Global tech company designs its products for circular economy

We live in a world of finite resources and growing populations. If business continues to operate in the same unsustainable way, three times the planet’s current resources will be needed by 2050. If business embraces circular business models such as remanufacturing or lifecycle management however, we will ease the pressure on our planet.

Ricoh is a global technology company specialising in office imaging equipment, production print solutions, document management systems and IT services. It has been one of the leading pioneers, realising early on that its business model lends itself to the circular economy.
As a product manufacturer it can make one of the greatest contributions to reducing environmental impact through its involvement in the early phases of a product’s lifecycle, as well as leasing products that are then returned at the end of the contract period and remanufactured.

Ricoh’s commitment to sustainability is built on the beliefs of its founder, Kiyoshi Chimera. From manufacturing and distribution, to buildings and recycling, the company’s approach includes raising awareness and providing tangible ecological and cost benefits to suppliers and customers alike.

The Comet Circle

Ricoh’s Comet Circle vision of a resource-recirculating society goes beyond the domains of its operations of making and marketing products. It embraces the idea of a sustainable society and of reducing environmental impact over the entire product lifecycle, including associated upstream and downstream processes.

In 1994, Ricoh established the Comet Circle principle in which products and parts are designed and manufactured in such a way that they can be reused and recycled.This is demonstrated through the inner loops of the Comet Circle, under “long use” and “reuse”. Over the years, the company has seen that by focusing on these tighter inner loops, it can make a significant contribution to both resource conservation and its business performance.

To be sustainable, manufacturing must reduce its reliance on virgin resources. Using the Comet Circle a system was built in which used products are recovered and reintroduced into the market, making much more efficient use of dwindling resources.

Each circle, or comet, in the chart below represents one of the company’s partners who can help develop a sustainable society. The new resources harvested by the materials supplier from the natural environment (upper right) will be turned into a product through moving from right to left along the upper route, finally reaching the users (customers). The used products will follow the route below from left to right.

Ricoh has seen a substantial improvement in resource performance across its product range, setting aggressive targets to reduce the use of new resources in product manufacturing by 25% from 2007 levels and by 87.5% by 2050. This has resulted in its current product range being smaller and lighter, employing parts with longer lifecycles, recycling and reusing parts and products, and expanding the use of renewable resources.

Ricoh’s GreenLine

The Comet Circle is not just a principle that the company likes to talk about, it’s being used to develop Ricoh’s GreenLine product range. These are pre-owned multifunctional products (MFPs) that go beyond recycling and are genuinely remanufactured. An MFP is an office equipment device that incorporates the functionality of multiple devices in one. A typical MFP may act as a combination of some or all of the following devices: e-mail, fax, photocopier, printer, and scanner.

GreenLine devices are Ricoh’s premium quality re-circulated series of MFPs, which are returned from lease contracts, selected and renewed to a high standard before being placed with customers again.

In practice, not every device returned from a leasing contract becomes a GreenLine product. Devices are inspected, dismantled and go through an extensive renewal process - including key components, replacement parts and operating software updates.

When a part cannot be reused in a product, it will be recycled as a material with the highest possible economic value. Recycling is repeated as many times as possible under a multi-tiered recycling system, to reduce the need to use new materials, which also reduces the volume of waste generated.

Importantly, the Ricoh GreenLine remanufacturing process has been audited and certified by the British Standard Institute (BSI) according to BS8887-220, which assures customers that remanufacturing standards have been met.

Remanufacturing is the highest form of recycling and Ricoh is unique in the industry to have gained external certification for its remanufactured products.

Serving a wider range of customers

Ricoh’s GreenLine portfolio is proving attractive to a new group of customers. These are customers that will not buy new products but are looking for a sustainable product in a different price range. Therefore, offering remanufactured devices has contributed to expanding a market share.

Being at the heart of Ricoh’s approach to sustainable products, the Comet Circle has proven to deliver significant value to the business and to the customers. Product manufacturers can make a significant contribution to reducing environmental impacts because of both their involvement in the early phases of a product’s lifecycle, as well as leasing products that are then returned at the end of the contract period and remanufactured. However, the Comet Circle can be applied to many different business models to help realise the tangible benefits of embedding sustainable practice and behaviour into company operations on a daily basis.