Long before concepts such as future-fit and circular became buzzwords, Fuji Xerox was already busy redefining business as usual and demonstrating the opportunities to be harnessed by embracing a more sustainable, resource-efficient business model. Over the past 23 years, sustainability has become deeply ingrained in the company’s business strategy and operations, with closed-loop principles informing everything from the manufacturing process to research and development.
At the heart of the company’s transition from product to document solutions service provider, as well as its continuous journey towards circularity, are its pioneering integrated recycling system (IRS) and inverse manufacturing approach: Through a closed-loop system, Fuji Xerox’s products in the market are collected to ensure full utilization of products and that usable parts remain circulated in a closed circle under strict quality assurance. The inverse manufacturing approach helps Fuji Xerox develop products with optimal recycling and reusing rates to achieve zero landfill goal as well as minimize their carbon footprint.
Sustainable Brands spoke with Janet Neo, Head of Regional Corporate Sustainability for Fuji Xerox Asia Pacific, to learn more about these critical tools and how they’ve helped position the document solutions company as a leader in corporate sustainability.
How does the use of this model affect the way products are designed? What procedures ensure that new products align with the company’s closed-loop policy?
Janet Neo: Fuji Xerox’s engineering support department works closely with the product design team. This allows engineering support to provide feedback and raise issues faced by current products to the design department to enhance future products. Some of the improvements that support our closed-loop policies include:
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Additionally, Fuji Xerox service engineers collect unwanted or discarded printers from the customers free of charge, before sending them to the company’s eco-manufacturing center to be recycled or remanufactured.
How is Fuji Xerox able to ensure product quality while using reused parts and recycled materials?
JN: While sustainability is of paramount importance at Fuji Xerox, compromise is never an option. Before using used parts or recovered materials to manufacture new products, all recycled parts must have pass through rigorous screening for quality assurance. For example, thorough examinations are conducted on the parts and materials to determine if the new products would have the same quality as well as physical and chemical properties as ones made from new parts.
How many times can the plastics be recycled? When and how often do you need to rely on virgin materials?
JN: Plastics can be recycled several times if there is no degradation. As such, we endeavor to minimize the usage of virgin materials as much as possible. To that end, we have adopted two types of closed-loop plastic recycling strategies in collaboration with our outer material producers.
- Internal parts are made of 100 percent recycled plastics.
- External parts are made of both recycled and virgin materials to maintain product aesthetics.
How have the inverse manufacturing and integrated recycling system (IRS) evolved over time to accommodate changes in technology, work culture, etc?
In addition to designing for sustainability, Fuji Xerox is also focused on human-centered design. How do these two work together to further the company’s environmental goals?
JN: It would be no exaggeration to say that putting people first is the policy that has continuously guided research and technological development at Fuji Xerox ever since the company’s founding, when it made sure that its products were user-friendly for everybody.
When Fuji Xerox made sustainability an integral part of its business model in 1995, its inverse manufacturing process resulted in a deep dive analysis into the life cycle of parts, from procurement of raw materials to collection of end-of-life parts — even before starting the manufacture of products. The scrutiny of our processes, as a result of our inverse manufacturing process, often brings about synergies in creating efficiencies for our customers while furthering our environmental goals. For instance, as part of our printer leasing services, Fuji Xerox proactively replaces toners for our customers before they run out of ink. This not only drives efficiencies in customers’ offices, it also ensures that the used ink cartridges are collected and sent to our eco-manufacturing centers.
How has the application of a closed-loop model affected the company’s reliance on virgin materials and reduced its environmental impact in real terms?
JN: Our closed-loop model has consistently delivered reduction in the use of virgin materials. In fiscal 2016, we recorded a reduction of 3,809 tons in new resource inputs, surpassing our goal by 345 tons, and improving from a reduction of 3,273 tons and 2,916 tons in fiscal 2015 and fiscal 2014, respectively. In fiscal 2017, we have set a new resource inputs reduction goal of 3,902 tons, which is equivalent to the weight of more than 1,800 electric cars.
Extended producer responsibility — e.g. product takeback programs — plays an important role in ensuring valuable materials are filtered back into the production system. How much of the success of the Fuji Xerox sustainability program can be attributed to this practice?
JN: Building on our integrated recycling system as the foundation, our takeback program is free-of-charge to our customers. This program played a significant role in helping us consistently achieve a recycling rate of 99.5 percent or higher for our end-of-life products at all our business sites in Japan and the Asia Pacific region — an achievement unique to only Fuji Xerox in the document management and solution industry. Our collection of used products under manufacturer responsibility is just one of the contributing factors to our resource recycling system. We also strive to promote procurement and production activities throughout the supply chain with high emphasis on educating and engaging our suppliers. Fuji Xerox is also actively involved in public policy and stakeholder engagement with governments and international organizations such as United Nations agencies. Along with 19 major global ICT (Infocommunications and Technology) and Consumer Electronics companies, we promote industry advocacy in extended producer responsibility and support the adoption of harmonization and best practices on environmental legislation.
As a global company, how have you navigated the complexities of the different laws, regulations and infrastructure in each of your markets?
JN: We prioritize being aware of and understanding the laws, regulations and infrastructure of the different countries in which we operate. This helps to better streamline and optimize our integrated recycling system and inverse manufacturing program. At Fuji Xerox, we ensure that all manufactured products comply with the laws and regulations in each region.
Total business model overhauls require considerable buy-in from stakeholders across a business’s operations. How did Fuji Xerox get everyone onboard with the idea — customers included?
JN: In recent years, we have achieved financial profitability of our eco-manufacturing centers, supporting the case that what is good for the environment can also good for the business.
Since then, we have been actively engaging stakeholders in BASEL convention, local governments, United Nations agencies, ICT companies, designers and innovators to share our expertise and business case in developing a successful integrated recycling system and discuss a multi-stakeholder approach to improve the recycling rate and achieving zero landfill at national levels.
We recognize that our point of contact at our customers’ office is typically the office manager and as part of our CSR outreach initiative, ‘Smart and Green’ workshops were developed to help customers’ employees embrace environmental sustainability. To bring to life the concept and benefits of a circular economy, we supported a ground-breaking international exhibition, NGV Triennial, that investigated the future of electronic manufacturing and collaborated with global circular economy innovators to develop pilot projects to repurpose post-consumer recycled plastics from our products into other products such as stationery, roads and office furniture. Today, our sustainability efforts are widely recognized and we firmly believe that it will continue to play a key role in our sustained growth.