As-a-service in demand: circular thinking helps HP get ahead of the curve

Nate Hurst, chief sustainability and social impact officer at HP, says business and consumer appetite for “as-a-service” models is on the rise. As a forerunner in adopting the circular economy philosophy, HP is well-positioned to respond.

Do you think we’re seeing a step-change in how consumers want to access technology devices?
The industry is certainly moving towards a demand for devices to be delivered as a service. That’s due, in part, to a younger generation of buyers who recognize the environmental, health and social implications of the throw-away society mindset that's been around for a long time.

What else is driving this trend?
Another important factor is that the pace of innovation is accelerating, with technology improving all the time. Particularly from a business perspective, companies must stay current with their technology and as-a-service models make it much easier for them to do this in an efficient, cost effective and sustainable way.

How has HP responded to these changing customer demands — and has its circular strategy helped?
Our commitment to a circular economy stretches back a long way. For example, 27 years ago, we established our Planet Partners program to enable customers to return used ink and toner cartridges for recycling. Over the years we’ve expanded our recycling programs, making it easier for customers to recycle both cartridges and equipment and enabling HP to offer products and supplies containing recycled plastic materials.

We continue to innovate with consumer-based solutions like HP Instant Ink, a web-based ink subscription service that uses the Internet of Things. Designed to ensure our customers never run out of ink, this service automates orders for new ink cartridges when supplies are low and simplifies the process for customers to return used cartridges for recycling. This service not only reduces the cost of printing—customers can save up to 50% on ink—but it also drives more sustainable practices by decreasing the carbon footprint of ink purchase and disposal by up to 84%.

On the B2B side, we have offered a managed print services solution for a long time. The service was designed for companies that print, but didn’t necessarily have the resources—both in terms of dollars and people—to purchase new equipment, maintain their printers at the highest levels and optimize their printer fleet to get the greatest return on investment. This solution provides our business customers with access to the latest, greatest technologies, allows them to scale up or down as needed and improves resource use.

The transition to new pricing models is often cited as a challenge in moving to an as-a-service model — how did HP manage this?
Our approach has always been to work with our customers to set the right pricing model that enables them to purchase what they want, the way they want it and ultimately when they need it. For example, we have customers that self-finance, some that use third party finance and others that finance through HP. It really depends on the individual customer.

Because of our size and our broad portfolio of products and services, we're able to adapt our models to meet our customers’ needs a little easier.

What’s next on the horizon for HP’s circular economy strategy?
We're very excited about the opportunity that 3D printing in manufacturing represents from a circular standpoint. We believe that additive manufacturing can fundamentally change the way we conceive, design, produce, distribute and repair almost everything—making these processes more sustainable.

For example, additive manufacturing supports on-demand printing, helping companies better match supply with demand and eliminating the need for physical inventories of materials, parts and finished products. It allows companies to transmit digital files for production locally rather than shipping physical goods. And it has the potential to provide cleaner and safer jobs for workers.

The automotive industry provides a great example of the benefits of 3D printing to consumers. Today, if you need a part for your car, you may spend time scouring your local auto parts stores or online retailers and then find yourself waiting days for the part to arrive. With 3D printing, the right replacement part can be made locally without the wait or carbon footprint associated with shipping. 3D printing enables retailers and manufacturers to service their customers better without carrying excessive inventory, enabling a smaller physical footprint.

Also, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s framework, which we’ve adopted, thinks about the circular economy in terms of how we can transform whole economies and societies. We believe 3D printing can open up opportunities for new commercial users in industries such as education and healthcare. And for economies that have not historically had a manufacturing base, 3D printing presents a huge opportunity for them to leapfrog into a sustainable fourth industrial revolution.