August 9, 20237 Minutes

Talking ketchup effect and climate with Ragn-Sells CEO

We know that decarbonisation is just the first critical step in a long journey towards true sustainability, and that real progress means challenging our established way of life.

For a waste, recycling and environmental services company like Ragn-Sells, sitting right at the heart of how we consume things in society, that change starts now. While the company aims to be CO2 positive by 2030, its ambitions go further.

In our latest interview with ambitious, pro-active companies looking beyond 2030 to lead their industries into sustainable futures, we talk to CEO Massimo Forti about balancing deep, long-term change with short-term decarbonisation goals and the road to changing global consumption habits.

“You can’t just have a scope in reducing CO2, you also have to push the entire circular economy. We have to change the entire society so that it is resource instead of waste focused. And we can.” – Massimo Forti, Ragn-Sells Denmark CEO.

Resource-focused society

Ragn-Sells is framing its sustainability agenda within the bigger goal of bringing systemic, societal change. Forti tells us the company’s primary goal is to help drive change from a waste-focused to a resource-focused society.

Put another way: instead of getting better at handling waste, we should try to eliminate it and move towards a more circular economy. Part of that needs to come from bottom-up pressure: demanding from suppliers that you want to buy recycled material in the first place, for example.

Of course, establishing trust in the process and transparency in the lifecycle of materials will be critical to driving this shift.

“Society needs to trust that waste is handled correctly in order to be able to trust that, once you have waste, you can put it in a new product. You can only achieve it if you are a hundred percent transparent in all your processes and what you do with the waste,” says Forti.

In order to walk the talk, the company has set a goal that 50% of everything it purchases – from pens to trucks – will be made of recycled material by 2030.

Forti says the company spent around a year and a half defining its baseline and will soon have a result it can work with. But, as with all companies that have started mapping their activities are experiencing, there remains some guesswork.

He anticipates the process will get easier as more suppliers get into a position of being able (and willing) to share information. Forti compares it to the ketchup effect – a situation where not much happens at first, but then a lot happens all at once.

“I hope there will be a kind of ketchup effect. Now we are really pushing the agenda. We are informing all of our suppliers that that is our goal and then hopefully we will find suppliers willing to join our journey,” says Forti.

“We also use it in order to influence our customers because we would like all of our customers to have it as a requirement. So they have to add value in their tender process on recyclability.”

Pricing challenges remain a barrier

Forti is confident Ragn-Sells will successfully hit emission targets. For him, the bigger challenge is helping facilitate the shift to a resource-focused society. His team is working on influencing legislation that will make it mandatory to include recycled material in all products. But again, there are challenges.

Firstly, things get complicated when we talk about the ‘re-use’ of a component or tool, like with equipment versus a material. If you want to recycle recycled material to use in new products, you need to prove it has been detoxified. Making this process simple, safe and easy to adopt is something Ragn-Sells is working on right now.

Then there is a cost issue. Like most other commodities, virgin plastic made from oil is low cost because the externalities (i.e. the carbon footprint) are not included. Recycling, on the other hand, requires up-front investments. It’s difficult to expect suppliers to choose a more expensive recycled material if there is a cheaper virgin alternative.

In general, in the shift from fossil fuel-based practices to green alternatives, there is also a question of prioritisation. Ragn-Sells is developing technology to reduce waste-related emissions in society, but in order to do that the company needs to invest heavily in new technologies, which actually will negatively impact its scope 1 and 2 emissions.

“Meanwhile we are going through the electrification of a lot of vehicles or yellow machinery, but technology-wise, it’s not ready yet and the price for doing that is double compared to fossil vehicles. Unfortunately, there is not yet a willingness to pay for that in society,” says Forti.

“So that’s why we need to find the right way. It’s not a problem only for ourselves. It’s a problem for the recycling business.”

Balancing long and short-term needs

Bringing meaningful change to our relationship with materials will require a marathon not a sprint. With time running out, however, it feels like an impossible choice between focusing on 2030 goals and investing in the world we want to live in after that. The answer likely lies somewhere in the middle.

Thank you to Massimo Forti for being part of the conversation and for sharing notes from Ragn-Sells Denmark’s sustainability journey. This is the latest in a series of interviews with ambitious, pro-active companies looking beyond 2030 targets to lead their industries into a sustainable future. Check out the rest of the series to get inspired by peers on similar journeys to you.

August 9, 2023By Jonas Maltha7 Minutes