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A close shot on circular economy

The initiatives of leading companies in the photography and printing industry to support the battle against climate change.

by Anna Volpicelli
20 July 2020
6 min read
byAnna Volpicelli
20 July 2020
6 min read

When talking about circular economy, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a UK-based registered charity organization, highlights what it calls "Re-Thinking Progress." A business model that explores how through a change in perspective, it contends that we can redesign the way our economy works by designing products that can be recycled, and powering the system with renewable energy. Creating a circular economy is now a critical practice that many corporations are exploring in response to countering the many challenges of climate change. From reducing plastic waste to finding ways to conserve natural resources, companies are working diligently to implement such operational strategies moving forward.

As the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change's Paris Agreement pushed many companies to adjust their operations and strategic thinking to align their businesses, major photography brands have begun to adopt this new approach to promote eco-friendly and sustainable initiatives to become more climate-responsible.

Canon's sustainable initiatives

Canon, the Japanese company that has become a household name in the photography industry, is one of them. The brand has committed its manufacturing and production strategies to Kyosei, a Japanese word that means living and working together for the common good. "Within this context, we work not only in managing all our environmental and social aspects but also looking for new market opportunities [within the] circular economy by adopting the approach from 'the cradle to the grave,'" says Gema Escudero Samaniego, Canon's environment and product safety regional coordinator for Italy, Spain and Portugal. That includes the collection of products for recycling, resale through brokers, refurbishing and remanufacturing, she explains.

Canon has six factories around the world that operate explicitly toward these activities—two in Europe, one in China and the U.S., and two in Japan. Canon Giessen GmbH, for instance, receives from all the European countries multifunctional devices at the end of their life cycle. At the Germany-based subdivision, products are fully refurbished and turned into entirely new machines. The EQ80, a multifunctional printer series designed to reduce environmental impact via its energy-efficient cost management series, is the result of this initiative. "The EQ80 receives its name as this process saves more than 80% of natural resources and about 80% of greenhouse gases," explains Escudero Samaniego, "but with the same guaranty and quality as a new Canon equipment—and at a better price for the customer."

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Canon pan-European toner cartridge recycling program at Canon Bretagne in France. Between 1990 and 2018, the division was able to recover and recycle more than 408,000 tons of cartridges, avoiding upwards of 601,000 tons of CO₂ emissions. "With the recovery, reuse and recycling of empty toner cartridge parts, Canon reduced its raw material needs by more than 285,000 tons in this period," says Escudero Samaniego. "We have set a goal of improving product lifecycles' CO₂ emissions by an average of 3% per year. Over the period from 2008 to 2018, we achieved average improvements of 5% per year."

Panasonic and its eco-friendly vision

In the universe of photography and electronic devices, Canon is not the only brand striving to apply the principles of the circular economy. In 2017 Panasonic launched its Environment Vision 2050, a program aimed at working toward more efficient utilization of energy, better known as clean energy. The company developed technologies for improving energy-saving performances of its products and innovated manufacturing processes to reduce the amount of energy consumption. For the energy created, for instance, the company expands energy-saving and storage businesses, as well as contributes to new social systems such as a hydrogen society to increase the use of clean energy.

Along with its recycling program, in which the company reuses parts of old products and materials to create new ones, Panasonic is focusing on developing factories with zero CO₂ emissions. To do that, it has switched lighting to LEDs, introduced innovative energy-saving technologies and are planning to install photovoltaic power generation systems by 2021. In Europe, Panasonic Eco Technology Center Co. Ltd, a home appliance recycling facility, and Panasonic Energy Belgium N.V., which specializes in the production of dry batteries, has become the first of two zero CO₂ factories for Panasonic. This result was achieved by installing renewable energy power generation systems, such as photovoltaic power generation system and wind power generation system, procuring 100% renewable electricity and utilizing carbon credits to offset CO₂ emissions from fossil fuels.

Sony: A road to zero waste

Sony has also launched an environment-friendly program, "Road to Zero," which is a global plan designed to boost sustainability. The goal: To achieve a zero environmental footprint throughout the life cycle of its product and business activities by the year 2050. Part of the plan includes the sourcing of 100% renewable electricity for all businesses site by 2040. Initiatives include minimizing consumption and maximizing recycled materials in operations and product life cycles. The company also promotes recycling by working with recyclers and reusing content from existing products around the world.

Set your own focus on sustainability

Our actions can also support those corporations' efforts in achieving the Paris Agreement goals. With houses full of unused devices like cameras and printers, for instance, donations can be sent to the corporations and recycling institutions prioritizing the reduction of such waste. The intention of circular economy programs is clear and purposeful: To create a collaborative organization system that joins together our daily actions and the business models of companies so that both are in harmony with the needs of our planet.

The author: Anna Volpicelli

Editor and journalist Il Sole 24 Ore, The San Francisco Chronicle, SOMA MAGAZINE, D la Repubblica delle Donne, L'Espresso (print & web), Marieclaire.it, A, Leiweb.it, Yoga Journal Italy, Vogue Sposa & Vogue Bambini.