Among the lessons learned in recent months is the fragility of our economic systems and the need to build more resilience for the future. The impact of one global event can be far-reaching and climate change is no different. It is a global event with widespread consequences. Individuals, businesses, and governments need to consider new methods and models that put us on a path towards environmental stability.
The world produces more than 2.01 billion tonnes of waste each year and, without urgent action, that number is expected to increase to 3.4 billion by 2050 driven by growing populations and growing urbanization, according to the World Bank.
It also warns that mismanagement of waste is a threat to human health and the environment, while urging the development of strategies to manage waste to create sustainable communities over the long term. Central to this need is the concept of a circular economy, where products are designed and optimized for reuse and recycling.
Rather than extracting new raw materials to manufacture products, which ultimately wind up in the landfill, circular economy principles strive to create zero waste. It’s no longer just ‘reduce, reuse, recycle.’ To minimize environmental impact and promote economic growth, a growing number of people and organizations are adding a few more ‘Rs’ to the equation, including repair, refurbish, remanufacture and return to the earth through composting.
“Ensuring we can produce recyclable products is no longer sufficient,” says Susan Uthayakumar, president of Schneider Electric Canada, which provides energy management and automation solutions to help organizations reduce energy consumption, while increasing productivity and efficiency.
Participating in the circular economy makes both environmental and economic sense, Ms. Uthayakumar says. “Embracing this way of thinking goes hand in hand with using data to drive intelligent decision making, which helps you use less resources. The result is efficiency, leading to higher profitability,” she says.
Schneider Electric has helped many businesses incorporate circular economic principles into their operations, including the City of Toronto, which uses the company’s Avantis Enterprise Asset Management solution for its water and wastewater infrastructure to lower repair and replacement costs. They have also worked with Port of Montreal to provide docked ships with access to hydroelectricity, instead of relying on diesel.
All these solutions incorporate Internet-of-Things (IoT) connected components that provide real-time data to ensure continually improving energy efficiency, all under a platform called Schneider Electric EcoStruxure. The core of this technology connects operational and IT technology to unlock trapped value in operations and enable predictive analytics to make smarter decisions. It provides alerts for maintenance and replacement before components fail, which extends the life of existing infrastructure, while eliminating unexpected repairs that can result in costly operational downtime.
And in a circular economy, when equipment must be replaced, old parts don’t end up in the landfill.
Schneider Electric’s Green Premium products, services and solutions provide transparent information on materials, environmental impact and end-of-life instructions. For instance, Green Premium solutions use IoT-enabled tools to help companies efficiently use energy and other natural resources to reduce their environmental impact and minimize their carbon footprint. Additionally, all product components can be reused, refurbished, recycled or decompose when landfilled.
“It is about effectively retaining ownership of products through their life, so manufacturers are really selling the utility of products, not the products themselves," says Usman Valiante, a senior policy analyst and circular economy consultant with Cardwell Grove Inc. in B.C.
"Once a device reaches its end of life, for example, it goes back to the manufacturer to be refurbished, remanufactured, or broken down into base components, and recycled back into the next generation of products.”
Closing the loop on end-of-life product waste represents a potentially significant change, given estimates in a 2017 Deloitte study that only nine per cent of the 3.2 million tonnes of plastic waste generated annually in Canada is recycled.
“The circular economy is critical … not just for the long-term sustainability of our company and our clients, but for the planet," Ms. Uthayakumar says. “It's why we pay so much attention to the lifecycle of our products and the raw materials to manufacture them. They help our customers move with us toward a sustainable world.”