December 2015’s NWSBQ: The harm in your office

KyoceraCool, relaxed, and captivating: the presenting style of Mark Shayler, hailed by some attendees as our best NWSBQ speaker yet. And, as co-speaker Tracey Rawling Church herself said, a tough act to follow! Massive thanks to both our speakers, who presented a highly complementary package: Mark, Director of Ape, took us on a whistle-stop tour around the globe to unpack the “problem” of the harm in our offices, and Tracey, Head of CSR at KYOCERA Document Solutions UK, engagingly reshaped the problem Mark had outlined by describing how a company who makes “stuff” can go some way to solving it.

Many thanks to Bruntwood for providing us with the sky-high backdrop, and GoodMoodFood for their moreish buffet.

Unpacking the problem

Mark began his slot by explaining that these days, our office isn’t a physical space, it’s the electrical devices we use. He reflected on a typical morning just a couple of decades ago: waking up, going about our routine, and not looking at a screen until a couple of hours later when we’d arrived at work and our PC had finally booted up. And, you’ve guessed it, that’s a stark difference to today – it’s literally a matter of seconds between opening our eyes and focusing them on a screen.

‘Obsolescence’ has taken on a new meaning over recent years too – from a time when it was built into products’ lifespans, to today’s situation of ‘obsolescence’ actually being our desire to upgrade to the latest device because it’s a slightly nicer shape, and reassuring ourselves that that’s okay because we’ve just recycled the old one (and thus plummeted the value it holds, and waved goodbye to the materials as they get ready to make another journey across the globe).

To illustrate the problem, Mark then focussed on the journey of just one material that’s present in every electrical device we own, coltan. Even the origin of this mineral is a little hazy, although it’s probably the resource abundant – and money impoverished – DRC, where being a boy soldier is marginally safer than the other options if you’re too small to carry a gun. And even with legislation like the US Dodd-Frank Act (and impending EU legislation too), the supply chain of coltan and other minerals in our devices is often too complex and muddy to track.

And along with Coltan’s travels back and forth around the world, all the accompanying processes which occur to create the coveted device you’re holding in your hands guzzle up more resources still: 3 tonnes of water to make one laptop, and 146 pairs of hands per tablet during its assembly in factories in China. And don’t forget the trails of packaging left behind at every stage. And with resources dwindling evermore, it takes evermore destructive processes to get at the few that remain in the ground.

Far from condemning consumerism, Mark explained that consumption isn’t wrong, but the hopeful future is one of conscious and considerate unconsumption. He referred to a few gleams of positive change, such as lean technological shifts like cloud computing, which are lessening the strain on our “office” hardware, and so likely prolonging its usable life. Ending with a call for manufacturing on our own soil, Mark handed over to Tracey to describe how KYOCERA works to be a considerate print manufacturing and services organisation.

Working on a solution

Tracey explained how KYOCERA make “stuff” – a b2b organisation which makes office printers, copiers and print solutions, and offer the only cartridge-free printers on the market. Tracey also conjured pictures of the past – the ‘paperless office’ dream of 50 years ago… which has translated into the paper jungle of today!

With the birth of the internet, paper use doubled. Almost two thirds of this printing – a hefty 4000 sheets each per year – is unnecessary. And whilst a trip to the zoo is a rare day out for most, we are all likely to be daily visitors of the “printer zoo” – our offices inhabited by half-broken printers stashed away in cupboards and under desks.

So, given the background, what’s KYOCERA’s approach? KYOCERA demonstrates that printers and cartridges don’t have to be complex: they can be simple in design, and thus easy to fix. It was this approach which attracted Tracey to first join their team in 1993 – their aim to design devices with components which last for life, and with simple assembly, disassembly and recycling. In fact, Mark and Tracey met an event in which Mark disassembled KYOCERA’s cheapest printer and hailed it the most robustly and simply designed he’d ever seen.

Tracey described how KYOCERA rises to the challenge of product stewardship by­ intervening at product end of life to save previous product materials, before they land in a pile of WEEE and get shredded to become polymer soup (neither palatable, nor valuable). To achieve this, KYOCERA work with a number of partners to take back constituent materials, getting closer to the vision of a circular and collaborative printer industry, and using skilled people in the UK at the same time.

In recent years, KYOCERA have grown from a traditional manufacturing business to a document solutions focus – new revenue streams through software is proving a sustainable business model shift across their industry. Tracey also outlined another way of looking at the “printing” problem – printing happens because people need to exchange information, so it’s this communication challenge that’s the root to address.

Please click here to see Tracey’s slides.


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