Five ways the print industry can apply circular economy principles

Five ways the print industry can apply circular economy principles

By on January 15, 2020
Articles, Trends

Quocirca’s releases new Executive Briefing report Sustainability: How the print industry is applying circular economy principles

Sustainability is not a new initiative for the print industry. From concern about paper consumption, to reducing energy use and developing recycling programmes, the print sector has frequently embraced environmental issues. That said, sustainability considerations have never attained the profile and urgency that we see today. The transition from a more peripheral issue to a primary concern is clearly demonstrated in our Global Print 2025 Second Edition market insight study, where more than half of IT decision makers stated that reducing the environmental impact is the top challenge associated with the managing the print infrastructure.

Those IT decision makers expect that print manufacturers and suppliers will play a role in helping them gain environmental performance improvements – 57% believe that suppliers should be taking a leading position around sustainability by 2025. At the same time, pressure is being exerted from consumers and investors for print companies to earn their status as good corporate citizens, making a sustainable approach an important part of maintaining corporate reputations. Finally, the commercial benefits of pivoting business models towards a circular economy approach are becoming clear and compelling. Both HP and Xerox last year included in annual reports revenues they attribute directly to sustainability programmes.

This combination of factors is driving the industry towards embracing circular economy principles. It is widely recognised that natural resource scarcity and impacts during use mean the traditional “take, make, waste” production model is not sustainable and must be rejected in favour of a circular, regenerative approach that strives to maintain products at the highest value and utility for as long as possible. This axiom can be – and indeed in many cases is already being – applied by the print industry in several ways:

1. Incorporate reused materials and circularity potential at the design phase

The incorporation of non-virgin materials into new products is gathering pace. An example is HP’s Elite DragonFly notebook, which uses 50% post-consumer recycled plastic, including 5% made from ocean-bound plastic, and Xerox, whose products contain up to 5% post-consumer recycled plastic content. 

Manufacturers are focusing on designing products on a modular basis, with fewer parts overall and consideration given to end-of-life disassembly and reuse. In this way the value of raw materials is retained post-consumption.

2. Design to minimise energy use, emissions, consumables and product failure

Designing products that last longer and fail less often is another essential part of the rejection of “throwaway” philosophy. This ranges from improving durability in existing products to a complete rethink of technology approaches that employ long-life materials, such as Kyocera’s 1992 introduction of ceramic print drums designed to last the lifetime of the product. 

Continuously improving energy efficiency and reducing emissions is another way to minimise the impact of products in use. The almost ubiquitous Energy Star and Blue Angel ratings act as a baseline on which manufacturers should strive to improve, while the provision of “eco” modes allows consumers to reduce resource consumption still further during the use phase.

3. Use big data to develop service innovations

A key opportunity for driving circular advantage is applying intelligence to the wealth of data generated by smart connected devices, in this case MFPs. IoT sensors can deliver up to the minute reporting on the status of assets, and enable real-time optimisation. Notably, such data can deliver new insights into key performance indicators (KPIs), by-products and wastage. This can help suppliers to develop support and maintenance programmes that minimise unnecessary interventions and ensure that products last longer and are functioning at their most efficient. 

IoT devices can also integrate into platforms such as smart buildings, delivering and receiving data that contributes to the more sustainable operation of the entire environment. 

4. Further enhance subscription-based services and help clients embrace cloud print management

The shift from the purchase to the subscription model is already advanced in the print sector. However, our recent MPS survey found that many businesses are still failing to achieve the desired efficiencies in cost, performance and sustainability. By improving fleet management, monitoring and maintenance, suppliers can increase customer satisfaction and help them meet environmental goals at the same time. 

Some manufacturers are directly seizing the sustainable consulting opportunity, such as Ricoh, which has launched sustainability management services that include carbon balanced printing, energy efficient products and management software.

Cloud print management has yet to see widespread adoption, although momentum is growing. By helping clients move to the cloud, MPS providers can deliver a more flexible print environment that supports greater resource efficiency and the potential of big data analysis to drive performance improvements still further.

5. Maximise ease of recycling and recycled value of components

End-of-life takeback, recycling and reuse schemes are already a common feature of manufacturers’ circular economy approach. Starting with toner cartridges in the 1990s and spurred on by the implementation of the WEEE Directive, which became EU law in 2003, the industry has had plenty of encouragement to develop intelligent waste management programmes. These have progressed over the years from add-on initiatives to become foundational elements of sustainability programmes. 

However, there is always more to do, and opportunities for not just environmental, but also commercial advantage. The reuse and recycling economy itself is growing – it is estimated that circular activities such as repair, reuse or recycling generated almost €147 billion in Europe over the three years to 2019. As recovery and re-use technology continues to develop, manufacturers will need to build these advances into their recycling programmes to further embrace circular economy principles and benefit from the commercial benefits.

Quocirca’s latest Executive Briefing explores in depth how the print industry is applying circular economy principles and contains recommendations of what buyers should be looking for when selecting suppliers. For more information visit our report page here.

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