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Paving your path to circularity: “REmake” products to extend their usable life

For decades, companies have been motivated to sell products whose value expired, compelling consumers to dispose of old product and purchase new products. Driven by several factors – ranging from shareholder demand for continuous revenue growth to the profitability and convenience of disposable consumption.

Circularity comes of age in business

February 12, 2019

But today, companies are recognizing that resource efficiency can deliver savings and create growth opportunities in meeting emerging market demands. At the same time, consumers, investors, governments and non-governmental organizations are drawing more attention to resource stewardship and broader sustainability issues. Companies are challenged to reconsider their products and business models from a new perspective: one that reconsiders the traditional model in light of environmental and health impacts throughout the full life-cycle of the product – from raw or recycled material inputs to production, distribution, use, and end of life treatment.

The Newsweek Vantage report explores “REmake” as one of the several strategies companies can use to pursue more sustainable businesses. REmake calls for manufacturers to take one or more actions to maximize the useful life of products:

  • Re-engineer products to extend their usable life – For example, assembling products in a way that makes them easy to deconstruct so that failing or damaged parts may be replaced or repaired to extend the life of the product. 
  • Expand product usage – For example, designing products for disassembly, including parts that may be collected for recycling or as resource stocks for reuse.
  • Generate less waste throughout their entire life cycle – For example, creating programs to collect and return used product to the manufacturer where it is refurbished, upgraded and resold, reducing the use of natural resources to make all new products.

For some manufacturers, the concept of REmake is not new, though the language might be. For example, carpet manufacturer Interface launched carpet tiles in the early 1990s which could easily be replaced when damaged, thus eliminating the need to replace more than necessary. This also enabled Interface to offer carpet “leasing,” which facilitated reclamation of its own products for reuse as raw materials for new textiles. Although REmake strategies are not new, they are not yet mainstream, but are gaining attention among many manufacturers. From new revenue streams generated from product-as-a-service models or repair and upgrade services, to reduced raw material expense using returned/reclaimed components, REmake yields a positive financial impact.

Getting started with remaking product is not as challenging as you may think. It may be as easy as understanding what you are already doing today in terms of circularity and sustainability. For instance, UL’s rebuilt equipment certification programs are already helping companies address both safety and green construction requirements. UL’s repurposing standard for electric vehicle batteries, UL 1974, can enable second-life use of technologies whose lifespan may be depleted for vehicle propulsion, but may be suitable for use in microgrids and other storage solutions.  If you are new to this space, it begins with some simple conversations around ways to think about how products can be upgraded or repaired or delivered as a service.

UL can help you build the roadmap to meet some short-term goals, and then measure and verify circularity throughout the product, facility and company. The transformation could increase the long-term viability of your company and will certainly yield financial benefits. To learn more about the UL Circularity Facts program, visit our website.