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29 March 2022 - Reading the Renovation Wave: a blog from Mirella Vitale, SVP Marketing, Communication and Public Affairs at ROCKWOOL Group

Beyond the intensifying climate crisis, the geopolitics of natural resources are making the necessity of lowering our dependency on energy supplies ever more obvious. The EU Sustainable Products Initiative (SPI), expected this month, will allow consumers, the environment, and the climate to benefit from products that are more durable, reusable, repairable, recyclable and energy efficient. While the legislation will work as a horizontal framework laying out the overarching rules, it is expected to focus on specific products, setting gold standards for durable and recyclable products.

Because buildings are here to stay, their materials need to meet longer life-span requirements than most products. But not only do they need to last more than 50 years, they must be easily re-usable and be recyclable. Without these must-haves, the Renovation Wave might bring with it a waste wave.

The good news is that our homes, offices, and factories are starting to have a reduced negative impact on climate change as existing buildings are renovated and new ones constructed to be highly energy efficient, as well as being fire resilient and offering greater acoustic comfort.

Existing technologies offer sustainable solutions that are already fostering circular economic models. But we need to aim for a deeper circularity if we want the Renovation Wave to contribute effectively to the Green Deal’s objectives – by incentivising recyclable building materials and products that can avoid becoming waste.

Several questions still surround the SPI proposal, with notable uncertainty regarding what to expect for construction products. Yet, only careful attention to a proper product sustainability definition for the construction sector will help achieve full circularity.

Recycled content is not enough.

While it might be tempting for policymakers to just adopt recycled content targets, they alone would not be able to help reach the complex objectives of circularity. Circular products and materials are products and materials that can guarantee durability of performance, continuous recyclability and use recycled content at a level not compromising recyclability and performance. Recycled content can mean many different things in construction products and materials, so it cannot work as a single goal, and it has to take into account the optimal technicalities of each material.

Meeting minimum requirements for recycled content is no guarantee of circularity for any product if other circular objectives are not taken sufficiently into account, especially because if not set optimally, it might lead to adverse effects such as downcycling or shorter life spans. Only together with the recognition of the continuous recyclability and durability of construction products will ensure sustainability throughout the sector.

To make sustainable products the norm, we need common definitions for durability,  recyclability and recycled content that enhance circularity. We need to incentivise responsible manufacturing and create a level playing field for recyclability, alongside support for proven producer responsibility schemes, which help in assessing the effectiveness of self-declared information for recyclability.

The users of construction products are also critical decision-makers in this process.  The SPI, if to cover the construction products, must be designed to provide consumers with all the information they need to compare and assess product durability and recyclability so they can make sustainable choices.

Comprehensive and harmonised EU labelling is a priority, as well as establishing a level playing field for take-back schemes and recycling efforts. Similarly, waste management legislation needs to be made more consistent, so that classified waste and recyclable materials can be properly shipped and managed across Europe and not end up in cheap landfills, polluting our soils.

We need a sustainable product initiative that enables sustainable and thoughtful producers to deliver on the green agenda. An SPI that sees sector-specific realities as key to reaching its ambitious targets and objectives. An SPI that empowers actors throughout the value chain, including consumers.

Then this legislation will rock.

Mirella Vitale, SVP Marketing, Communication and Public Affairs, ROCKWOOL Group

Read the Materials and Product’s Taskforce’s policy briefing on the Sustainable Products Initiative here.

Learn more about the Taskforce here.

About the author:


Mirella A. Vitale is the Chief Marketing Officer and Senior Vice President of Marketing, Communication and Public Affairs for the ROCKWOOL Group. Mirella also holds a board position in EURIMA (European Mineral Wool Association) and is on the Advisory board of the Global CMO Council. The ROCKWOOL Group is the world’s leading manufacturer of stone wool solutions offering a range of high-performing, sustainable insulation products for the construction industry and specialist solutions for horticultural, marine and offshore sectors.

Mirella joined ROCKWOOL in the Group Management position in February 2016 after the company announced its ambitious business transformation program and has successfully driven the ROCKWOOL Group´s re-positioning as a truly international brand with a strong sustainability agenda, increased customer centricity and digital transformation.  Mirella leads a division which includes Product Management, Commercial Excellence, Public Affairs, Marketing, Digital channels and Sustainability across all the five ROCKWOOL brands.

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Guest articles on the blog do not necessarily represent the views of, or endorsement by, the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership or the wider University of Cambridge.

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