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CIRCULAR STEEL: A Q&A with ZINQ CEO Lars Baumgürtel 

Headquartered in Germany, ZINQ produces hot-dip galvanized (HDG) steel and coated steel for a range of industries and applications, from automotive and agricultural to mechanical engineering and construction. Ten years ago, the company set out to certify its first Cradle to Cradle product, building a reputation for leading sustainable innovation within the global steel and coatings industry through a business model that prioritises high quality circular materials and zero waste. CEO Lars Baumgürtel shares his perspective on how ZINQ is using Cradle to Cradle principles to prioritize circular quality -- and what the industry can do to accelerate a circular economy. 

What are some opportunities for the industry as a whole in terms of safeguarding climate and accelerating a circular transformation?

The metals sector, and especially HDG and HDG steel, are prime examples of circular materials. Metals, including zinc and steel, are naturally and truly recyclable, giving them high potential as primary materials in a circular economy. However, the metals sector is quite defensive in terms of sustainability and often assumes that the advantages of using metals are already known and that all recycling loops are closed. In reality there is still a great deal of opportunity to maximize the volume of metal recycling in full circular quality . Through ZINQ’s initiatives -- including taking HDG steel scrap and separating the zinc from the steel to maximize circularity -- we hope to motivate other steel producers and fabricators to establish more circular models.

What role does sustainability play in ZINQ’s business strategy? How is sustainability integrated into the company’s short- and long-term operations and objectives?

We bundle all ZINQ sustainability measures under our PlanetZINQ sustainability programme: Efficiency + Effectiveness = PlanetZINQ = Circular Quality.

The Cradle to Cradle principles and a zero waste commitment are the backbone of ZINQ’s sustainability strategy and the backbone of our activities. These efforts originated in our strive to achieve maximum efficiency in energy and zinc consumption. After optimizing our process and product efficiency, we identified the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard as the first and only available criteria set for achieving circular quality in our products and processes and implementing a zero waste strategy for our HDG products. The standard serves as a third-party evaluation of our progress in achieving circular quality in our processes and products. It is a guideline and framework for decisions relating to innovation and investments in terms of how they contribute to our long-term sustainability objectives.

We achieved our first Cradle to Cradle product certification (for our duroZINQ product) in 2013. Today, as more of our customers require sustainability compliance, Cradle to Cradle Certified products help us fulfill their demand for fully circular, independently verified materials across market sectors, from automotive to construction.

Looking ahead, how can Cradle to Cradle certification serve as the basis for an industry-wide, as well as global, circular economic model?

By requiring companies to innovate and optimize their processes and their products in order to achieve certification, the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard is one of the few, if not the only, criteria set that allows companies to implement and evaluate a circular, zero waste programme. At ZINQ, we are driving our own circular innovation forward with our Re-ZINQ and CO2 Bank projects, plus pursuing Cradle to Cradle certification for additional products, including colorZINQ (powder coating on HDG surfaces). 

As an industry, we need to work together to establish circular quality as a hard criterion for bringing products to market, using a standard like Cradle to Cradle Certified to educate and engage our customers. We also have the opportunity to expand the use of circular HDG steel as a highly durable circular material option for building, automotive, industrial equipment and infrastructure applications.