Leading the way: Axis on the road to a circular economy
Discarded electronic and electrical goods – e-waste – is the world’s fastest-growing waste stream. In 2018, it amounted to 50 million tons – equivalent to all commercial aircraft ever built. And this number is projected to double by 2050.
One way to minimize e-waste is to change from traditional linear industrial processes to a circular model that extends product lifetime, for example, through repair or reuse. This way, materials and components keep their value over time while minimizing waste and pollution.
The term “circular economy” found mainstream appeal in the 2010s through the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Aiming ultimately to disrupt the linear economy, they write: “We must transform all the elements of the take-make-waste system: how we manage resources, how we make and use products, and what we do with the materials afterward. Only then can we create a thriving economy that can benefit everyone within the limits of our planet.”
Minimizing the negative impact
The transition to a circular approach will profoundly affect the electronics industry – and the surveillance sector makes no exception. At Axis, we asked ourselves how we can be more circular and a part of that transition.
“Our ambition is to be a leading company today and tomorrow,” says Ausra Reinap, Senior Environmental Engineer. “And we see sustainability as one of the most important pillars. Minimizing our negative environmental impact throughout our products’ lifecycles is an integral part of what we do.”
Minimizing our negative environmental impact throughout our products’ lifecycles is an integral part of what we do.
It boils down to retaining the products’ value for as long as possible through smart design and maintenance. And then through the recovery of products, parts, and materials.
“This is no small challenge as all electronic products including Axis products use a number of finite materials,” says Ausra. “Turning to a circular model is a continuous journey. We already see mineral shortages and know that they will increase, so we must re-think our designs to future-proof our business.”
Identifying threats and opportunities
To dig deeper, Axis participated in a project sponsored by Sweden’s innovation agency Vinnova, “Circular and biobased economy – from theory to practice,” which finished in 2020. The project was initiated by design and innovation agency Zenit Design, a long-time Axis collaborator.
“We weren’t looking for a ready-made solution,” Ausra says. “The project aimed to broadly map out the current situation as well as threats and opportunities, both for Axis and other value chain stakeholders.”
The project identified several steps linked to the so-called waste hierarchy that Axis can take to improve circularity. Read below how Axis and other stakeholders need to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
Making the most of materials and components
In a circular approach, reducing is the most sustainable alternative, helping to minimize the use of resources, energy, waste, and pollution. Products should preferably be designed for durability, using recycled or biobased materials, and produced with green energy.
Axis has always designed products to last long, and is increasingly turning to so-called green design, striving to develop products with a higher content of recycled plastic and bioplastic. At the same time, it is crucial not to compromise the products' quality and functional requirements.
As an example of this path, in 2020, Axis launched six new camera models where more than 50 percent of the plastic is recycled. And 34 percent of the cameras that were launched in 2020 are BFR/CFR-free. In 2020 Axis have also extended product warranty from 3 to 5 years.
New business models adapted to multiple-use cycles can lead to more effective use of resources. The project suggests that new ownership models and service offerings also can have a positive impact. Take-back solutions can make parts and products easier to recirculate.
Another side of reducing is to minimize transports, which will be of continuous focus for Axis. In one initiative, corrugated cardboard has replaced plastic inflatable air packaging for a few models of Q61-series network cameras. It is an excellent example of package optimization that leads to more efficient transports and lower CO2 emissions.
Reuse is the next best alternative. It is crucial to make products easy to upgrade and repair and parts easy to recover. New business models facilitating take back solutions can make parts and products easier to recirculate. As part of its efforts, Axis has been returning the front glass and lenses used in thermal cameras to the supplier for recycling and reuse of germanium mineral.
Recycling is not ideal, but still much better than energy recovery or landfill. Preferably, products should be designed using recycled materials or so that they are easy to disassemble into separate parts at their end of life.
Product design decides the outcome
Choices made during the design phase have a massive impact on circularity, both upstream and downstream in the value chain.
“As a product developer and designer, you are at the center of all these products and services being developed, produced, consumed, and disposed of,” says Mathias Walter, Design Strategy Lead and part of Zenit Design's Sustainability Crew and who works with Axis almost daily. “How circular they are must be considered at every stage and in every decision. If we truly want to make a change, it must be prioritized throughout the entire organization.”
He continues: “It’s important to consider the technical specification carefully so that products aren’t ‘over-specified’. For example, you want to avoid any extra complexity, unnecessary additives in the materials, superfluous components and parts, or increased size.”
Technical solutions change and improve quickly. Much money and innovative power are invested in it. “It’s necessary to constantly keep updated to ensure that designs are optimized for various target users. We also need to work closely with experts to set the right priorities.”
Value chain collaboration is crucial
Ausra says that the project has given Axis a thorough understanding of critical challenges in the future. These include the importance of recognizing various customer needs, different legislation, and knowing how recycling and recovery infrastructure differ across the markets where Axis operates.
“We learned a lot and now know better what we want and what we need to do,” she says. “But we’ve also seen how complex this area is. There are strict limits as to how much we can do on our own. Collaboration throughout the value chain is crucial to make it happen.”
This ties in with the United Nations Sustainability Goal 17, “Partnerships for the Goals”. Participating in industry initiatives for collaboration, interaction, and dialog on promoting sustainability are essential to Axis.
Circularity an inevitable change
To be successful, society at large must prioritize the transition to a circular model. It is entirely dependent on attitudes in society – what customers, end-users, decision-makers, and others think and are willing to accept.
“It’s essential that companies such as Axis drive change, educating their partners and other stakeholders and increase demands,” says Mathias. “It’s more important than ever that we truly understand their various needs and aspirations so that we can support them in their transformation towards circularity.”
Ausra goes one step further: “As Axis is a responsible company, we need to move towards a circular business approach. I can’t see a future without it. We must challenge ourselves, but also our partners. It’s time for the surveillance sector to collaborate and change together.”