The Circular Economy’s impact on manufacturing

One of the most rewarding aspects of HP’s Keep Reinventing credo has been its broad-based application in our own company. Our sustainability efforts are no exception, and it’s exciting to see the innovation that is happening in this area, at HP, and throughout our ecosystem. We continually develop, implement, and scale programs and social investments that transform how people work and live through Sustainable Impact efforts. One of the guiding influences in our sustainability work is the Circular Economy.

Decoupling growth from consumption is a core tenet of the Circular Economy, and this is a concept we take to heart.

The Circular Economy model came from some thinking among leaders in business and academia in the late 1970s. They were exploring ideas that are still familiar to us today, such as lifecycle management and cradle-to-cradle product design and manufacturing.

The Circular Economy takes those ideas further. It describes a regenerative “closed loop” design and manufacturing system that minimizes the use of resources and the creation of waste. It puts a focus on making products long-lasting, repairable, reusable, recyclable and upcyclable. Decoupling growth from consumption is a core tenet of the Circular Economy, and this is a concept we take to heart. It’s a high contrast alternative to the traditional linear economy, which operates on a “take, make, dispose” production model.

The Ellen Macarthur Foundation, a UK-based non-profit organization, is a leading advocate for the transition to the Circular Economy, putting it on the map among decision-makers worldwide in business, government, and academia. Through the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Circular Economy 100, HP works with other top companies and innovators to drive progress toward a more materials- and energy-efficient future.

One of many interesting things about the Circular Economy is its relationship to bio convergence –the inspiration technologists draw from the natural world and the impact that inspiration is having on innovation. The Circular Economy owes its origin to the study of the biosphere, and the many ways that nature has “innovated”—evolved—in ways that sustain and nourish, rather than deplete, the ecosystem. The foundation has a wonderful animation, “Rethinking Progress,” that defines and describes the Circular Economy and its inspiration in the natural world. The animation also vividly presents the massive problem of waste: after a brief period of use, most manufactured products are discarded, to be incinerated or sent to the dump, where at best, a few components will be recycled for pennies.  (Appliances, for example, which could be repaired to restore their value and placed back in service.) As charmingly illustrated smartphones, laptops, even large appliances skip across the screen and tumble into a landfill, the need for reduced consumption (and disposal) is in plain view.

Transforming business models to a more efficient, circular, and low-carbon economy is an effort that reaches across and beyond the value chain; from sourcing practices and operations to how products and solutions are designed, delivered, and recovered. This transformation will enable entire industries to eliminate waste and drive efficient, circular value chains.

The Circular Economy, manufacturing, and 3D printing

The shift toward circular principles in manufacturing calls for radical change rather than incremental or gradual evolution. Scalable, transformative technologies, including 3D printing, are critical to realizing the Circular Economy’s potential in manufacturing. The on-demand, localized production enabled by 3D printing means less waste, and less impact transporting both raw materials and finished goods to their destinations.

3D printing at production scale presents opportunities to transform how whole industries design, make, and distribute products, helping people turn ideas into finished products in a more efficient, economical, and environmentally conscious way.

In the meantime, there are many avenues to design and produce products sourcing materials that create positive impacts on the environment. In 2017, our HP ENVY Photo All-in-One Printer series became the world’s first-in-class printer made with closed-loop recycled plastic—more than 10% by weight. The recycled content plastic used to manufacture our personal systems and printers totaled more than 9,300 tons last year. Imagine the impact this and other Circular Economy practices can have, as they are adopted across global enterprises—across the entire business landscape, in fact.

Innovation can thrive in the shift from a consumption-driven linear economy to the regenerative Circular Economy. In the natural world, the original Circular Economy, there is evidence of innovation with wild abandon: millions of species and infinite variation. The rules are simple, and first and foremost is that short-term gain cannot come at the expense of long-term ecosystem health. Applying this idea to business is a path to continued innovation and growth while preserving and even enhancing the health and abundance of our planet.

Sustainable Impact is fundamental to our reinvention journey – fueling our innovation and growth, and strengthening our business for the long term.

HP CTO & Global Head HPLabs. Technology futurist, passionate leader focused on 3dprinting, cybersecurity, drones, travel, and FriendsNational.

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