Financial Times panel includes Johnson Controls expert on the circular economy

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Adam Muellerweiss describes manufacturers’ progress, challenges

U.S. manufacturers have a dramatic opportunity to increase sustainability and profitability through the circular economy, says Adam Muellerweiss, Executive Director of Sustainability for Johnson Controls Power Solutions, speaking at the Financial Times “FT Future of Manufacturing Summit USA.”

Muellerweiss joined other industry leaders May 3 in Chicago for a panel discussion on manufacturing in the sharing and circular economies. He drew on Johnson Controls’ experience to offer insights on creating a supply chain that starts and ends at the same place, replacing the linear take/make/waste model. And he applauded the progress other manufacturers are making.

“Ten years ago, this topic wouldn’t even have come up,” Muellerweiss said. “Today, business leaders and policy makers understand the economic and environmental benefits.”

Johnson Controls is passionate about the circular economy, says Muellerweiss, whose responsibilities include promoting a closed-loop system for designing, building, recovering and recycling vehicle batteries. “The batteries we make come from the batteries we take back,” he said. “Our customer becomes our supplier.”

The Johnson Controls recycling system collects a used battery whenever a consumer or garage buys a new one—and has proven 100 percent recycling rates are possible. 

The challenge, Muellerweiss says, is to take this approach to the next generation of products. “Manufacturers need to change the way we think,” he said. That includes designing materials that can be economically and responsibly recovered or repurposed—starting with seeing a product at the end of its life as a source for new products.

It also means carrying out this approach across every aspect of business, and overcoming regulatory constraints that inadvertently impede the circular system.

Muellerweiss says next-generation technologies can support manufacturers in continuing the shift. Most important, however, is the commitment of manufacturing leaders to the circular economy. Said Muellerweiss, “We need to be clear about the value of keeping resources in play.”

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