Circular Economic Principles—A Pathway to Sustainable Electronics

by Bill Olson / March 28, 2024

The concept of a circular economy has emerged as a critical pathway toward sustainable innovation and growth. This article explores the principles and applications of the circular economy. It highlights the circular economy's relevance in addressing environmental challenges—such as polluted water, plastic-filled oceans, and growing carbon emissions—and its extension to product lifecycle management.

Defining the Circular Economy—Drawing Inspiration from Nature

We can learn a lot by studying nature and natural systems. With natural ecosystems, the raw materials of life are used and reused efficiently over millennia, combined in new ways and new life forms. In other words, nothing that is part of a living system goes to waste. Much like the cycle of nature, every exhaled molecule is conserved, recycled, and repurposed as technical nutrients to benefit future plants, animals, and ecosystems.

The circular economy is designed to minimize waste and maximize resource efficiency by keeping materials and products in use for as long as possible. It aims to emulate the cyclical processes in nature to ensure nothing goes to waste, and everything is reused, recycled, or regenerated. By transitioning from a linear "take-make-dispose" model to a circular one, we can reduce our total environmental impact (TEI), conserve resources, and create a more sustainable future.

Benefits of Reuse and Repair Strategies

Typically, at the end of its first working life, consumer electronic products are shredded, with only a few materials recovered and recycled. The economic value of a shredded product is minimal, and for products with sensitive data, the destruction process can cost more than the raw materials are worth. However, in a circular economy, we view the product as a resource and seek to maximize its value by either reusing the product or recovering and reusing the highly engineered state-of-the-art components that make up the product design. By doing so, we extend the product's working life, reduce waste, and conserve resources.

An effective strategy for reusing and repairing products is critical to foster a circular economy and meet sustainability goals. To that end, Benchmark recognizes the significance of sustainable materials sourcing and usage. Our aim is to optimize the flow of circular materials throughout the value chain to minimize waste. These reuse and repair solutions can also provide added benefits, including:

  • Increased cost savings
  • Higher rate of reuse
  • Opportunities for growth and learning
  • Identification of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) targets
  • Reduction in packaging through increased reuse

However, there are challenges in implementing such a program. For example, there's often a lack of alignment on prioritizing reuse and repair that can lead to fragmented accountability and supplier repair backlogs. Local repair capabilities may also be underutilized. Nonetheless, substantial benefits can be realized by prioritizing circular economic principles in the reverse supply chain. Consider zero waste of materials, net-zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, increased use of reconditioned parts, improved global parts availability, and reduced cycle times, inventories, and costs related to reuse and repair materials.

Benchmark's Commitment to a Circular Economy

2023 Sustainability Report

Benchmark's 2023 Sustainability Report demonstrates our significant strides toward circularity and waste reduction. We encourage you to read page 59 of the report which highlights our efforts to reduce package waste avoidance. Through our partnership with HQ Pack, Benchmark has increased the reuse of shipping containers, resulting in 37.7 metric tons of avoided landfill disposal. These highly resilient containers can be reused more than ten times without repair or replacement. Page 66 of the same report highlights how Benchmark's Almelo site participates in ASML's As-New program that remanufactures used system parts to qualify them to the same standard as new parts. Download the 2023 Sustainability Report to learn more about our growth and commitment to sustainability.

Techno-Economic Analysis for Financial and Environmental Benefits

The importance of third-party review of TEI and lifecycle assessment (LCA) studies must be balanced. When claiming an ecological benefit, relying on third-party reviews of these studies is standard practice. When you engage with Benchmark, we can have our collective work reviewed and verified by a third party before making any external claims. This process ensures that environmental claims are technically defensible and commercially meaningful, highlighting the critical role of service providers in independently verifying such claims.

Engineering, Supply Chain, and Manufacturing Optimization

Benchmark excels in creating strategies that make our customers’ products lighter, smaller, and more sustainable. Our expertise lies in incorporating recycled content materials and sustainable design practices to minimize environmental impact while enhancing product efficiency and functionality. We strategically reduce weight and size by optimizing engineering, supply chain, and manufacturing activities, replacing obsolete parts, refurbishing or reconditioning assemblies for reuse, and incorporating recycled content materials. These efforts benefit the environment and contribute to cost savings and long-term sustainability goals for our customers.

Software Updates for Extended Product Life

Benchmark leverages our software engineering expertise to enhance the cybersecurity and system functionality of our customers' products, ensuring the longevity and functionality of products through timely software updates. This approach improves product performance and extends its lifespan, reducing the need for premature replacements and contributing to a more sustainable business model.

Product Sustainability Solutions

Benchmark understands the pivotal role that product sustainability plays in shaping a circular economy. That's why our product sustainability services are designed to integrate seamlessly into your operations, from product development to manufacturing and beyond. Our holistic approach begins with thoroughly evaluating your product's lifecycle, including supply chain and manufacturing operations.  Our product sustainability solutions focus on reducing environmental impact throughout the value chain, reflecting our commitment to sustainable practices.

Benchmark actively seeks environmentally conscious decisions in our sourcing process, including regional sourcing to reduce transportation emissions. We also seek partnerships with suppliers that provide reusable product packaging. These decisions minimize our carbon footprint and promote a more sustainable approach to business operations. Visit our Product Sustainability Services page to learn more about our comprehensive suite of services.

Quality Repair and Refurbishment Solutions

Our commitment to quality ensures that all products meet the highest quality and functionality standards. In cases where repair and refurbishment are not feasible, we practice responsible recycling to minimize waste and environmental impact. Our repair and refurbishment solutions are designed to maintain the integrity of the product while extending its lifespan, providing customers with sustainable options for maintaining their equipment.

Embracing a Circular Economy for Sustainable Innovation and Growth

Benchmark is committed to helping you embrace a circular economy, from decreasing power consumption and utilizing recycled materials to optimizing supply chain logistics and exploring end-user repairability strategies. Through our commitment to sustainability and our ESG strategy, we help you meet your sustainability goals while advancing the principles of a circular economy. Leveraging our advanced engineering and supply chain expertise, we partner with you to develop tailored solutions that balance sustainability with product features, quality, and time-to-market goals.

Meeting sustainability goals is about more than just good intentions. It's about actionable strategies that yield measurable results. Whether you are focused on reducing environmental impact, cutting carbon emissions, or embracing circular economic principles, our flexible service packages are designed to meet your specific needs. Together, we can simplify sustainability, drive meaningful change, and create a future where environmental responsibility is not just a goal but a reality. Join us today to start building a more sustainable world, one product lifecycle at a time. 

Design & Engineering Sustainability

about the author

Bill Olson

As Director of Sustainability at Benchmark, Bill leads efforts to improve ESG and sustainability at a global level, working to expand the company's offerings and better serve our customers, employees, investors, operations, and communities. Prior to joining Benchmark, Bill founded and led a key initiative called ECOMOTO at Motorola/Google/Lenovo, which aimed to deliver environmentally sound, seamless mobile products. Bill holds a doctorate degree in Inorganic Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has 24 U.S. patents, and over 40 technical publications.

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