Brother, where art thou?
With Chinese manufacturing blossoming, four new major EU directives present an opportunity for UK business in the global marketplace. Stephen Kimber discusses one company's approach
As UK and European manufacturers respond to escalating consumer demand for high-tech disposable electrical and electronic goods, mountains of discarded products are being dumped at landfill sites, posing a serious risk to the environment and industry.
As a worldwide producer of electronics business machines for more than 75 years, Brother recognised the impact of the increased waste and started modifying its operating systems two years ago to conform to EU legislation. This led to the adoption of a new policy to decrease the impact of its global business practices on the environment, which would let Brother operate in a more sustainable and environmentally responsible way.
Known as the 5R strategy (recycle, refuse, reduce, reuse and reform), the two Manchester operations, Brother UK and Brother International Europe set out to decrease the amount of industrial waste emitted from their operations into the environment.
The 5R model fundamentally means that products manufactured by Brother will be reused whenever possible. For instance, Brother produces standard ink cartridges fabricated out of recyclable materials, which can be recovered, recycled and reformed in a different way.
First implemented at the company's Head Office in Nagoya, Japan, where the company was set-up in 1934, Brother looked to match the Japanese-based company's result by producing zero waste to landfill sites.
By incorporating all five elements of the model into the supply chain, the company has as its ultimate goal the target of rolling out the model to its operations in 28 countries worldwide.
Recognising the benefits associated with the 5R model, Brother started to design products with end-of-life in mind through a process called 'design by disassembly'. Instead of using glue to assemble parts, screws are used where possible, so that parts can be recycled and reused once the product has reached the end of its life.
The introduction of new EU directives next year has led Brother to apply the 5R model where possible to conform to legislation.
The Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) Directive, which comes into effect in June, will make the producer and retailer responsible for the take-back, recycling and disposal of electronic and electrical goods.
With one million tonnes of waste electronic and electrical equipment sent to landfill each year, of which almost 85% of the weight consists off IT and household appliances, Brother has identified the WEEE directive as an important element of its environmental remit.
As a result, it is reducing presence of waste material in landfill sites, and is actively using the 5R model to recycle and reuse materials as much as possible. The company is conforming to local legislation in all 25 member states of the European Union and is further implementing a rigorous return and disposal system within each operational state.
The Restriction of the Use of certain Hazardous Substances directive (RoHS) is also an area in which the firm has been working towards incorporating into the environmental management model.
RoHS requires that the presence of certain elements, including mercury, cadmium and lead be reduced in electronic equipment to facilitate the disposal process. As a result, alternatives are being explored and products that contain lead-free components are being manufactured.
The REACH directive, which focuses on the amount of chemicals used in manufacturing, requires that a company declares the amount of waste emitted, provided over a tonne of chemicals is used. To comply with legislation, Brother is placing more responsibility on finding the right treatment in the early stages of the product lifecycle by exploring less hazardous alternatives.
The Energy-Using Products directive, which aims to reduce use of excess energy on electronic products, is an additional directive which Brother will adhere to and is implemented in all stages of the product lifecycle. If customers are interested in receiving an analysis of the materials used in producing the goods, Brother complies with its obligation as a manufacturer by providing this information.
As well as undertaking the required obligations governed by law, the manufacturing company seeks out voluntary standards to reduce the impact of its business operations on the environment. It was the first printer manufacturer to achieve the coveted TCO standard in 2003, a globally recognised benchmark for excellence in ecology, energy, emissions and ergonomics.
The company has further registered its products with Energystar, which produces low standby power consumption, as well as the Japanese standard, Eco-leaf.
In adopting this new policy, it is Brother's intention to turn environmental legislation to its advantage, while competing effectively on a global scale.
Looking favourably on the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM), which provides support for internationally minded businesses and other organisations to improve quality, performance and competitiveness, Brother attended the annual EFQM forum to help support ambitious companies and organisations across Europe to become more competitive in international markets.
At the event hosted this year in Cardiff, speakers from Phillips, IBM and Pilkington explained how companies conforming to imminent EU directives can overcome Asian business competitiveness. At the event:
n Richard Scase talked about the future where companies need to look at survival rather than safeguarding jobs
n Sir Ken Robinson discussed the challenges this will bring to businesses when motivating staff to strive for constant innovation and creativity
n Mike Fairey from Lloyds TSB, spoke about the customer of the future
n Mike Alvarez of Shell, talked about the need to think about promoting diversity as a great opportunity rather than yet another limitation for businesses across Europe as they try to compete
World's largest exporter
Chairman of the EFQM Steering Committee, Vincent Kane says: "Over the past decade, China has reported year-on-year economic growth of up to 10%. At the same time its share of world trade has more than doubled. Although seemingly insignificant, China is now predicted to be the world's largest exporter by 2010, and account for more than 25% of the world's manufacturing output by 2020.
"India isn't far behind either. With an average economic growth of around 6% and the largest beneficiary of the offshoring trend. Accounting for 80% of the global business-process outsourcing market, India boasts an impressive track record and accounts for an even more impressive quarter of all software engineers.
"If European business is to compete in the global race against China and the rest of Asia, we must embrace change. Over the next five years, legislation from the EU is set to impact severely upon all areas of industry; this includes IT equipment through to white goods and motor vehicles.
"By examining how such change can be delivered against a background of tighter regulation, greater transparency and pressure to achieve sustainability in business, the forum offered an ideal environment for the sharing of ideas and solutions," he adds.
· Stephen Kimber is the Senior Environment and Standards Engineer for Brother International