“Innovation and leadership are the only survival strategies,” states Albin Kaelin, award winning CEO, founder and owner of EPEA Switzerland. Moreover, only businesses built on safe and circular models will ultimately survive.  

EPEA Switzerland is an accredited assessor for the Cradle to Cradle Certified certification. This Cradle-to-Cradle concept offers the most stringent, holistic and, therefore, professional framework for circular models. 

Award winning Albin Kaelin has 30 years of experience in Cradle to Cradle and the circular economy. He was the first person worldwide to implement the concept in an industrial context – and in the textile industry, arguably the sector with the largest ecological footprint. For example, you only need to briefly consider the huge quantities of land, water, fertilizers and pesticides required to produce raw materials, such as cotton, to realise the extent of the environmental impact associated with this industry. For the last three decades, Kaelin has helped hundreds of companies worldwide to carve out their place in the circular economy.

Innovation and a network of trust

Kaelin has built his success and that of his clients on two pillars. The first is innovation. It is not enough to do things better; they must be done “in the concept of doing the right thing right.” Companies that innovate and transform their business from linear to safe and circular in a smart and future-proof manner will be the winners.

Take the example of the brands “Froggy” and “Green Care Professional” of the Werner & Mertz Group. The European manufacturer of personal care and cleaning products collaborated with global packaging specialist Mondi, the German Green Dot Collecting System and EPEA Switzerland to ensure that the pouch packaging of its cleaning products comply with the requirements of a safe and circular economy and are Gold Cradle to Cradle Certified. One of the challenges: Conventional packaging pouches consist of several materials, making them impossible to recycle. For this reason, the pouch breakthrough innovation, winner of the German Packaging Award 2021 and developed by Werner & Mertz, is only made from a mono-material: polyethylene, a plastic. However, the inks used also had to comply with the Cradle-to-Cradle principle. In addition, it was also necessary to invest and develop the corresponding production machines after the product was designed.

That leads to the second pillar. No company can single-handedly develop a product for the circular economy. It takes an interdisciplinary network of experts and a network of trust. Within this network, EPEA Switzerland takes on the role of trustee of knowledge through being an innovation and accredited assessor. This enables it to establish a network of partners.

Take Wolford, the European fashion and textile manufacturer with an extensive range of luxury products. Wolford is the only company that has Gold Cradle to Cradle Certified products for both biological and technical cycles and both circular loops are actively closed. The company has achieved this together with EPEA Switzerland and over three dozen partners. By 2025, 50% of Wolford products will be Cradle to Cradle Certified. 

No waste, only nutrients

Once this circular model is in place, there will be no waste but only nutrients for multiple lifecycles with no compromise in quality. The global fashion brand VF Napapijri has developed a whole line of “circular series” clothing with an integrated supply chain of 47 suppliers worldwide. Products are produced from 100% recycled materials consisting of a mono-material only. The fabrics (woven and knits), filling and trimmings are made directly from Econyl yarn from Aquafil, a regenerated high-performance nylon 6 yarn sourced from old fishing nets and carpets from landfill. In this way, material that would otherwise add to the waste in our oceans is now used in the fashion industry. Circular Series are Gold Cradle to Cradle Certified and the loop is actively closed, thus generating non-toxic resources in an endless loop. This project took 14 months to develop and implemented the “supply chain domino knowledge transformation” methodology of EPEA Switzerland.

Clearly, textile producers can do a lot more to prevent their products poisoning our oceans. This ambition is self-evident from the name of a startup company that Albin Kaelin has helped to innovate and succeed: OceanSafe. The manufacturer of home textiles and now fashion, too, ensures that all fibres are safe for biological cycles. Any microfibres that have been washed out are harmless within the biological cycle. OceanSafe offers a remarkably wide and high-quality range of fabrics, materials, chemicals, dyes, inks, and trimmings. This concept is licensed to the textile and fashion industry in Europe and Asia. 

Circular models provide companies with a longer value chain, as the example of OceanSafe shows. After an item has been used, the company takes back the textile or apparel so it can be sent to industrial composting to generate biogas and biomass.

The same is true for Pfister Vorhang Service AG, a manufacturer of flame retardant curtains and holder of a Gold Cradle to Cradle Certification. Pfister offers its customers a special deal: The company takes back used curtains and in return offers a voucher worth the original price of the raw materials 

Growing demand

Demand for strictly circular products not only exists, but is also rapidly growing. With its fully compostable “100% Nature, Natural Skin” collection, Calida has already signalled its commitment to the circular economy. The clothing manufacturer is steadily expanding the collection of more than 200 products. To achieve this, Calida has taken its entire supply chain of close to 50 companies into account so that the manufacturing processes are aligned with the Cradle to Cradle principles. All materials used to manufacture these products, including yarn, fabrics, label, buttons and dyes, have been transparently and scientifically evaluated. In this way, products in the “100% Nature, Natural Skin” collection are completely safe and fully biodegradable. Calida will even take them back on request. Calida is Silver Cradle to Cradle Certified.

Thanks to Albin Kaelin, among others, circularity is set to become a standard in the textile and fashion industry. The project Circular Clothing.org, supported by the Swiss Textile School and key industry stakeholders, including EPEA Switzerland, is keen to facilitate access to a safe and circular economy for over 70 Swiss start up textiles and fashion labels. Via its platform, Swiss textile labels are afforded the opportunity to implement materials and methods that harm neither humans nor the natural environment. In this context, a Cradle to Cradle supply chain that can be used jointly by project participants and will be Cradle to Cradle Certified will also be established.

Future-proof innovation is possible 

Albin Kaelin’s impact is especially strong in the textile industry where he started his entrepreneurial career, but is by no means limited to it. Take Vögeli, a regional printing house in the rural countryside in Emmental, Switzerland. Markus and Renato Vögeli faced a challenge when they inherited their family business: either give up or innovate. They chose the latter. Vögeli became the first printing house worldwide to be awarded a Gold Cradle to Cradle Certified certification. The printing firm launched new products based on this standard, among them a Christmas calendar and a set of brightly coloured cubes to visualise one of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

ALFA Klebstoffe AG is another traditional Swiss SME opting for a circular future. The adhesives manufacturer has developed a new environmentally friendly adhesive system, ALFAPURA, which has been awarded C2C Certified Material Health Certificate Gold. 

This culture of innovation and collaboration between companies is quite widespread in the network, and an ecologically aware customer base is ready to spend money on quality, making innovation in a future-proof manner relatively easy. However, future-proof innovation is possible everywhere. With decades of experience and an ability to think ahead, Kaelin knows how to implement and combine innovation, leadership and entrepreneurial success with a team and network of trust.For further information on EPEA Switzerland, its Cradle to Cradle products and services, case studies and updated news on the circular economy, please visit the company website –  https://epeaswitzerland.com or Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute: https://c2ccertified.org

Albin Kaelin is the winner of Business Worldwide Magazine’s Award for ‘Most Innovative CEO in the Worldwide Textile Industry’ & ‘Business Leadership and Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Manufacturing’ .