How LCA contributes to Houtwerf's circular mission

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You must have seen or heard about it; regarding sustainability there is on various companies a lot of pressure from environmental organisations, consumers, retailers and the government. More and more companies and organizations are starting to make plans to meet the sustainability requirements that are expected of them (and partly imposed). It seems as if the international timber wholesaler Houtwerf saw this coming, because they have been working on operating circularly instead of linearly for a number of years now. The purchasing of their products plays a major role in that transition. Martin Meewisse, purchasing manager at Houtwerf, explains how his department purchases as sustainably as possible, what Greenhouse Sustainability and life cycle assessment mean to them and how this contributes to Houtwerf's sustainable mission.

The relationship between purchasing and sales

Martin always says: "Purchasing is in the service of sales." When the sales department wants a certain product, it is up to purchasing to find that product from the right manufacturer. But how does purchasing play a major role in Houtwerf's sustainable mission? What is purchased determines what is sold and the sale radiates what the company stands for. In short, how the company wants to profile itself in the market starts with what is being purchased.

The role of purchasing in sustainability

The buyer is the first one to get in contact with the producer. During the introduction between buyer and producer, Martin determines whether a producer is a suitable partner and meets the sustainable requirements that Houtwerf sets for products. In that decision, mandated regulation also plays a role. Wood in itself is a sustainable product because it is renewable, as long as it is produced in a responsible manner. Houtwerf has opted for FSC® and PEFC™ certified wood wherever possible. These certificates ensure that the forest where the wood grows is kept under control. During purchasing, Martin therefore focuses on these certificates for responsible product lines. But these regulations are not (yet) about sustainability.

Houtwerf wants to develop further. In 2019, the wood wholesaler formulated a new vision and mission, in which they stated to have a fully circular range by the year 2050. They are therefore fully committed to reducing their environmental impact.

Creating circular product lines

With the new mission and vision in mind, Houtwerf hired a student in 2019 who researched the new trend: circularity. The student, J.Koene, researched, among other things, what the definitions of 'circular economy' are and how it can be applied within Houtwerf. It became an idea to create circular product lines. Houtwerf continued to expand this. They have started working with various partners on the development and production of circular wood products. The wood wholesaler strives to migrate agro-residues by giving old, no longer productive trees from (food) plantations a second life and processing them into new products. Houtwerf currently has various circular products in its range: Falcata, Rubberwood and Fiberboards.

Wat maakt duurzaamheid aantoonbaar?

But how can you convince people that products are actually circular? “It was difficult to demonstrate the circularity of a product until Life Cycle Assessment, came into the picture,” says Martin. A life cycle assessment is a method of mapping the environmental impact of a product throughout its entire life cycle. So from the extraction of raw materials, production, transport, use to waste processing. After this discovery, Houtwerf wanted to use LCA as a means of guaranteeing customers the impact of Houtwerf's products. This was the moment that Houtwerf called in the LCA specialists of Greenhouse Sustainability to get started.

Martin Meewisse, Purchasing manager Houtwerf

It was difficult to demonstrate the circularity of a product until LCA came into the picture.

The life cycle assessment process

"When you want to calculate the environmental impact of products, you need good cooperation with the producer, because you do look into someone's kitchen," emphasizes Martin. Houtwerf is not a producer, so the purchasing department has to explain to the relations what exactly they ask of them for an LCA. “This was a very interesting question for producers,” says Martin. How did they deal with that? “Well, there were a number of producers who had a lot of questions about the term circular economy and what it exactly entails, because that is not necessarily something they were initially concerned with.” Martin then links the producer to an LCA-specialist of Greenhouse Sustainability, so that he can send a questionnaire to the producer for data collection. The moment the LCA-specialist receives data from the producer, he can carry out the LCA. As soon as the calculation is completed, this is also shown to the producer.

The benefits of a life cycle assessment

A correct life cycle analysis provides insight into the environmental impact of the purchased product. It also shows what can be improved in the entire process. The producer also gains insight into where possible savings can be made. This makes Houtwerf attractive for producers and suppliers to have as a customer.

A way to counter climate change

So how can LCAs affect a company? It makes sustainability demonstrable and measurable. Martin believes that LCAs are becoming more popular and that together with existing standards they will mean more and more in the circular market. Houtwerf is therefore proud to be in the middle of this development and to contribute to combating climate change in this way.

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