For decades we have known that our traditional
linear production and consumption models were unsustainable.
The circular economy discussion has highlighted alternative, circular models of production
that emphasize recycling, remanufacturing and refurbishment.
Rather than valuable materials being lost outside of the system, they can be recaptured
and their value retained. At RIT, we have seen the benefits that accrue
to businesses that pursue increased circularity in their systems; in one industry case, the
remanufacturing of a single component resulted in a 90% reduction in materials use and waste
generation. This is tied to real cost reductions that all businesses should be interested in.
Much remanufacturing research has focused on heavy equipment, vehicle and military applications
– far from the everyday consumer. We are interested in exploring whether there
are legitimate business opportunities that not only employ the more circular practice
of remanufacturing, but that also expose consumers to importance of reducing waste,
retaining value, and embracing more circular systems.
In particular, one of our projects is focused on examining the business case for remanufactured
office furniture. What better touch point with consumers than the very furniture that
millions of us work at every day? Although the valuable components of a traditional
cubicle workspace may not be obvious, we’ve partnered with Staples, an office supply store
with significant interest and initiative in the circular economy, as well as Davies Office,
a business that has been profitably engaged in office furniture remanufacturing for many
years. Like all remanufacturers, Davies Office first
disassembles used office furniture to recover the ‘core’ – valuable structural components
of the item. Common remanufactured items for Davies Office include the components of your standard
cubicle workspace: the cubicle panels, work-surfaces and metal file units.
Davies Office first takes the recovered ‘core,’ then some new components to replace wear and tear, and integrates everything into a newly remanufactured office
furniture product. For Davies Office, the value proposition is all about sustainability and transparency: bringing back business assets to like-new condition, to the customer’s specification, and all without compromise on quality. As with other industrial applications, the remanufacturing of consumer-facing durable goods like office furniture, has proven profitability and savings.
Davies has tracked its own data and performance, revealing an average savings between 40% and
70% in cost to the consumer. This is in addition to the environmental benefits
of remanufacturing: reduced carbon footprint, reduced waste to landfill and energy and
natural resource savings. Ultimately, our work with Davies Office will help to highlight the business case for many different types of companies, to find an opportunity in the transition to more circular business models. In the consumer space, remanufacturing has
great potential for certain types of products, including electronics. And the remanufacturing
research being done at RIT’s Center for Remanufacturing and Resource Recovery is worth
checking out. By bringing Circular Economy examples and
thinking into everyday living, such as through remanufactured office furniture, we can help
to demonstrate the role that consumers have to play in driving a faster scale-up to more
Circular Economies across all sectors.