thyssenkrupp Optimizes Its Elevators for Cradle to Cradle Certification One Component at a Time

For any manufacturer, embarking on product assessment for the first time can feel a little daunting. But imagine if your product is made up of 10,000 parts; "daunting” may not be strong enough to describe it.

But leading elevator manufacturer thyssenkrupp is committed to material transparency and using that information to continually optimize its products, from the hydraulics to the rollers to the cab walls.

“We have to find out what’s in our products in order to make better products,” says Monica Miller, the company’s sustainable design manager. “This is the direction the building industry is headed and the way we want to go to ensure we are making the best and safest products for buildings. Our products are really complicated, so we have to get started today.”

After navigating several options for auditing its materials, thyssenkrupp chose Cradle to Cradle certification because it provides a common-sense approach to identifying harmful ingredients and it offers the validity of third-party evaluation. And, perhaps most importantly, Cradle to Cradle Certified™ provides a distinct vehicle and roadmap for continual improvement, not just a certificate to wave around. “C2C gives you guidance,” Miller says. “[They say,] here’s your to-do list to make this better. Accomplish that in the next two years and we’ll talk again.”

Still, getting there isn’t easy, as certification requires examination of every component in an elevator. For example, the cab alone includes the flooring, wall panels, control panel, lighting, fasteners, an interior and exterior door, wheels and rollers, a steel cage, and much more. And each of those components may be slightly different depending on the model and how a unit is customized.

Due to the number of parts, full Cradle to Cradle certification will take some time, but thyssenkrupp was able to zero-in on its cab interiors initially, obtaining a Material Health Certificate for its standard elevator cab. Specifiers can customize their elevator cabs using a range of finishes, each of which has undergone evaluation under Cradle to Cradle Certified.

To obtain the MHC, thyssenkrupp worked with each individual component supplier to disclose ingredients and make improvements or changes where necessary.

The company also tackled an important problem area: oil. Elevators have long relied on hydraulic oil to move.. Previously, the company used petroleum-based oils. Instead of moving away from hydraulics overall, thyssenkrupp sought out a new supplier, BioBlend, which worked from the ground up to develop Enviromax, an oil made with 96% renewable USDA bio-based feedstock while meeting the specific needs of elevator operation by providing a high-oleic oil that reduced friction and eliminated the use of non-renewables.

“We wanted the benefits of a hydraulic elevator without the concerns about petroleum, so we engineered a new solution,” Miller says, noting that BioBlend was on board with meeting Cradle to Cradle requirements, continually optimizing the formulations before reaching Platinum-level Material Health certification.

Compared to most manufacturers, thyssenkrupp is in a unique position in that it continues to touch its products over the course of its life via inspections and maintenance, as well as removal and replacement, if needed. As such, the company is also very in tune with a building’s lifecycle, which can aid in enhancing the products’ circularity.

The nature of elevator construction means that many of the elements can be disassembled and repurposed, though not likely back into the manufacturer’s raw materials stream. In fact, 85% to 90% of an elevator is recyclable, largely due to the amount of steel, which is typically reclaimed and recycled into other industries. This means the units retain most of their value even over a period of time, supporting the idea that buildings can serve as material banks.

The company has its own internal takeback program for circuit boards, which are refurbished and stored, then reused as needed for existing, older-model elevators.

It’s one more component in the company’s efforts to retain value, improve material health, and optimize its products to the benefit of the overall business.