Four steps to sustainability

posted by George Brasher
9 November 2017

Whether you are a procurement expert or part of a far reaching supply chain, the decisions you make and your approach to operations cannot be viewed in isolation. George Brasher, UK and Ireland MD of HP offers some tips on taking your business on its first steps towards a circular, sustainable future

For years corporate sustainability has been determined by the size of a company’s own environmental footprint. Until now. A more proactive, positive approach is gaining serious traction amongst some of the world’s biggest producers, and rightly so. The ‘circular economy’ or full-circle innovation is reinventing the way products are designed, manufactured, used and recovered. Large businesses are starting to exercise their scale, resources and influence to help society become more sustainable. It is all our responsibilities, and the sooner we can align approaches, the greater our positive, lasting impact on the environment and society.

Propelling a more circular economy takes work and commitment. It is a matter of decoupling growth from a reliance on depleting resources, and moving to a low-carbon, more materials- and energy-efficient circular economy. And it’s not at the expense of your bottom line. Companies save money by gaining more value from raw materials, and can then expand into new markets through product innovation. Customers also benefit from pulling cost and waste out of their supply chain, whilst enjoying exciting new, as-a-service business models.

At HP, we’re implementing a closed-loop recycling programme. As a business, we have manufactured more than three billion ink and toner cartridges; using more than 88,900 tonnes of recycled plastic throughout 2016 alone. In doing so, we’ve kept 735 million cartridges, 70 million clothes hangers, and 3.7 billion plastic bottles out of landfills. It is ‘reverse logistics’ in action, ensuring products and materials have a purpose beyond their original lifespan. We must get in the habit of asking ourselves, ‘could this be repaired, refurbished, upgraded or recycled?’, before we discard of anything.

Similarly, industry business models are being disrupted, moving from transactional product sales to contract-based service models. Subscription models are changing the way customers use what were seen as disposable products. By connecting our printers to the internet, HP can see when customers need new ink cartridges. New ones are then delivered automatically, along with a prepaid envelope to recycle their old cartridge. This programme saves 57% waste per printed page and it saves customers up to 70% on ink costs, with the cherry on top of never running out of ink again. It is clear that not only is the circular economy good for our planet, it also benefits end users and makes sound business sense.

The move away from the ‘take, make, dispose’ model mustn’t just be championed by supply chain and procurement experts alone. Whatever your business, there will be elements of your supply chain or production that can be digitised, perhaps through 3D printing. Looking at safeguarding the future of the earth’s resources, while maintaining growth, we have to change the way we do business. One company can’t make all the changes alone. It is the responsibility of decision-makers, in businesses big and small, to unite around a shared philosophy and commit to operating in ways that are better for the environment and ultimately, better for themselves.

Below are some actionable next steps for setting your business up on a path towards full circle innovation.

1. Make the end the beginning

Ask your organisation: is there material waste generated as part of the customer use experience? Recycling is a simple place to start and the area people are most familiar with.

2. Find new business models

Breaking away from the linear model also means looking at the relationship between the business, its partners, its customers, and the products in the world. The old model stressed ownership.

3. Add dimension to the future

Ask your organisation: if you don’t or can’t move to providing a service, how can you extend the life of your products, help your customers maintain their products and make money doing so?

4. Take action

It’s never too early or too late. The path to change starts with conversations about what you want and can achieve. Ask your teams to think how they would do things if all the traditional model rules went out of the window. Start anywhere and be agile – don’t wait for the perfect opportunity.

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