A Fresh Approach!

Circularity is central to the intralogistics of the future and this is a key concept when it comes to STILL’s approach to sustainability. In 2022, the company carried out a concept study for a new generation of trucks based on the cradle-to-cradle (C2C) principle. The study analyzed the complete circular life cycle of a forklift truck, including the recycling and refurbishment of every possible component. According to the findings, the potential for carbon savings exceeded 10%. Here, Eva Virtute, Advocacy & Product Sustainability & Competence Center Sustainability Director at KION, and Frank Müller, Senior Vice President Sales & Service Business Development at STILL discuss the results in an interview.

Ms. Virtute, C2C is an important concept. What would you say are the biggest challenges identified by the STILL concept study?

Absolutely. Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C) represents a fascinating and new approach when designing products and applying the circular economy principles to all of our manufacturing and supply chain processes. I believe there are two key challenges that make a difference: establishing an environmental mindset and encouraging supplier involvement. The first means that we consider circularity right from the initial design stage. We need to understand what a truck might look like that is truly circular in design and also fulfills customer expectations. The second means that we need to make sure our suppliers are on board, so that they provide us with all necessary information in line with the C2C processes. A good example of this is information on green steel.

And what are the greatest opportunities that you see?

That we can make a difference and have a positive impact on our planet’s health. C2C demands that we find new solutions by combining innovative digital technologies, such as AI, with sustainability goals, such as energy efficiency improvements. C2C also opens the door to new business models and new approaches to resource utilization. After all, scarce resources are one of the major drivers of this change.

Mr. Müller, you understand the needs of STILL’s customers. Is a circular truck something that they’re looking for?

Yes. It’s clear that this is a topic that interests our customers. Most tenders for our major customers already include information on sustainability, any relevant certification, and our carbon footprint as standard, but our motivation goes a layer deeper. If we use recyclable materials that disappear into landfill, or recycling facilities, this only saves a fraction of the material. I believe that the linear model of industrial value creation reached its limits long ago. If you follow the circular economy to its logical conclusion, you almost inevitably land upon C2C. These days, this is undisputed in most industries. The transition to a circular economy is the most significant transformation in the industrial era. Leaders in this transition have the opportunity to become industry ‘game changers’.

What are the most important requirements when it comes to ‘marketable circularity’?

Where has the material come from? And where is it going? The answers to these two questions must always be sought. These, in turn, raise further questions: What do we need to buy? Do our suppliers operate in line with sustainability criteria? How can we design products that require less material, less energy, and less labor to manufacture? How can we achieve a longer service life and product use phase? Are there areas where we can use recycled or sustainable bio-based materials for production in future and can we reduce both our own and our customer’s environmental footprint? All these aspects must be taken into account right from the product development phase. This is challenging, but it offers financial benefits too, since we are able to reduce material dependencies and therefore keep costs stable or even reduce them. In view of today’s unpredictable price trends for energy and materials, this is a major advantage.

Ms. Virtute, is it possible for STILL to establish an effective and functional material cycle on a greater scale?

It’s true that STILL does not yet have an entirely circular value chain; however we have reached some vital milestones and have a clear roadmap ahead of us. Our target is to cut our energy usage in production by 30% by 2027 compared to 2017. In fact, the company already achieved this goal during the pandemic, so this target needs to be maintained and extended now that business is back to ‘normal’. By 2024, we will set out a strategy and action plans to achieve this, at which point we will also launch a flagship project based on the C2C principle. To this end, we have already set up a new department which collaborates with several internal departments to pool experience, so that long-term an entirely circular approach becomes the ‘new normal’.

Mr. Müller, is it also necessary for customers to reevaluate?

When it comes to the circular economy, we all need to reevaluate. We can only achieve this goal by working together. All our efforts would be in vain if our suppliers and customers did not join us on this journey. That’s why we’re supporting them in implementing their own sustainability strategies, so that together we can lay the foundations for our shared long-term success. After all, the circular economy is about smart sustainability, not some utopian vision.

Eva Virtute

We find new solutions by combining innovative digital technologies, such as AI, with sustainability goals, such as energy efficiency improvements.

Eva Virtute, Advocacy & Product Sustainability & Competence Center Sustainability Director