use data to be captured by sensors, a sensor for ultraviolet degradation on the external face of a façade panel for example. Such data also gives us valuable insights into the performance of products and how we can improve them.
Such data could also deliver other forms of value generation and lead to new circular economic business models. Utilising such ‘in-use’ data to drive more efficient and cost effective maintenance regimes for construction products, can help to ensure that we are maximising the value of those products at the end of their design life – if they are in good condition, well maintained, they will be worth more and much less likely to go to landfill. There is however a natural tension for a product manufacturer to strategically aim for creating less demand in the future (ie enable reuse of its products). Therefore the ability of manufacturers to embrace circular economic principals and technology enablers, to create value streams for their products whilst they are in-use, will help to deliver sustainability in every sense.
As we speak, at Tata Steel, we are creating a number of digital platforms for our products. This will deliver products which are marked and, when scanned, lead you directly to a database with the historical data, or “birth certificate” of that material. Through working with the supply chain we can create a chain of data which captures the ‘in use’ variables which are consistently being added to during different stages of the life cycle. This will enhance the value of these materials/products making disposal much less likely and circular economic use much more likely.
Whilst steel is already one of the most circular economic materials in the world (almost all steel is recycled) the vision and work described above aims to create a model in which the whole construction sector is interlinked, and thereby can be efficient, safe and sustainable.
This is a significant challenge and there are a lot of steps to take. The first step is to make people aware of our ambition so that they can expand our engagement to accelerate our ambition to be ‘sustainable in every sense’.