Reducing carbon footprints, corporate responsibility and circular economy – three megatrends that are changing the world. The construction industry, along with Destaclean’s CEO Tanja Rytkönen, is located firmly at the intersection of these three trends. All three trends bring their own challenges to the table, but change also presents an infinite world of opportunities in terms of business and technology.
According to the Finnish Ministry of the Environment, the construction industry is responsible for approximately 35 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and 30 per cent of waste globally. Estimates in Finland vary depending on calculation method and who is making the estimate, but the construction industry’s potential for reducing emissions, promoting circular economies and reducing usage of raw materials is significant here as well.
The circular economy company Destaclean is a Finnish operator whose business is based on the responsible processing and recycling of waste produced during construction and demolition.
“We help our customers achieve their circular economy goals. This is our aim in the future as well – we want to work closer and closer with our customers to develop a circular economy,” says Destaclean’s CEO Tanja Rytkönen.
Destaclean offers a comprehensive waste management service for construction sites and industry, receives waste at its recycling centres and processes waste into fuel for energy production or raw materials for recycling.
“When it comes to waste processing, separate collection of different types of waste is everything. We already have technological solutions for this, and our reports to our customers support that fact. At construction sites, the process of identifying materials still has some shortcomings that are waiting for a technological solution, but the solutions needed to mechanically sort construction waste are mostly already there,” Rytkönen explains.
Circular economies are advancing throughout Europe
The recycling of construction waste is developing constantly. These days, hardly any waste finds its way to the landfill anymore. However, the process of achieving this is no small feat.
“Circular economies start at the planning table. Sustainable choices need to be made at the very beginning of the process in the form of sustainable materials. What we as a waste management company do at the end of the products’ lifecycle is only one aspect of the solution. That’s why comprehensive cooperation between different operators is crucial,” Rytkönen explains.
Circular economies are becoming one of the primary ways of reducing emissions. Pressure to show results comes from both consumers and political bodies. The European Green Deal speeds up plastic reuse and recycling in the construction industry. Finland’s national circular economy programme contains recommendations and 41 action proposals that aim to make circular economies the bedrock of the Finnish economy by 2035. The programme’s key proposals concern promoting circular economy in the construction industry.
Bottlenecks and untapped potential
Circular economies also come with their own challenges. One significant bottleneck is the limited use of recycled raw materials, which Rytkönen says is an important area of development.
“People often feel that recycled materials should be cheaper than virgin materials, but producing recycled materials can be more expensive. A lot of it is down to people’s attitudes, and technological development can solve certain challenges related to the cost of manufacture,” Rytkönen says.
Circular economies are also believed to create new business opportunities in the construction industry, both in Finland and around the world.
The EU has estimated that circular economy in the construction industry could create 6.5 million new jobs in the EU by 2030. In Finland, estimates have hovered around 5,000 new jobs and an increase in GDP of approximately EUR 1.7 billion. The opportunities are endless.
“Finland wants to be a forerunner in circular economies. Developing circular economies requires good technology and skills, as well as a strong desire to make advances. We have all these prerequisites. Corporate responsibility in Finland is also quite strong – companies want to stick to goals and directives. That will help us achieve these goals,” Rytkönen says.
Corporate responsibility is the new black – but change needs to be genuine
At Destaclean, which operates in the sphere of circular economies, corporate responsibility is an inseparable part of the company’s business activities. At the same time, corporate responsibility reaches into the orientation process and operating methods. It can be found in places like employees’ annual targets.
“In circular economies, sustainability is a given, but when it comes to corporate responsibility, there are three aspects that all need to be taken into account: financial, ecological and social. When corporate responsibility has been genuinely internalised, it brings new perspectives to business. It can even be a strategic advantage. Corporate responsibility also makes hiring easier and strengthens employees’ commitment to their work,” Rytkönen says.
Rytkönen firmly believes that corporate responsibility is the new black. However, it needs to be genuine, not just an aesthetic.
“Customers expect more and more when it comes to corporate responsibility. If your corporate responsibility is only surface level, if it’s only about slogans and marketing materials and you haven’t internalised the changes you need to make, you are misleading your customers, your employees and yourself,” Rytkönen says.
In the long term, a surface-level commitment is not enough. Change needs to reach deep into your decision-making process and how you structure your operations.