Remanufacturing – a key component of sustainable businesses practice

Andy Tomkins
Andy Tomkins

EMEA Sustainability Engagement Manager

World Environment Day is the biggest global day of recognition for the environment. Headed by the United Nations Environment programme, It’s occurrence highlights the importance of transformative environmental action from individuals, organisations and governments.  This year’s theme, #OnlyOneEarth, has a focus on living sustainably and in harmony with nature. 
Many individuals look at ways to limit environmental impact by making dietary choices, considering the products we use and considering the environmental impact of our use of materials in our day to day lives. 
Within organisations, environmental impact and acting responsibly are important factors of business operations. Governments and organisations have the power to drive wide-scale change by introducing effective policies to tackle use of resources, improving supply chain processes, and keeping components in reuse for as long as possible.

Adopting a circular approach to business 

Innovative businesses are adopting circular economy practices to ensure that the products they create are more environmentally friendly. As a result, they are racing ahead in terms of reputation and working more intelligently. However, recovering and recycling materials from end-of-life products can involve a lot of time, money and resource, making it a difficult strategy to implement at scale.
That’s why at Canon, we’ve been finding the missing link in the chain: remanufacturing. This is a process that delivers better quality products than resale or simple refurbishment, while also being more efficient and economically practical than recycling in many situations.

What is remanufacturing? 

Buying second hand can often be a smart choice. It’s cheaper, reuses materials and can sometimes even be fashionable. But it can come at the cost of quality, especially for technology, which is why refurbished products such as smartphones have grown in popularity.
Refurbishment is a valid approach, but the resulting product often isn’t the same quality as new products. Particularly in a business setting, there is generally a preference to buy new to ensure high-performance. This is where remanufacturing comes in. Rather than simply taking back second-hand devices and giving them a quick tune up so they live on a little bit longer, remanufacturing is an extensive process that replaces key components while reusing as many materials as possible. 

Canon EQ80

The production of our EQ80 remanufactured devices involves reusing large amounts of raw materials, thus reducing the amount of labour and energy involved in the process compared to recycling. The EQ80 range reuses 80% of the raw materials from old devices, while also reducing the CO2 emissions associated with the raw material extraction, manufacturing and logistics stages of the product lifecycle in comparison to the creation of a new device by 80%.
“We see great potential in using remanufactured products, and the EQ80 represents a big step in helping us to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions. Not only that, but attractive pricing made it an easy decision to make,” said Magnus Jägre, Canon customer and IT and Sustainability Manager at Amasten Fastighets AB, after investing in EQ80 devices.
Remanufacturing doesn’t just have to be limited to full devices though. It can also be applied to individual components such as switches and fuses, ensuring that industrial devices can be kept in service and that new parts are reusing as many materials as possible.

Canon’s process for developing EQ80 remanufactured printers

Remanufacturing in future recycling processes 

As well as environmental benefits, remanufacturing products has great economic potential. The ability to leverage end-of-life devices to create as-new products with attractive pricing allows organisations like Canon to open up new revenue streams and sales markets. We have seen strong performance in certain key markets due to the dual benefits that they offer.

So, why isn’t remanufacturing more common? The print industry is leading the way with office printers and cartridges, but wholesale change across more sectors seems a way off.

One of the main reasons is design practices. Many manufacturers simply don’t create products with remanufacturing in mind, meaning it is incredibly hard to disassemble and then refresh products on an economical basis. At Canon, we conduct lifecycle assessments to ensure we can factor in re-manufacturability at the design stage.

Another challenge holding back remanufacturing is a lack of awareness. A poor understanding of the differences between remanufacturing and refurbishment, as well as the benefits compared to recycling, mean that buyers tend to prefer new devices and businesses cater to this.

As World Environment Day highlights, we only have one earth. If we drive more awareness amongst consumers, organisations and government, remanufacturing will help to deliver more sustainable business practices and outcomes for technology buyers – and therefore help protect our planet.