Zero waste a remedy for CSR malaise

A recent announcement by one of the world’s largest office equipment manufacturers has provided a refreshing respite from a little-known condition called CSR fatigue. The ailment afflicts people who watch the business world for announcements on corporate social responsibility, hoping for signs that society really is moving toward a sustainable existence.

The announcement? Fuji Xerox said it has achieved zero waste, meaning that it contributes nothing to the world’s growing waste stream.

Anyone who spends their time reading about green business and sustainable manufacturing is inevitably infected by a niggling dissatisfaction with the CSR targets declared by companies. As companies spout the virtues of reducing water use by five per cent this year, or carbon emissions by 7 per cent next year, a small voice in the back of the head goes: “But what about the remaining 93 per cent?” That little voice grows more and more insistent, because anyone who spends their time reading about green business also reads extensively about the enormous toll society inflicts on the world’s natural resources, and how time and clean air and safe water are all running out.

This awareness manifests itself in inevitable impatience for the hapless company trying to do its bit for the environment.

Fuji Xerox’s recent announcement of its zero waste achievement turned out to be just the thing to treat CSR malaise.

In a recent Eco-Business interview, Fuji Xerox’s soft-spoken CSR expert, Miki Watanabe, explained the company’s  zero waste initiative. She finished off her update with the invigoratingly simple statement: “So that completes our zero landfill goal.”

Impressive as that sounded, the question surfaced almost immediately: how does Fuji Xerox define zero waste?

Zero landfill means that less than 0.5 per cent of the waste (in weight) from the production and use of Fuji Xerox products goes to a landfill or is treated by simple incineration.

Yes, they do incinerate some refuse in waste to energy plants – but only after the waste is separated at purpose-built facilities into 70 different categories for recycling and reprocessing.

Fuji Xerox has incentive to reuse as much waste as they can because they’ve put pressure on themselves to limit the annual volume of fresh material they introduce into the manufacturing process.

In the 1990’s, the company decided to take responsibility for the complete life cycle of all of its products, and committed to collecting them from customers at the end of the product lifespan as part of a closed-loop system. Doing this meant redesigning its products – which include commercial photocopiers and toner cartridges - to maximise reuse and recycling. The company puts as much recycled material into its new products as possible, and designs parts so they can be reused at least two to three times.

Fuji Xerox first achieved zero waste in Japan in 2000 before deciding they needed a way to recycle products sold to customers throughout Asia Pacific.

The technical expertise for the level of recycling they needed just wasn’t available in the markets they looked at, so in 2004, the company built a specialised recycling facility in Thailand for all the products collected from customers in Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand.

Last year, that facility reached a 99.8 per cent recycling rate. Fuji Xerox’s latest recycling facility, located in Suzhou, China, announced last month it had achieved the same rate – which meant that the company had achieved zero waste for every region where it sells its products.

Granted, the company can only recycle used equipment if the customers give it back, and it’s likely that the collection system misses a fair number of products. 

But Fuji Xerox has an advantage here over other manufacturers because it’s not so easy to throw an enormous multi-function copier down the garbage chute, and because there’s generally a service contract covering commercial photocopiers. In Japan at least, the numbers look promising. As early as 2000, Fuji Xerox was collecting 97 per cent of the copiers it sold through direct sales and 78 per cent of the copiers it sold through agents. Toner cartridges may be to be more problematic due to their smaller size and shorter lifespan.

Fuji Xerox’s definition of its zero waste achievement - less than 0.5 per cent of waste sent for disposal, zero pollution, and zero illegal dumping – still looks pretty good.

Good enough to stave off CSR fatigue for a little while longer.

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