Circularity as an Intelligent Solution

Sustainability is no longer just a matter of image for businesses; these days it is essential. Once a secondary consideration, sustainability is now an integral part of corporate strategy in modern businesses. And that’s great news, because society and politicians are demanding well-thought-out responses to the question of how we create a world that’s worth living in.

These are responses that STILL is keen to provide. It is no longer enough to simply think about sustainability more immediately, intelligently, and comprehensively; instead we need to act on these concerns. For an intralogistics specialist like STILL, circularity and the circular economy are key. In an ideal world, resources would not be depleted and no waste would be produced. Circularity truly is smart sustainability in action.

A Compelling Example

When asked why this is the case, Frank Müller, Senior Vice President Sales & Service Business Development, refers to a powerful ideal: “Nature has always shown us the way. For something to go on forever, it has to be a cycle.” It is also becoming increasingly obvious that the traditional linear model of industrial value creation reached its limits long ago. This is a model STILL never embraced; instead, circularity has long been the custom in the company and a central part of its DNA.

Hans Still, the company’s founder, began refurbishing electric motors in Hamburg in 1920. Back then, speed, reliability, and quality were the cornerstones of the company’s corporate identity, as was sustainability, although this buzzword was not yet in widespread use. Product durability—or a long product life cycle as we would say today—was a key consideration and expectation. As well as focusing on the development and production of modern industrial trucks, STILL has continued to prioritize durability and reuse ever since. The company has operated refurbishment centers and sold second-hand trucks far longer than most of its competitors. And although this is not a fully closed-loop cycle, it is a vital starting point when thinking circularity through to its logical conclusion—the ‘cradle-to-cradle principle’. To this end, STILL pursues a unique holistic approach known as the STILL circularity concept.

A Plan of Action

Concepts require a plan and a schedule. STILL follows a roadmap that contains clearly defined goals for the development and timely implementation of its plans at all three levels of circularity:

  • Sustainable products, such as automated and CO₂-saving technologies on new forklift truck models
  • Closed production cycles, such as using STILL’s own foundry
  • Circular business models, such as asset lifecycle management

A key focus of STILL’s plans is to obtain cradle-to-cradle certifications, since these promote aspects such as limiting the use of harmful materials, optimizing product life cycles, safeguarding the climate, and preserving water and soil resources. Asset lifecycle management is another strategy that STILL has used extensively and effectively over many years to promote aspects such as first and second product lives, component recycling, reuse of lithium-ion batteries, and ultimately recovery and recirculation of 95% of these battery components back into production. Also included are scope 3 emissions, which emphasize that sustainability does not end at the company’s factory gates but extends to include STILL suppliers and customers as well.

CO₂ and RXE Examples

STILL’s sustainability strategy sets concrete environmental goals and focuses on re-imagining the company’s product range. In terms of emissions, the company set itself the target of cutting CO₂ emissions 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’. In 2022, STILL presented its concept study for the next generation of RXE electric forklift trucks. “This study likely marks the first time that forklift trucks will be designed, produced, and used as entirely circular products—right from the very first pencil stroke,” explains Frank Müller. The following CO₂ savings are planned: 15% within the supply chain, 50% in production, and 25% in use. Circularity beyond the product itself has also already been considered, and (amongst other steps) will be guaranteed by a pre-planned product life cycle and certified in line with the CSR certification provided by international assessment platform EcoVadis.

The Human Factor

Circularity always takes into account the human factor. Safety, user-friendliness, and health are all crucial elements of a successful circular economy, and this applies both to STILL employees and our customer’s employees. We design our products to make work easier for people. Ergonomics and safety are therefore two vital factors and we have developed many product features aimed at addressing these. We also have numerous other technologies that facilitate low-wear, low-emission, and therefore more sustainable operations, including vehicle assistance systems, smart charging management, and semi- and fully automated trucks and processes.

A Closed Loop on the Horizon

Complete circularity remains a distant goal, but it is getting closer. By 2027, STILL aims to implement more flagship projects in addition to the RXE truck, ranging from sustainable product design to lifetime management solutions. Circularity is smart sustainability, and this enables STILL to live up to its slogan of ‘Making intralogistics smart. Together.’ Frank Müller is convinced: “Smart solutions that are founded on circularity are precisely what our market, and ultimately our world, needs.”

Portrait Frank Müller

Smart solutions that are founded on circularity are precisely what our market, and ultimately our world, needs.

Frank Müller, Senior Vice President Sales & Service Business Development