Unlimited Shades of Green: Practicing the Second Generation of the “Three R’s”

We’re working to reduce the carbon footprint of our products and solutions by “Redesigning, Renewing and Regenerating” – and you can too.

A woman puts the compostable ZSB Series printer cartridge in a post of soil
by Shohail Ahmed
March 02, 2022

There’s a running joke among sustainability professionals: if you asked someone how their relationship is with their loved one and they responded “sustainable,” it would say a lot about the nature of their relationship – and not in a good way. This is because many of us are accustomed to viewing sustainability merely as mitigating risk when we should be looking it at as an opportunity.

Managing through climate change requires a shift in mindset. We must examine ways to altogether cease our adverse impact to improve life for everyone. We need to act now, despite the challenge of balancing resources needed to address unprecedented supply chain challenges in the near term and climate issues in the long run. If we don’t act now, we risk crossing a point of no return.

This has brought renewed focus to how we design, produce, use, and eventually dispose of products. In a previous blog post, I shared that meeting these challenges requires taking a holistic approach to lifecycle management. It also requires participation in the circular economy, energy efficiency, thoughtful packaging, reuse of materials and more.

At Zebra, we see sustainability as the right thing to do, but it’s also a significant competitive advantage. Take our rugged mobile devices, for example: on average, our customers enjoy a longer useful life of our products than they would with a non-rugged consumer product.

Even though the ruggedness of our products takes us a step in the right direction, it doesn’t take us all the way. We know the energy consumption related to the use of our products over their life cycle is a key opportunity for Zebra to reduce carbon emissions in the value chain. As such, we can reduce our impact by collaborating with customers on sustainability and continually increasing the energy efficiency of our products.

Last year, we launched a detailed life cycle assessment (LCA) process for our products. LCA is a methodology for analyzing the potential environmental impacts of a product from materials sourcing to disposal. This detailed analysis provides us a holistic baseline for understanding our products’ carbon footprints. What’s more, it highlights opportunities for continuous improvements.

While the analyses are in progress, we’re already setting carbon emission reduction targets across our products and solutions categories. We’re also…

- strategically eliminating certain hazardous materials from our product portfolio (including those already restricted in some regions that are not yet banned globally).

- increasing the use of recycled materials.

- focusing on reducing product packaging.

Through all these initiatives, we’re practicing the “three Rs” – in both original and 2.0 fashion.

So, what is the 2.0 version of the three Rs?

We have come to know and appreciate the original three Rs of sustainability – reduce, reuse and recycle. We’ve adopted these principles and they have served us well in doing our part to reduce our overall ecological footprint. However, with the increased intensity of climate change, it’s time we collectively rethink the traditional three Rs and leverage their second iterations: redesign, renew and regenerate.

To get a better understanding of the three Rs 2.0, I present a few examples of the steps we’re taking along our sustainability journey to evolve:

Redesign

At Zebra, we use “Design for Environment” (DfE) principles that guide us to choose materials and design products that are energy efficient and allow for reuse. Zebra’s latest ZSB Series printers for small office and home office applications are a great example – the printers’ cartridges are made from a fully biodegradable starch material and the printers themselves are ENERGY STAR® certified. This innovation was not an afterthought – it was built into the design in its early stages.

While DfE is critical in the product ideation stage, it’s also important to factor these principles into the product delivery stage. For this reason, our packaging engineers are working to reduce the amount of packaging for our products and are continuously increasing the use of biodegradable and recycled materials.

Renew

Zebra offers Software as a Service (SaaS), Device as a Service (DaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) solutions that are subscription-based and can be renewed, which inherently creates better efficiencies and thus a lower carbon footprint due to having fewer devices and minimal tangible items in circulation. Similarly, simplifying devices’ software updates allows our customers to empower their employees with the latest software features, which helps maximize their operational capacity. Our Power Precision tool and VisibilityIQ™ software suite provide customers, their IT teams, and end-users visibility into mobile computer, barcode scanner and printer battery usage as well as the number of charge cycles completed. This helps device managers to better predict the lifespan of each battery in their fleets and identify when it will need to be replaced. Our recently introduced Proactive Battery Replacement Service takes this to another level. This new service provides a proactive approach to battery management by running monthly “remaining useful life” analyses, alerting customers of any failing batteries, and sending replacements to the appropriate locations. And, in North America, we offer free battery recycling through a collaboration with Call2Recycle, which you can read more about here.

Regenerate

Regeneration is about transitioning from “make, use and dispose” to “make, use, repair and reuse.” With modularity in product design (another element of DfE), we benefit from being able to replace a part instead of the whole product when something is broken. This also allows for easy service and repairability while increasing the pool of eligible products for our Circular Economy Program.

Our Circular Economy Program offers customers an option to purchase or rent certified refurbished devices, helping breathe new life into older generation products and solutions. Similarly, we offer device buy-back and recycling programs to help customers responsibly retire older devices.

Other techniques used to regenerate hardware include sandblasting of plastic parts and board-level component repairs.

Just as we find different shades of green in nature, there exists a realm of opportunity for creating more sustainable solutions – ones that are inclusive, innovative and impactful. At Zebra, we are committed to bringing greener products and solutions to market. Solutions that do less harm to the planet and do more good for our people, partners, and customers.

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Acknowledgment:

Thank you to all the passionate Zebra associates driving product sustainability via our Green Product Council, and for making positive strides in our commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility.

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Editor’s Note:

You can learn more about Zebra’s commitment to supporting the protection of the environment and all our environmental initiatives here. Stay tuned to the Your Edge blog as we plan to share more about this commitment soon.

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Shohail Ahmed
Shohail Ahmed is currently a Senior Engineering Manager for Zebra Technologies, responsible for leading cross functional teams within the Engineering Shared Services (ESS) department. Shohail has more than 15 years of experience within the Electronics and Telecommunication industry and has focused on achieving business goals by leveraging high performing teams.