Manuel Sosa Skrainka, Sustainability Specialist Benelux Region at HP, is convinced that circular economy is the only way forward. We asked him about why he thinks so and, more importantly, how to achieve it.

Why is HP embracing the circular economy?

Manuel Sosa: Because we want to, but also because we have to for the benefit of our planet… For many years we humans have been using much more ecological resources and services than nature can regenerate. The so-called ‘Earth overshoot day’, the date from which onwards we start using more resources from nature than our planet can renew in a year, fell on 2nd August, meaning that in a year we already need 1.7 earths to support humanity’s demand on Earth’s ecosystems. The inconvenient truth is this situation gets worse every year. Predictions are that, if nothing changes, we will already be needing 2,3 planets by 2050…

Manuel Sosa: “The transition towards a circular business model is not something that can be achieved overnight. But as with many things in life, developing the right attitude will get you a long way.” 

HP considers circular economy a great way to help turn this trend. To reduce energy consumption and thus CO2 emissions for instance, but also to lessen the global strain on raw materials. The latter can be done by keeping components longer in use throughout and after the lifetime of devices, as well as by expanding the life span of those devices as such. We think all companies should share this responsibility and contribute however much possible. But it is global corporations like ours that have to take the lead by setting strong examples. For the benefit of nature in the first place, but also because it makes sense from a commercial point of view, as circular initiatives often lead to better business practices too.

Could you give an example of such a circular business model, applied by HP, that is leading to better business practices?

Manuel Sosa: I could go on for hours about this, because circular economy concepts are nothing new to us. In fact, we started our first recycle program in the 1980’s and our first design for environment program in the early 1990’s. So that’s a whole lot of experience in those areas. However, a good overall example would be our current ‘product as a service’ offerings, where device ownership is replaced by usage-based contracts.

For example, we have an ink subscription service, HP Instant Ink, that already has more than 2 million subscribers. This service ensures that customers never run out of ink and that they can recycle used cartridges more efficiently. Returned cartridges are fed into HP’s closed loop recycling program. Through this service, an internet-connected printer notifies us when it is running low on ink, and a replacement cartridge is then automatically delivered. Compared with conventional business models, printers using this service generate up to 57% less materials consumption per printed page. So this means more comfort and a clear cost benefit for our customers, as well as a good business model for HP based on an environmental friendly approach.

Along the same lines, we also offer ‘managed print services’, allowing customers to rent or lease a customizable set of printers, print management software, supplies,… including also several end-of-life hardware options. These types of contracts help us recycle and optimize our use of natural resources, while at the same time granting our customers the advantage of always having the newest printing technologies at hand offering them major savings in print-related energy consumption and paper waste. Thanks to our managed print services, we were able in 2016 to take 57% of our printers back and give them or at least some key components a second life. 

What does ‘design for environment’ mean to you?

Manuel Sosa: I strongly believe that circular economy starts with product design. This is very important to HP as well, and I think it should be to any company that wants to join the circular transition. To HP it means that from the very moment R&D for new products starts, we take into account several environmental criteria. We do this to ensure that, at the end of their lifespan, it will be possible to take advantage of the materials used in these products. For example, thanks to design for environment we now have several product lines for which we can put repair manuals on the internet for our customers. This means they can do several repairs themselves and thus longer enjoy their HP products. So again, the benefits are not only for the planet…

What is your most important advice to Belgian companies aiming to “go circular”? 

Manuel Sosa: You should realize that the transition towards a circular business model is not something that can be achieved overnight. But as with many things in life, developing the right attitude will get you a long way. Never let the sheer size of the challenge scare you off: it is a better idea to start small, by focusing on one single aspect. For instance: think about how you could extract a maximum of materials and resources from the devices you already offer today. Or if you are working on new innovations, try to incorporate design for environment metrics in the future product requirements. To make this more tangible, think about what will happen to your products when they reach the end of their first life: which optimizations are possible so that users can get more out of these products? Also think about how these end of life products could still be of use to you as their manufacturer. If you get all of this clearly mapped, you can start to develop strategies about how to organize collection of end of life products, and about how you can reconnect the materials they contain into new strategies such as recycling, refurbishment, remanufacturing and re-use. Once you get the ball rolling, the results will follow pretty soon. The good thing is that no matter the sector you are in, the opportunities are huge. 

Do you feel like you need to know more about HP’s vision on circular economy? Would you like to pick up some great tips & tricks from their strategies that you could apply directly to your own product lines? Then join Agoria’s Circular Economy Day Belgium on 21 November. #circularnow