In a world where environmental consciousness is increasingly important for businesses and consumers alike, industries are working to become more sustainable. Nowhere is this more evident than in metal production, where innovative practices and collaborative efforts are reshaping today’s landscape; we’re seeing a green metals revolution take place, driven by low-carbon aluminium and steel production and advances in recycling. Written by Trond Olaf Christophersen’s (pictured), CFO of Hydro.

From eco-conscious consumers opting for products with lower carbon footprints, epitomised by the success of and increasing number of second-hand selling apps, to businesses aligning with Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals, the shift towards sustainability is undeniable. The journey towards sustainability in metal production is multifaceted, driven by a collective commitment to impact the planet less, prompting producers to explore greener practices and material options. 

The Role of Design in Driving Sustainability
At the intersection of sustainability and innovation lies design. Designers hold significant influence in shaping the environmental impact of products, with approximately 80% of a product’s environmental footprint determined during the design phase. This underscores the importance of integrating sustainability into the design process of the green metals revolution from the outset.

Specifically, designers play a pivotal role in driving sustainability via:

  • Selection of eco-friendly materials: They can choose materials with lower energy requirements and source from suppliers with responsible practices like sustainable forestry or recycled content.
  • Extending a product’s life cycle: Through strategies like making repairs and product upgrades ingrained into initial designs, or designing for multi-functionality, designers can encourage consumers to keep and use products for longer.
  • End-of-life considerations: Designers can prioritise recyclability or biodegradability to minimise landfill waste. They can also explore innovative concepts like product-as-a-service models, where ownership remains with the manufacturer and encourages responsible material recovery.

By collaborating with material producers and embracing these sustainable design principles, designers can create products that not only meet consumer demands but also contribute to a more circular economy, where resources are kept in use for longer and waste is reduced. 

Understanding this collaborative approach in the metals industry can lead to a future where design is a powerful force for positive environmental change.

Collaborative Efforts in the Green Metals Revolution

The path towards sustainable metals production isn’t a solitary trek, but a shared journey. Imagine producers and designers working hand-in-hand, championing eco-friendly solutions at every step. A good example of this collaborative spirit comes from Hydro’s innovative CIRCAL 100R, the first ever aluminium alloy made entirely from post-consumer waste. This project, recently showcased at Milan Design Week 2024, underlines the power of partnerships with designers to drive sustainability in the metals industry.

Since designers have significant influence on material selection, open communication is key. Hydro’s push for clear labelling empowers designers to make informed choices. Knowing a material’s environmental impact allows designers to avoid “greenwashing” and make truly sustainable design decisions, benefiting both the environment and consumers.

Projects like CIRCAL 100R showcase the true potential of collaboration and knowledge sharing within the industry. By transforming everyday scraps into attractive, functional design objects with mass production potential, they inspire manufacturers to embrace sustainable practices.

Ultimately, consumer choices drive demand for sustainable products. Collaboration extends to educating consumers about the environmental impact of materials. When consumers understand the choices they make, they are empowered to shop with a focus on sustainability. Consumers are increasingly demanding visibility into the origins and environmental impact of the products they purchase, driving companies to prioritise transparency throughout the supply chain. By providing clear labelling and traceability information, companies can build trust and accountability with consumers. This transparency not only fosters consumer confidence but also incentivises companies to adopt greener practices and materials. 

Hydro is committed to this approach, aiming to recycle post-consumer scrap ranging from 850,000 to 1.2 million tonnes by 2030, helping to drive a NOK 2 billion greener earnings uplift – a significant leap forward.

The CIRCAL 100R project generally serves as a roadmap for unlocking progress in sustainable metals production. This helps to pave the way for a circular economy for metals, where resources are maximised and waste minimised. The CIRCAL 100R is just one example, but it exemplifies the promise of working together to tackle the wider issue of sustainable production across many industries.

The Road Ahead: Navigating Challenges and Embracing Opportunities

While significant progress has been made in the green metals revolution, challenges remain on the path towards sustainability. From technological barriers to regulatory hurdles, stakeholders must navigate a complex landscape to achieve meaningful change.

However, amidst these challenges lie opportunities for innovation and collaboration. By leveraging technology, embracing circular economy principles, and fostering partnerships across industries, stakeholders can overcome barriers and accelerate the transition towards sustainable metals production.

The green metals revolution is not just a trend—it’s a fundamental shift towards a more sustainable future. By harnessing the power of collaboration, innovation, and sustainability, stakeholders across the metals industry can pave the way for a greener, more prosperous world.