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With the effects of climate change visible across the world, and with increasing pressure on natural resources, industries and governments are swiftly adopting measures to lower their impact on the environment. In the midst of these ambitious sustainability goals, the concept of “circularity” is gaining in popularity. Indeed, circularity has now emerged as one of the fundamental building blocks of a sustainable society.

James Macaulay ABB Corporate Communications Vancouver, Canada

Every year, humans extract around 100 billion tons of natural resources from the Earth [1], including biomass, fossil fuels, metals and minerals. This figure is rising rapidly in parallel with global population growth and urbanization and is on a trajectory to double by 2060 unless we make major changes to our economies. Global waste generation is now doubling at twice the rate of population growth [2]. Less than 10 percent of resources are recycled, reused or composted, while resource extraction, processing and consumption account for roughly 70 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

By contrast, circularity is an approach that would allow us to live more within our planet’s means. Instead of a linear “take-make-waste” model of production and consumption, circularity aims to keep resources in use by “designing out” waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems. Much like nature’s biological cycle, in a circular economy, products can re-enter the ecosystem (ie, to be used as raw materials). This ensures that nothing is wasted, and every resource is used to its full value. By adopting circularity strategies, organizations can ensure Earth’s resources are efficiently used, and products are designed in a way so they can be reused, remanufactured, or repaired, keeping them in circulation so they don’t contribute to landfilling.

01 ABB’s circularity model.
01 ABB’s circularity model.

Going well beyond traditional recycling, circularity also focuses on durability and reusability across value chains and industries. In a circular economy, the whole lifecycle of the product is taken into consideration, including upstream from its manufacture, to design it in a way so that it is likely it will be reused or repurposed. For instance, following the circularity approach, thousands of ABB industrial robots have been refurbished and upgraded to have a second life [3] →01.

Products are also designed to be used for extended periods by providing effective maintenance. This is made possible by Industry 4.0 advances, where data from connected devices is collected and analyzed to produce information for operators that can help them monitor and optimize the performance of their equipment. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) supports need-based maintenance, potentially avoiding any unexpected failures while increasing productivity and extending asset lifespans. By helping businesses use resources efficiently, technology is helping to make the circular economy a reality. 

[1] Circularity Gap Report 2020, de Wit, M., Hoogzaad, J., von Daniels, C., CGRi, 2020, [Accessed March 31st, 2022].
[2] Kaza, S., Yao, L., Bhada-Tata, P., Van Woerden, F. et al, What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050, World Bank Group. Washington, DC, 2018, [Accessed March 31st, 2022].
[3] ABB makes manufacturing more sustainable by recycling and remanufacturing thousands of old robots, ABB news release, ABB Group, Zurich, 2020, [Accessed March 31st, 2022].
Title photo: ©Kunstzeug/


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