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An ecological solution for companies

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Patricia Brambilla and Alain Portner

Published

10.09.2020

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La Fabrique Circulaire, supported by the Migros Pioneer Fund, helps companies in Geneva that are concerned with the issue of sustainability.

The idea for La Fabrique Circulaire was born in the corridors of Sofies, a sustainability and circular ecology consultancy, and stems from the desire to help companies, more specifically SMEs, wishing to go green to develop strategies and adopt a leaner and more innovative approach. “It’s easy for large groups that have large volumes of materials and a critical size with the right skills to implement circular economy measures. But for SMEs in French-speaking Switzerland, the skills and the financial and human investment are often lacking. In addition to this, there are few support programmes on offer that are aimed at removing barriers. The idea is to bring them together to give them better possibilities for action,” explains Charlotte Jacquot, coordinator of La Fabrique Circulaire.

This was the inspiration for La Fabrique Circulaire, which was finalised at the end of 2020 and launched in June 2021 with the support of the Migros Pioneer Fund. The competition is open until 15 October 2021. Twenty Geneva companies will be able to benefit from support in return for a financial contribution. To be eligible, the companies must be classified as an SME (fewer than 250 employees), based in Geneva and belong to sectors of the economy that are particularly resource-intensive.

A total of 17 applications have already been received, of which 13 have been selected by a jury. «We have a good representation of the construction sector, the manufacturing industry (metal, lighting, micromechanics) and waste management, as well as agriculture, with the Union Maraîchère de Genève, which comprises 30 producers and promotes short food supply chains.»

Concrete measures

La Fabrique Circulaire will function as an accelerator for these companies, providing them with coaching for a period of 18 months. The process will involve a diagnosis to identify the potential and the challenges, followed by the establishment of a circular economy strategy. «It really is a joint process that will help companies to transform themselves, while creating synergies and facilitating networking with other companies in the same sector. Pooling what can be pooled, finding the resources the neighbour doesn’t have, is a very strong lever.»

In practical terms, this means that a construction company wishing to engage in the circular economy may have to learn to source recycled concrete, made from rubble and site waste, rather than using new concrete, which is extremely resource-intensive to manufacture in environmental terms. For market gardeners, it will be a question of producing food using renewable resources, transporting goods in a sustainable way by using trucks less or being more local. «Why process tomatoes from Geneva into puree in Zurich, to then be sold in Geneva? Shortening supply chains, processing in situ, taking a different approach to packaging, while guaranteeing freshness, taste and quality are the challenges facing market gardeners,» emphasises Charlotte Jacquot.

Most companies will have the opportunity to change their business model to become leaner and more circular. While the impact is the clearest in resource-intensive sectors that rely on industrial cycles, some service companies also have scope to adapt, such as a manufacturer that chooses to design glasses using wood, with more local materials.

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The aim is to reduce the amount of waste to be recycled.

Anne-Sophie Dunand-Blaeso Managing Director of Aprotec, Carouge in the canton of Geneva

«The aim is to reduce the amount of waste to be recycled.»

«Aprotec is a family business, founded by my grandfather in 1958 and then taken over by my father, Michel Blaesi. I joined the company six years ago. We have a total of 70 employees and work mainly in French-speaking Switzerland. Our speciality? Emergency lighting. The green signs with an arrow and a running man you see above the emergency exits of the cinema doors, for example – that’s us. We manufacture, sell and service our products. Awarded the ‹Swiss made› label in 2012, we’ve always tried to work in short supply chains. To remain attractive in the market and stay true to our values, we need to constantly adapt and seek new solutions to work locally. 

When I heard about La Fabrique Circulaire, I jumped at the chance. All approaches to sustainable development take time, energy and resources. I look forward to seeing La Fabrique Circulaire help us structure our business model even better, improve our strategy and enable us to acquire the best tools for doing so. Benefiting from support from professionals and being able to exchange with other participants who share the same values will be extremely worthwhile!

Aprotec’s Achilles heel? Certain materials, such as batteries, are unavailable in Switzerland. It’ll be difficult for us to improve on this aspect, but collaborating with other Geneva-based suppliers will enable us to find more local solutions for materials or packaging, for example. Working more with Geneva would save us time, and therefore enable us to be more competitive.

Ten years ago, we switched to LEDs in our emergency lighting, which are more energy-efficient and have a longer life. We manufacture our equipment in Zurich and Carouge. It goes without saying that our activities generate waste that has to be recycled, such as batteries and electrical wires. At the same time, we also receive products packaged in boxes that we don’t necessarily have a use for. If we think in terms of the circular economy, we could pass them on to another company that would give us other items in exchange. It’s about recycling, but the aim is also to reduce the amount of waste to be recycled. We need to find concrete solutions for reducing our carbon footprint.

And this isn’t just greenwashing – we have a strong and genuine desire to improve! I also expect a lot from research and innovation. The world is changing, and we have to be part of the process. This involves an in-depth and long-term approach that was started by my father. Our priorities in the management of our family business will always be based around the three pillars of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental.»

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I’d like to give materials a second life.

Edward Kernen Managing Director of AAV Contractors, Plan-les-Ouates in the canton of Geneva

«I’d like to give materials a second life.»

«For 10 years now, I’ve been running a family business that’s been in existence for around a century. We specialise in metal constructions, locksmithing, railings, staircases, industrial doors and building envelopes. We’re dedicated to improving customer service, team efficiency and satisfaction. We’re always concerned with the need to increase profitability, work under pressure and find new technical solutions.

But I also ask myself new questions such as ‘How can we improve our approach in relation to our local network and environmental issues?’ I strongly believe that regional exchange must be promoted. Of course, we need materials such as steel, aluminium, glass or powder coating from all over Europe. This is an aspect we can’t change. But I only know my own distribution network – perhaps there are alternatives?

I’d like to be able to select our suppliers better, to discover new ones, whether regional or European, but with more ecological sensitivity.  And I’d particularly like to find a way to make use of our waste. Each year, we produce 50 tonnes of steel and aluminium shavings, which are recycled in a basic way. Perhaps there’s another way to do this?

It’s all about taking a long-term approach to alternative supply chains and economic models. How can we support our customers in extending the life of their objects? We manufacture doors, facades and windows, but the maintenance work involved should be improved so that they’re not systematically thrown away and replaced. Similarly, the concept of reuse is by no means a common one in the case of building renovation in the construction sector. Currently, everything that is removed is then thrown away, or perhaps sometimes recycled. But it’s important to see how a material can be given a second life or reused in another project.

This is a fairly new approach. Twenty years ago, we didn’t have the means to consider these issues. But it’s a challenge I want to take up both personally and for the company. My hope is that, with La Fabrique Circulaire, we’ll be able to quantify our energy expenditure and calculate our CO2 balance sheet, develop a clearer vision that will enable us to establish indicators, choose our products better and find synergies.»

Photo/stage: Nicolas Righetti

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