Thought Leadership

Sustainability is a process, for manufacturing the product is circularity

By Nick Finberg

The challenge to accelerate the shift to low- and no-carbon operations is critical for businesses to meet the demands of environmental regulation, consumer choice, and financial longevity. Companies pursuing value with sustainability and digital technologies are two and a half times more likely to become tomorrow’s strongest business according to Accenture. But, decarbonization is not a simple problem. It has roots in every process, in every company, of every industry around the world and untangling that knot requires businesses to harness their data and collaborate with partners, suppliers and distributors across the entire lifecycle of their products. To avoid a paralysis of choice among the nearly infinite paths to sustainability, data can help guide focus to actions with the greatest impact – it is a valuable commodity in the drive for decarbonization.

Starting with a system of systems

Even a relatively simple product relies on a complex web of suppliers, logistics experts, and manufacturers to bring it from concept to the hands of the customer. And every party in this network is creating relevant data on the product over its lifecycle. The first step towards decarbonization and sustainability is creating transparency and accessibility to this data, in both human-readable and machine-readable formats. This leads to actionable analysis and optimization from many more perspectives. Simulation model data, manufacturing data, real-world usage information, material data, and carbon-footprint data provides the understanding of the product or process, which can uncover and help prioritize the greatest potentials for creating a more sustainable product.

Working in an ecosystem

Even a company that optimizes its own production system internally still has more to improve because every industrial company is part of a larger network with suppliers, distributors, and other partners who all influence sustainability performance and decarbonization potential. Transparency in the value chain provides the shared understanding to collaboratively make decisions with the entire supplier network to reduce carbon emissions and build the framework for more complex optimizations later in time. Making the best decision demands data that reflects the carbon intensity and material utilization across the complete value chain. By connecting industrial ecosystems, companies get the transparency and intelligence needed for collective action with all their stakeholders to meet overall sustainability targets.

Roll it up into circularity

Understanding and optimizing a product for decarbonization targets over the complete lifecycle is a noble goal, but it is not simply a change in mindset for methods to engineer and manufacture the product. Designing products for disassembly and the re-use of their components is a culmination of the previous principles, to establish a circular material flow. Circularity is a goal to aspire to for many industries and businesses that need to go sustainable—products should be used as long as possible to minimize the emissions associated with manufacturing. Processes can only be made so efficient, so reducing the number of products is critical. That can be through repairing and replacing worn-out components in a complex product, reusing viable materials in a second life, or recycling materials that cannot be used directly. Circularity is not only a pathway to decarbonization, but it can be a great financial incentive to in many industries that rely on expensive and rare materials.

The first step is going digital

Decarbonization may not be a simple task for any business, but applying the power of digital solutions is a deployable first step toward a sustainable business. On top of enabling accelerated innovation in already complex products, interconnected digital tools provide the transparency into a business to best optimize between cost, quality, time and sustainability. Modern tools provide the space to design, manufacture, use, and decommission products collectively with partners and suppliers around the world.

Wherever a business is starting on the path to decarbonization, there are digital tools and physical solutions that can help make it happen. It starts with informing your digital twin with data from across the product lifecycle and ecosystems, and then evolves toward turning that data into collective intelligence and making informed decisions on your journey to net zero.

For the full story, be sure to check out Eryn Devola’s article in Smart Industry. As our vice president of sustainability at Siemens Digital Industries, she has her eye on the future of sustainability for our customers.

Siemens Xcelerator, the comprehensive and integrated portfolio of software and services from Siemens Digital Industries Software, helps companies of all sizes create and leverage a comprehensive digital twin that provides organizations with new insights, opportunities and levels of automation to drive innovation.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at