The age of the circular economy is here, and that means when it comes to the product lifecycle, things are no longer linear. A circular economy is a production and consumption model, where materials are reused whenever possible rather than discarded to landfill. For Knauf globally, sustainability is a ‘Must Win Battle’, and one of the company’s key targets is to become a leader in the circular economy. Generally, most components in Knauf’s lightweight construction systems, especially plasterboards, fit into the circular model as they can be recycled or repurposed multiple times. The focus of design thinking is now on building products in the construction industry and how to take full stewardship of these products from cradle to cradle. The beauty of doing this within the construction industry is that many materials can easily be reused. As an example, plasterboard scrap can be repurposed for other industries or recycled back through the production process. By addressing the challenges surrounding production and consumption holistically, substantial progress can be made towards reducing and (ideally) eliminating waste.

It’s a challenge that Knauf is rising to, both in Australia and the regions they operate in around the world. Knauf is a leading manufacturer of plasterboard wall and ceiling systems and is combining global thinking with local action - aiming to improve sustainability impacts across the business globally. Some of these activities include naturally recultivating the sources of raw materials and ensuring the wellbeing of the communities they operate in,​ to driving sustainability practices around the consumption of water and generation of waste within Knauf plants. Importantly, Knauf is supporting customers, suppliers and partners​to adopt sustainability best practices that will be genuinely world changing.​ Knauf’s approach to circularity encapsulates three broad areas:

Product Innovation

The pioneering organisation originated in Germany over 90 years ago and has always fostered the value of responsible entrepreneurship. Knauf continues to push that innovative spirit forwards when it comes to eliminating waste and pollution and has developed the world’s first 100% 'climate neutral', fully recycled gypsum wallboard at their Yokkaichi Plant in Japan. This patented product is the result of a unique process that enables the recrystallisation of gypsum from the demolition of buildings. This process brings the gypsum back to its virgin state, enabling it to then be reformed through the use of biomass into drywall products at net zero carbon cost. This product will enable Knauf to offer customers fully sustainable gypsum products in the future - cementing its position as a sustainability leader in the industry.

Maximising Reuse

In Australia too, Knauf supports the wider push across the construction industry towards the mindful reuse, repair, remanufacture and recycle of products and materials. Architects are increasingly designing buildings with the circular economy in mind - meaning they’re easier to dismantle and break down into component parts that can be reused. Knauf is supporting this with products such as Stratopanel. Stratopanel gypsum panels are reusable through the use of a screw cap system that enables them to be easily removed without being broken. The perforated acoustic plasterboard product also offers combined benefits of a decorative lining and a high level of sound absorption required for commercial spaces.

Treating Waste as a Design Flaw

Knauf is currently undergoing a digital transformation across the business that will enable it to more sustainably manage the needs of partners, end users and industry, from design, to supply chain and through to construction. Looking inward at the business with a view to the future, Knauf is making great progress around the circular economy. Analysing manufacturing data and continuing to develop technical solutions such as computer-assisted design (e.g. BIM WIZARD® in Australia), Knauf products and tools are helping architects to deliver lean and resistant structures using only the necessary amount of materials.

At a time where a circular sustainability approach is anything but standard, Knauf continues to lead innovation as they seek to drive sustainable outcomes in the building industry. By taking a holistic approach across their business operations, products and social impact, both globally and at home here in Australia, Knauf is enabling not just their own actions, but the actions of sustainability-conscious architects and designers everywhere. And one thing is certain - Knauf remains committed to going full circle on their sustainability journey.