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Circular economy principles in the print industry..

Quocirca’s latest executive briefing: Sustainability: How the print industry is applying circular economy principles explores how the industry is working to reject the linear ‘take, make, waste’ economy in favour of retaining value in products and raw materials as efficiently as possible

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,” Louella Fernandes, Director at Quocirca, explained.

The results of Quocira’s Global Print 2025 Second Edition market insight study suggests environmental protection has made the transition from a more peripheral issue to a primary concern. More than half of IT decision-makers surveyed cited reducing environmental impact as the top challenge associated with managing the print infrastructure. The study also found that a fifth of businesses expect to invest in additional measures to improve sustainability in the next twelve months. And, looking further ahead, 57 per cent of IT decision-makers expect that having a leading position on sustainability will be a key print supplier selection criterion by 2025.

A leap in demand
A leap in demand for sustainable print solutions is prompting manufacturers and MPS providers to build circular economy principles into their core business model to position themselves for success in a changing market.

“The print industry has a long history of working to address sustainability challenges, predominantly driven by CSR initiatives and recycling obligations, however, what we see now is a level of consumer demand that means there are also powerful commercial opportunities to be seized by adopting circular economy principles,” Louella said.

“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.

“Manufacturers are looking at every step of the product lifecycle from substituting raw materials with postconsumer recycled plastics, through design improvements for longevity and resilience, to using AI-powered big data analysis to monitor product performance and maintenance and innovative takeback and recycling programmes,” she added.

There are, says Louella several ways the print industry can apply circular economy principles:

* Incorporate reused materials and circularity potential at the design phase

The incorporation of non-virgin materials into new products is gathering pace. 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.

* 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.

Continuously improving energy efficiency and reducing emissions is another way to minimise the impact of products in use.

* 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.

* 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. By improving fleet management, monitoring and maintenance, suppliers can increase customer satisfaction and help them meet environmental goals at the same time.

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.

* 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.

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