Why the circular economy is the necessary next step

Carl Trotzig

Plastic littering in the oceans. Climate change. Biodiversity loss and extinctions. These are just a few examples that make it evident that we are putting more strain on the Earth than it can handle. Several of the nine so-called planetary boundaries are reaching the zone of uncertainty, or even the zone where irreversible damage is done.

On the upside, more and more initiatives are launched that are pushing in the right direction. For example, the UN’s 17 Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) are something that companies, organizations and governments now must relate to and are measured against in their sustainability work.

This is good, but if we truly want to build a sustainable world for future generations, we must turn to a circular model.

Focus on the entire life cycle

“Circular economy” isn’t a new term, but it was popularized by the British former around-the-world sailor Ellen MacArthur. Her charity, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, works with businesses, governments and universities to spearhead the move to an economic model based on three principles:

  • Design out waste and pollution
  • Keep products and materials in use
  • Regenerate natural systems

This makes a life cycle perspective imperative. Companies can promote a product’s sustainability and recyclability already at the design phase through the specification and choice of materials. It for example means phasing out finite natural resources, such as fossil-based plastics, and sourcing bio-based or recycled materials instead. It’s also important to design for easier reuse and recyclability.

Preferably, companies should also strive to extend a product’s – and its materials’ – lifetime, manufacturing products with superior functionality and durability. When wear and tear sets in, companies can offer customers repairs instead of forcing them to buy new products. Updating or designing new platforms and systems in a way that doesn’t require customers to buy new products is another way.

In the circular economy, the focus is generally on one material at a time. But a material isn’t necessarily stuck in the same loop throughout its lifetime. For example, recycling will downgrade the quality of plastic, which will eventually end up as waste in landfill or being incinerated. On the other hand, most metals can, depending on the alloy, be recycled practically infinitely with preserved quality and functionality.

Turning to new business models

There are also alternative, more sustainable business models. These include “deposit systems” where the customers are compensated in some way for returning end-of-life products upstream in the value chain for recycling. For example, the manufacturer can pay for the return shipping, or there might be discounts on new sales. Product rental is also a viable solution.

These business models all come with their own challenges, from legislation to lacking infrastructure. The good news is that it can be done, which has been proven across various industries, where companies have set up their own systems where customers can return used product for recycling, reuse or composting.

One such example is Canon, which pioneered a printer cartridge recycling program as far back as 1990 and is going strong. Just recently, Ikea announced that they will start rolling out a furniture rental pilot test. The Swedish furniture giant has also committed to only use renewable and recyclable materials by 2030, and that all products should be easy to reuse, repair and recycle. Several companies in the clothing industry are collecting used clothes and shoes for recycling, often providing a discount on a new sale. So, circularity is spreading, slowly but surely.

Customers drive the change

So, how is the security industry keeping up? It varies greatly, not only geographically, but also between customers and industry sectors. The IT part of the business has generally come further than the traditional surveillance sector. But we’ll all get there eventually. An increasing number of customers are making demands of their suppliers to be more sustainable, which will drive change.

As an industry leader, Axis aims to spearhead the development, and we are initiating several actions to head in the right direction. These are building on our high product quality, which in itself extends the product life cycle. We have also got a global repair center network, and long support for software updates.

Furthermore, we are also increasingly turning to Green Design of our products, where specifications call for recycled and nontoxic materials. For example, Axis are now using recycled plastic from PET bottles in our camera chassis, and we are phasing out brominated/chlorinated flame retardants (BFR/CFR), where we are actually one step ahead of the regulations.

Interesting project looks forward

Axis is also taking part in a one-year research project on a circular and/or bio-based economy, initiated by the Swedish innovation authority Vinnova. The project will investigate what is required to succeed; of various stakeholders, but also of, for example, governments. The project also aims to spread knowledge. It is a very interesting project and we will see the effects in a couple of years.

A change to a circular economy is not a fix-all solution to keeping within the planetary boundaries. But it would go a long way towards reducing the stress we put on the Earth and creating a more positive outlook for future generations. And who wouldn’t want to be part of that?

Find out more about how Axis is contributing to the UN sustainability goals.

Read article