Bridging the Gap Between Profitability & Sustainability to Unlock a Greener Future

By Mary Ann Yule

The Government of Canada’s proposed single use plastics ban is sparking important conversations about sustainability at home and around the world. Every year, Canadians throw away over 3 million tonnes of plastic waste, which represents up to $8 billion per year in lost value, wasted resources, energy and ultimately profit. The truth is that banning single use plastics is a good start, but it is far from the finish line.

Environmentalists have been signaling the gap for some time. Despite a long roster of companies — from Starbucks to Disney — making valiant efforts to ban single-use plastics, it’s not enough to stop a climate crisis nor reverse course on the astounding 8 million tonnes of plastic dumped in our oceans each year.

The challenge is systemic, and the solution starts with leadership from the private sector. We need to look beyond straws and bags to how we can implement more sustainable practices in our businesses and support sustainability as the standard, not an afterthought. After all, it’s good for business — this year alone HP drove $900+ million in new revenue where sustainable impact was a key differentiator. When implemented in the correct ways, sustainable practices and technologies hold the potential to not only benefit the environment but profits as well.

Rethinking manufacturing using 3D printing technology is one way companies are tackling the sustainability challenge. Imagine a world without warehouses, inventory or waste. In this world, we make only what we need, when and where we need it. Goods are created in a fraction of the time it once took. Meanwhile, we avoid production excess and idle inventory, all while bringing cost and time inputs down. We’re not far from this reality and 3D printing is already starting to disrupt traditional production practices.

Markets are changing, and more cities are becoming dense, heavily populated economic hubs. In fact, the 300 largest metropolitan areas, globally, accounted for 67% of the world’s total GDP growth between 2014 and 2016, and this is projected to continue to grow. Within that ecosystem, 3D printing enables smaller businesses to compete with much larger ones by drastically reducing their supply chain, driving down production costs and mitigating risk in design. It also helps entrepreneurs bring their ideas to fruition faster than ever before.

Today, more materials can be used with this type of manufacturing, which means more applications across a broader set of products. These factors and more have resulted in the 3D printing market more than doubling revenues in six years. According to Deloitte, the market will produce $3.1 billion USD by the end of 2020.

Producing goods closer to the point of consumption means dramatically cutting shipping demands and slashing fossil fuel usage, as well as eliminating 60 to 70% of materials used in traditional manufacturing processes that end up in scrap. Manufacturers are also working on a variety of natural materials that can be used in 3D printing processes, including cost-effective water-based or cellulose-chitin materials rather than plastics which end up in landfills, oceans and take hundreds of years to decompose. Researchers are even exploring materials like algae and coffee grounds for use in 3D printing. All of these contribute to stronger environments for communities around the world.

Systemic change is a critical driver of success requiring buy-in from companies, governments and citizens working together in three critical ways. First, education. We must invest in the next generation of workers and empower new talent. Doing so means reskilling current workers and giving them the tools, knowledge and support they need to embrace the coming changes. Second, incentivization. This should come in the form of tax breaks and grants that encourage progress, easing the inevitable transition. Third, collaboration. Enterprise and higher education must build frameworks that facilitate adoption, encourage support and inspire creativity.

The collective impact that technology has on our world is so significant, in many ways, it’s unquantifiable. 3D printing is no exception. To optimize the true potential of this powerful technology, we’ll need to work together across private and public sectors to drive adoption. We’re at the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution — the move from a reality in which tangible and digital things exits in separate spheres to a whole new one in which lines are blurred — and it’s opening up the door to the future and 3D printing is the key that’s unlocking it. Together, we’ll shape and reshape processes and products while dramatically simplifying and improving supply chains and the world as we know it.

Mary Ann Yule is President of HP Canada.

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