Circular Philadelphia is proud to announce that Saint-Gobain has become our Gold Level Sponsor to help our organization continue advancing the circular economy in the Philadelphia region.
Like many companies, Saint-Gobain had to refocus strategic priorities as they navigated the very immediate complexities of the pandemic. But when Saint-Gobain’s Vice President of Environmental Social Governance and Managing Director for Circular Solutions for North America Dennis Wilson saw Circular Philadelphia’s Sam Wittchen post about an upcoming presentation on deconstruction at the Green Building United Symposium in May 2022, it aligned well with the next phase of their pursuit of greater circularity in their operations and the launch of their new Circular Economy Solutions business.
“We were and are really trying to understand the incentives for our customers to do things like deconstruction and returning materials back into circular systems,” Wilson explains. “So the presentation around incentives for deconstruction really piqued my interest and seems to be perfectly situated to help us be able to develop a whole ecosystem around circularity, in particular around population centers.”
Saint-Gobain is a 357-year-old French company, and the largest building products manufacturer in the world (their storied history includes making the 17th-century hall of mirrors in Versailles). With a global purpose of Making the World a Better Home, the company makes everything from abrasives for medical products to parts for cars and airplanes. But it’s the plethora of building products for both residential and commercial development that pose the greatest opportunity for collaboration with Circular Philadelphia.
“I think that the pandemic really highlighted challenges that we see in supply chains,” Wilson explains. “I think we need to be looking at materials as though they’re resources and not waste. Taking these linear business models that we’ve had forever and bending them so that we can turn materials back at their highest value to serve as raw materials in our products again is essential to meeting our goals and continuing our business for another 357 years.”
Saint-Gobain has a net zero CO2 goal by 2050 that has been validated by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) with a shorter-term goal of -33% by 2030. Wilson is also adamant that the foundation for those goals has to be built on circularity. “Raw materials and reducing the carbon embedded in those materials is a key lever toward achieving our CO2 and circular economy goals and sponsorship of Circular Philadelphia is a key milestone toward development of partnerships that help us get there.”
Saint-Gobain is already impressed with the wide range of member businesses that Circular Philadelphia serves from small non-profits and start-ups to major corporations and universities. But Wilson plans to leverage Saint-Gobain’s partnership with Circular Philadelphia to expand and strengthen the network of partners for both organizations in order to grow those critical connections that are needed for circular supply chains.
“I think we need to be looking at materials as though they’re resources and not waste.”
-Dennis Wilson, Vice President of Environmental Social Governance and Managing Director for Circular Solutions for North America
Saint-Gobain also hopes to contribute to Circular Philadelphia by taking an active role in policy development. One major objective is to ensure that Philadelphia is incentivizing circularity in an effective way. Wilson gives examples ranging from issues like the illegal dumping of materials in empty lots to getting contractors to sort materials correctly so they can be used as valuable materials for future construction projects. Wilson sees the existing energy and partners Circular Philadelphia already has to address these issues through initiatives like the Built Environment Working Group as a perfect vehicle for making an impact.
But what excites Wlison and Saint-Gobain even more about this partnership is the opportunity to develop and test these new models of circularity for building materials right here on the local level. Wilson points out that as a French company, Saint-Gobain has learned a lot and has been guided along through novel circular economy practices in the European Union, including policies like extended producer responsibility. So it will be useful to bring these operational learnings and experience to Circular Philadelphia. But working to apply these learnings and experiences, particularly in Philadelphia, is what’s going to make a circular supply chain a reality in the US.
As a native of Pittsburgh, this hits home for Wilson. Growing up in the shadow of the steel mills and witnessing the environmental and social costs of the rise and fall of that industry in his hometown, he knows the importance of social and environmental corporate responsibility. Saint-Gobain’s purpose to “Make the World a Better Home” is near and dear to his heart along with the company’s guiding principle not only of their striving for net zero, but also working with partners such as Circular Philadelphia to make a real impact.
“In the US, waste has not been something I think as a society we’ve taken tremendously seriously until recently, and I’ve joked that the only thing circular about circularity is to talk about circularity,” Wilson laments before ending on a tone of hope. “But it’s finally actually starting to happen and that’s exciting.”
Photo credit: Jeffrey Totaro