Circularity Circularity approach

Target: 80 percent of ABB products and solutions are covered by our circularity approach

ABB circularity approach
ABB circularity approach
ABB circularity approach (graphic)

Our comprehensive circularity approach is built around a framework that drives circularity in our own operations and enables our customers to become more circular. By 2030, we aim to innovate towards new circular business models, covering all stages of the product lifecycle:

  • We consider the entire product lifecycle at the design and sourcing stage. Our goal is to develop products and solutions that can be produced in a resource-efficient manner that minimizes the use of virgin or hazardous materials. At the same time, we ensure that our product design takes various aspects of circularity into account, such as extended lifetime, repairability, modularity and recyclability, among others.
  • In the production phase, we work to eliminate or recycle any waste generated by our processes and packaging.
  • Once our products are in service, we help our customers maximize the efficiency and lifetime of their equipment.
  • At the end of the product lifecycle, we seek to ensure that products can be refurbished whenever possible, or dismantled and recycled. Steel, aluminum, copper and plastics make up the majority of materials used in our products. Most of these materials are reclaimable at the end of a product’s life, and we design our products with this in mind. 

Examples of how we cover the four stages of the circularity approach at ABB

Product design and sourcing

In order to make our product design and sourcing processes more circular, in 2021, we continued to implement a series of projects intended to identify fully renewable, recyclable or biodegradable resource inputs for our manufactured products. At ABB’s site in Porvoo, Finland, we are using post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastics for the manufacture of box supports and distance rings for our System Ideal range of flush-mounted electrical boxes. The System Ideal components are made of up to 50 percent recycled plastic, depending on the application. Thanks to circular product designs like System Ideal, in 2021, the total weight of recycled materials used in Porvoo was 64,000 kg, resulting in a reduction of some 96,000 kg of GHG emissions. We will continue to develop and release new products made from PCR plastics. Also in 2021, at our site in Ede in the Netherlands, in partnership with Ultrapolymers BC, we began to use PCR plastics for the production of surface-mounted junction boxes. By the third year of this project, we expect that each kilogram of recycled plastics used will result in an associated CO2e reduction of 1.5 kg.

Production and packaging

In 2021, we carried out initiatives to make our production and packaging more circular. At our Ede site, for example, we made changes to ensure that input materials are reused to the fullest possible extent in our production processes. The materials left behind from our injection-molding processes are now shredded and reused; excess materials that fail to meet our production standards – such as those generated when the production equipment first starts up – are collected and shredded for reuse in non-critical items, such as marking jigs. At our Busch-Jaeger sites in Germany, we collected over 150 tons of plastic production waste and sent it for recycling by a partner, Geba Compounding, after which 43 percent was reused for production.

Water is necessary in many of our production processes and, in 2021, we continued to optimize our sites’ use of this vital resource. In India, for example, our site in Nelamangala, Bangalore, has put in place water reduction, water recycling and rainwater harvesting processes, among other conservation measures. The site’s water management system was assessed by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and certified as a “Water Positive” factory. Water-saving initiatives such as these resulted in a reduction of 12 percent in ABB’s total water withdrawals. Forty-seven percent of our water withdrawals were from stressed watersheds and amounted to 1,252 kilotons for the year, down 1.3 percent from 2020.

Packaging materials represented another focus area in 2021. Initiatives such as ABB Process Automation’s “Think Outside the Box” program reduced the amount of cardboard used at the Business Area’s site in Ossuccio, Italy, by an estimated 16.9 tons over the past year. Efforts to procure sustainably produced cardboard, certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), will result in facilities such as ABB Electrification’s plant in Frosinone, Italy, using these materials exclusively starting in 2022. 

Use phase

Once our products have been placed in service, we offer our customers a number of options to extend the lifecycle of their equipment. Retrofits, for example, extend the service life of existing drives and allow customers to replace only the essential components. By retaining the equipment’s original cabinets and cabling, electrical components and automation systems, retrofits enable customers to modernize their machinery with a minimum of investment, waste and interruption to normal operations.

Digitalization plays an important role in augmenting the positive impact of our products and solutions. Our digital solutions enable our clients to extend the lifetime of their assets through optimization, remote operations and preventative maintenance. For example, one of our digital solutions, ABB AbilityTM Genix, brings together the combined power of industrial analytics and artificial intelligence to help our customers unlock the value of contextualized data, improve industrial productivity and achieve operational excellence.

We also continued to explore new circular business models, such as outcome-based service models. Through this approach, customers could contract with ABB to deliver a specified level of cost savings, energy efficiency, water efficiency or raw material efficiency, among other actionable outcomes that relate to our domain expertise.

End-of-life phase

In 2021, we worked to incorporate products at the end of their lifecycle into our circularity approach by joining forces with sustainable recycling specialists and other partners. For example, in the Netherlands, ABB and HKS Metals forged a partnership that helps close the loop in the lifecycle of an electric motor. Through this agreement, HKS will collect and recycle obsolete ABB electric motors and then send the recovered raw materials to smelters across Europe to be melted down and made available to ABB for reuse in new products – including new motors.

In Sweden, ABB, Stena Recycling and SCA are also working together on motor recycling. Through this partnership, 11 tons of decommissioned motors have been processed by Stena Recycling. Nearly 100 percent of the material weight of these motors has been recycled, avoiding an estimated 34 tons of GHG emissions. In addition, an estimated 326 MWh of energy and more than 100,000 cubic meters of water were saved by not having to mine new metals.

In Italy, we collaborated with INTERSEROH TSR Italy for the collection and management of our products at the end of the lifecycle. Through this collaboration, ABB Electrification’s Smart Power Division can guarantee its customers that, when they replace an ABB product at the end of its lifecycle with a new ABB product, the discarded ABB product will be collected and more than 80 percent of its components will be recycled. Additionally, INTERSEROH TSR Italy will issue the customer a certificate of proper waste management, specifying the calculated amount of avoided GHG emissions.

Over the last 25 years, thousands of used robots have been given a second life by ABB’s remanufacturing teams, which refurbish and upgrade them. Peripheral equipment, such as controllers and manipulators, is also refurbished to “like-new” condition at ABB’s Global Remanufacture & Workshop Repair Centers. Remanufacturing enables existing robot users to sell redundant robots to ABB rather than scrapping or mothballing them. A lifecycle assessment undertaken in 2021 revealed that the process of refurbishing a robot releases roughly 75 percent fewer GHG emissions compared with manufacturing a new robot.

Case study Reinvigorating old equipment with new retrofit solutions

Two ABB employees at work Reveal case study