The repair sector has a major role to play in the circular economy. Once in a bad way, the repair sector is now experiencing a strong rebound. The sector is restructuring, modernising and, above all, becoming fully aware of its positive impact on the environment and the economy. As a major player in the circular economy, repairers are a perfect illustration of the potential of this (re)new paradigm. We are very proud to be able to count on the support and knowledge of major players in the industry to ensure that LONGTIME® offers a strong and useful consumer benchmark for all consumers.
What is the circular economy?
Before we can present the links between the repair sector and the circular economy, we need to understand what the circular economy is.
What is the principle of the circular economy?
“Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed”: Antoine Lavoisier’s famous maxim could be the slogan of the circular economy. This circular economy model is a new economic system that is more respectful of the environment and people. The circular economy aims to reconcile environmental protection with the creation of sustainable jobs that cannot be relocated.
In concrete terms, the circular economy is based on a number of principles that can be adapted to each economic sector. These pillars of the circular economy include :
● Sustainable sourcing
● Industrial and territorial ecology
● The economy of functionality or use
● Responsible consumption (short circuits, sustainable products, etc.)
● Longer useful life
● The fight against waste
In France, the Ministry of Ecological Transition has incorporated the issues associated with this economic strategy into the objectives of sustainable development and environmental preservation defined in particular by the Anti-Waste Act of 10 February 2020. The law focuses on 5 key areas for a circular economic model: getting rid of disposable products, better informing consumers, combating waste and promoting solidarity-based re-use, taking action against programmed obsolescence, and better production.
How the circular economy works
There are two classic economic models: the linear economy model and the circular economy model. The first model describes a product life cycle based on the following pattern: extract, manufacture, consume, throw away. The second model reuses recyclable resources in the production of new products. This is the circular economy loop. To ensure its viability, all stages of the product life cycle need to be rethought: on the manufacturer’s side, by incorporating recyclable materials into its product, and designing robust, reliable and repairable products; on the consumer’s side, by adopting responsible consumer behaviour, practising selective sorting, favouring repair and sorting waste to encourage its re-use.
Which companies are involved in the circular economy?
Current regulations and new consumer expectations mean that all businesses are now involved in this ecological transition. Whether selling products or services, all sectors of economic activity are being asked to rethink their production and distribution methods with the aim of reducing negative environmental externalities and preserving our resources and ecosystems as far as possible. Whether in the primary, secondary or tertiary sectors, everyone is invited to rethink their model, incorporating the green economy or the economy of functionality, for example. An April 2021 study by OPEO and INEC shows that 85% of manufacturers see the circular industry as an economic opportunity. These findings are encouraging and show a general willingness, across all players, to adopt behaviours in line with the circular economy.
What role does the repair sector play in the circular economy?
In the manufacturing industry, the repair sector is one of the pillars of the circular economy. In particular, by helping to extend the life of products and equipment, it plays an intrinsic part in extending the life of our products. Manufacturers of spare parts, wholesalers and retailers of BTB and BTC spare parts, independent repairers, outsourced after-sales services, reconditioners and retailers of repaired and non-repaired second-hand products… the repair sector in France is polymorphous. Both in terms of the diversity of products repaired and the types and representativeness of the companies in this sector, which has more than 220,000 employees (source: ADEME panorama), including independent craftsmen, small and medium-sized enterprises and large companies. More recently, start-ups have been positioning themselves in this sector, proof of a certain dynamism that highlights an attractive economic dimension. All the active players in the industrial production market are concerned by the circular economy. Manufacturers via their production methods, distributors in what they promote and the products they list, consumers in their purchasing behaviour and repairers of course… As part of this ecological transition, the public authorities are not standing still and have put in place various levers to boost the repair sector: lower VAT on repair activities, introduction of financial and tax support measures for repair, funding for repair training, etc. It is through the synergy of all these players that our economy will move fully towards a sustainable and environmentally-friendly model.
Why link reparability and sustainable development?
To fully understand the positive impact of the repair sector and its benefits for our environment, we need to be aware of the ecological impacts that lie behind the production of manufactured goods. These can be broken down into two broad categories: CO2 production and the production of premature waste.
Capital goods useful life and environmental impact
Producing smartphones, tools and household appliances is a major source of pollution, which can be modelled in terms of carbon weight or KG CO2 equivalent. All our goods have a life cycle broken down into several stages: extraction of materials, manufacture, transport, distribution, use and disposal. Each stage generates significant environmental impacts. The most significant stage in terms of impact (particularly for electrical and electronic products) is the production phase. This phase corresponds to the sum of the stages of extraction of raw materials, transformation, manufacture and transport. Here’s a concrete example: based on an average useful life of 8 years, a television weighs 374 kg eq C02. One of the simplest ways of reducing the environmental impact of products is to extend their lifespan. To take the example of a TV set again: by extending its useful life from 8 to 11 years, thanks to a repair, we reduce the carbon weight of that same TV set from 374kg to 250kg CO2 equivalent, i.e. a difference of ⅓ of the total weight. So, by extending the period of use, the repair sector generates significant environmental benefits.
Service life of capital goods and waste production
The second problem with the current production model is the prevalence of premature waste. Premature waste is a product that is discarded with too short a total useful life. In short, it is a product that has not been put to full use. In order to manage this mass of waste, recycling channels have been set up in the form of eco-organisations to recover this premature waste. However, in the hierarchy of solutions, recycling takes second place to prevention because, as the saying goes, “the best waste is the waste we don’t create”. In fact, one of the main reasons why we take things to the rubbish tip is because they’ve broken down, and the main remedy is to repair them. This deliberately simplistic formulation highlights the obvious link between a dynamic repair sector and a reduction in premature waste;
Repair and sustainable development
It is only fairly recently that institutions and public authorities have understood the high environmental potential of repair and, more generally, of the sustainability of manufactured products. In 2016, when we launched our work on the LONGTIME® label, we were often told that reparability and durability were not yet considered as environmental criteria. Repair professionals in all categories help us to extend the life of our goods. In this way, they avoid, or at least postpone as far as possible, the scrapping of our objects. The longer we postpone the end of a product’s life, the more we reduce its social and environmental impact, and the more we reduce the extraction of new resources. As a result, the 125,000 or so French businesses dedicated to repair save millions of tonnes of CO2 every year. The repair sector is therefore an essential link in making the life cycle of products ecologically and socially sustainable.
How the repair sector is innovating with circular economy models
We can all see that a certain amount of change is taking place in the repair sector. Driven by digitalization, repairers are innovating and offering services in line with consumer demand. Call centres, chat boxes, self-diagnostics, remote repair, repair packages, resale of second-hand products and soon preventive or corrective maintenance services linked to the arrival of artificial intelligence. The sector saw a sharp upturn in business in 2020. This is driven by the growing desire of the French to consume better. But it is also the consequence of related factors such as the COVID crisis, and legislative developments in terms of ecology and sustainability (Ecodesign standard and AGEC law). Make no mistake about it, the repair sector remains under considerable pressure. (Excluding branches dedicated to car repairs and telephony). The repair fund enshrined in the AGEC Act will have to be set up quickly if the consumer habits acquired during the confinements are to take root in the long term. The decline in repair activity may reflect an increase in the quality of products on the market, boosted by the growing desire of distributors to stock higher quality products, such as our partner Entrepôt du Bricolage, to the detriment of disposable products. But this must not obscure the many obstacles facing the repair ecosystem. Although still fragile, the repair sector regularly proves its ability to adapt and innovate in order to preserve this formidable reservoir of employment, a source of savings for the environment and for consumers.
Repair and spare parts supply
In many cases, repairing an appliance requires access to spare parts. Storage and availability are complex strategic issues. If a manufacturer underestimates its need for available spare parts, then demand for repairs cannot be met, with the result that faulty appliances may be scrapped. If, on the other hand, the stock of parts has been overestimated, then the manufacturer will have tied up value and consumed resources unnecessarily, not to mention the energy and economic cost of storage. A professional specialising in the sale of spare parts for household appliances recently considered the problem of its dormant stocks, often destined for destruction. SDS, which has been stocking spare parts since 1975, identified a solution that would fit in perfectly with the circular economy. Thanks to a market place, SDS offers an eco-responsible service, enabling professionals who own these dormant stocks to reduce their losses by recycling them. Repairers can once again find spare parts that were no longer available from the manufacturer. ● Reduction in the environmental impact associated with the manufacture, storage and destruction of dormant parts ● Increase in the environmental benefits associated with extending the lifespan of products that can be repaired again. ● Tripartite economic gain: for the working capital of those who value their dormant stock, for the repairer who can sell his services and for the consumer for whom repairing saves money, compared with renewing the product. Once in place, the idea seems so logical that you wonder how it could have been otherwise! But simple as it is, SDS had to draw on all its know-how and gave itself the means to achieve it by creating a physical stock of more than 2,000 m², coupled with an IT system capable of managing a fairly complex flow, even for a logistics and trading specialist such as SDS. With its supply chain already in place, SDS will be able to distribute its parts in France and Europe to its BtoB and BtoBtoC customers. And to complete the circle, SDS plans to open up its market place to other professionals who also have dormant stocks and want to make the most of them.
Component-based repair seems logical in certain fields (e.g. automotive), but there are sectors where it is very under-valued, in particular for on-board electronics in household appliances.
It’s hard to imagine our mechanic telling us that he’s going to change the whole axle on our car simply because the brake discs are worn. Yet this is what happens with most electronic breakdowns in our household appliances.
Electronics are omnipresent in our electrical equipment. Despite fairly high reliability, in the event of electronic failure, consumers regularly opt for replacement rather than repair.
This behavior is the result of several problems:
– a steady and growing decline in the price of new appliances. Replacing a motherboard (when possible) generally involves estimates of around €200, including parts and labor.
– restricted access to electronic components and technical documentation.
– The complexity of selling components by the unit due to their tiny formats, with postal charges that can be higher than the cost of the parts; what about the disappearance of counters?
However, component repair is a source of savings, both for the environment and for the consumer. It is therefore necessary to encourage it.
A recent Ademe study highlighted the environmental and economic benefits of repair versus replacement. If the repair is carried out on the component, the savings can be even greater.
SDS, a company specializing in the sale of spare parts to repair professionals, has recently launched a service designed to facilitate access to electronic components. And chttps://www.groupe-sds.com/omme often, the circular economy and the social economy intersect, as SDS relies on a local ESAT* workshop.
Philippe Brugier, Product Manager at SDS and a former repairer himself, explains:
“Our expertise and ecosystem enable us to offer repairers electronic components sourced directly from brand suppliers. As a result, repairers can carry out component repairs without having to replace an entire electronic board or module.”
Reconditioning, a growing sector
For some time now, the act of buying, characterized for several decades by the purchase of a new product, has been challenged by new consumption models. Consumers understand that it’s sometimes better to spend €200 on a quality refurbished phone, rather than €200 on a new phone of mediocre quality.
The economic benefits are manifold. The original owner will be able to recoup part of his investment by reselling the phone he no longer wishes to use. Either because it no longer suits their use or tastes, or because they don’t want to have it repaired if it breaks down. The company responsible for reconditioning the phone generates economic activity and employment, and the new owner makes a smart purchase.
In addition to the economic benefits, buying a reconditioned product is also ecologically advantageous. This gives the product a second life, extending its useful life and reducing the carbon footprint associated with the initial manufacturing phase.
Cell phone reconditioner Hexamobile confirms that the quality of the reconditioned product is essential to ensure consumers a safe and secure purchase.
In this process, the quality of spare parts, the skills of technicians, and visual and software tests are extremely important. What’s more, by buying back smartphones from private individuals, Hexamobile offers consumers a beneficial solution in their purchasing circuits. Consumers can recover money from their old phone, which they can reinvest in a new reconditioned phone.
How does LONGTIME® contribute to the circular economy?
Extending product lifetimes is one of the pillars of the circular economy. By reading these few lines, you’ll have understood the ecological and economic benefits of choosing sustainable products. The LONGTIME® label assesses and promotes the durability of products, guaranteeing end-users a robust, reliable and repairable product.
But that’s not all: the LONGTIME® :
● A 41-criteria specification based on the triptych of robustness/repairability/technical support to assess a product’s overall durability.
● Helps identify sustainable and repairable products.
● Encourages manufacturers to focus their industrial efforts on the quality and durability of their products.
● Supports manufacturers in the transition of their production model.
● Helps reduce waste linked to programmed obsolescence and contributes to the preservation of our planetary resources.
● Participates in working groups on ecology and sustainable development to promote the circular economy (Assises de l’économie circulaire organized by ADEME, Repairability Index, Sustainability Index, UN).
● Helps support the repair sector.
● Promotes environmentally conscious brands.