Dear industry giants, fellow start-ups, CEOs and visionaries, striving employees, impassioned consumers, activists, sellers, communities, institutions and governments.
In the past few months, a growing and acute crisis has come to my attention. And like you, hearing the words “another crisis” in a time like ours deeply unsettled me, and made me feel quite frankly, numb.
This is precisely why I decided to write this letter. I’m afraid of becoming complacent to yet another area in need of our urgent attention.
Sooner rather than later, the domino effect that this issue has created will land in our laps – on our office desks and dinner tables.
And at the rate we’re going, this moment is worryingly close.
For some, it’s already here.
I write to you to address one of our biggest obsessions as citizens of planet Earth. An addiction that most of us grapple with every day as individuals, employees, hobbyists, organisations, and even, as entire countries.
Constantly buying new.
Blinded by the growing number of shiny new objects, which are very (and I mean very) tempting, we easily forget the consequences of our actions, and the alternatives out there to help us pay off our collective debt to the world.
We forget that whilst conveyor Belts transport new products into the market, they push numerous unused products into landfills, polluting the air and soil that provide for us.
And the alarm bells are ringing loud and clear.
“From Wish Lists to Waiting Lists”
The 2020 pandemic kicked off with an unsettling number of “on-sale” signs plastered across our national stores and global e-commerce sites, signalling not the end of seasons, but the forced closure of many beloved brands.
These signs were quickly followed by an even more troubling warning: “Out of Stock”.
Overnight, our ‘Wishlists’ turned into ‘Waiting Lists’ due to one of the biggest problems ever felt across international industry: The Global Chip Shortage.
The pandemic has played a large role in fuelling this current imbalance, with consumer technology sales soaring as we began our worldwide hibernation. Increasing trade tensions between China and the US also prompted aggressive stockpiling of chips and chip-making equipment in anticipation of sanctions.
Climate change too, is affecting supply chains. Take Taiwan, one of the biggest producers of microchips and semiconductors, now facing huge droughts that have significantly delayed production.
And it’s estimated that this shortage will persist well into 2022.
Not even the biggest players in the market have been spared the trouble. Think Sony’s PS5 delays, Apple’s iPhone 12 waiting lists and Samsung considering skipping the launch of the next Galaxy smartphone. Car manufacturers not getting vehicles off their production lines.
And then there’s healthcare and agriculture, each dependent on Electrical Spare Parts – this issue could have dramatic implications on our livelihoods and health.
This shortage is by no means short-lived. The problem is real. It is felt. And it’s reaching you and me in the form of rising costs and growing shortages. No one is exempt.
“From the plastic wars in our waters to a tsunami of e-waste on land”
As the fastest growing waste stream, e-waste weighs heavily on the world – amounting to an estimated 50 million tonnes a year. And this number is predicted to double in 2050 if nothing is done.
Shockingly, only 20% of our global e-waste is recycled each year, with the rest ending up in landfills, burned or illegally traded.
Now, these are the statistics we know.
But only 41 countries currently report on their official e-waste. So, honestly, the fate of most of this waste remains unknown. And this impacts us all. From the cars we drive, gadgets we buy, appliances we use, clothes we wear, laptops we work from, and how we travel.
Behind every product and service lies a story of how they were manufactured: the machinery, the parts, the materials, the resources.
What saddens and equally frustrates me about both issues is that throughout my two decades of working in the manufacturing sector, I came across one potential route to tackle these issues, but it's one very few are willing to talk about: buying unused.
In my case, it meant discovering the sheer volume of unused spare parts being scrapped per year before use, or worse still, before even leaving their original sealed packaging. These parts were being discarded simply because of increasingly newer, similar or even the same models hitting the market – many of which, ironically, would experience the same fate.
To me, this is not only an issue of extremely valuable resources going straight into our waste bins – that’s human innovation, effort and hours of work down the drain. And with no proper audit trail currently in place, we can't tell how many mechanical and electrical goods have been sent into the ground.
But from the numbers I do know, I fear it’s much worse than we think.
On average, we’ve found that medium-sized manufacturers will scrap an average of €100k+ of spare parts per site annually, holding around €250k worth of unused spare parts on their shelves. Considering that this can include 250+ sites per multinational manufacturer worldwide, these are massive numbers.
But manufacturing isn’t the only industry in need of urgent intervention. Undercover filming by ITV News of one of Amazon’s warehouses revealed that the online giant is destroying millions of unsold stock every year. An ex-employee disclosed that 130,000, sometimes upwards of 200,000 items, are being destroyed at just one of Amazon’s 24 UK fulfilment centres.
Consumers and manufacturers can’t be the only ones taking the blame for this problem.
OEMs need to be responsible for promoting better ways of buying, reusing, refurbishing, and encouraging consumers to not buy more, but buy better.
And consumers, please don’t underestimate your power. Ask yourself, who benefits from this “buy more” mentality? Just look to the fashion industry, where the revolution bubbled bottom-up, with educated and informed consumers demanding better from those in power of our resources.
And if fashion is doing it – why can’t industrial manufacturing? The products may be different, but the people and processes are the same. Demand better. Demand greater transparency.
As an industry, we can also change old, unhealthy ways and raise our standards.
Engineers out there, you no longer have to purchase the ‘entire recommended inventory’ list that comes with your new machine. You can break expectations about having to buy new if you can find the same unused spare parts elsewhere.
As I round this letter off, I think back to 2014, when my brother Eric and I first decided to take on what seems like one of the industry’s biggest challenges and industrial players – and I don’t regret a moment since. Although Eric isn’t here anymore, the team I have built continues to uphold our vision of transforming industrial trade.
But I’m beginning to realise that this alone, will not be enough to turn this crisis around.
This is a much bigger fight that we have on our hands.
Therefore, I don’t want to keep this conversation within the industrial manufacturing sector, because, honestly, not many within it are ready to open up.
I want to extend my ask to those of you who are ready to start, or have already, started this conversation within your own sectors.
I’m speaking to the people and industries tired of feeling like they have to tackle this issue on their own, as separate islands – when we’re all on the same planet.
So, consumers and makers of fashion, electric vehicles, agriculture, technology…
I urge you.
Can we unite our common energy, behaviours and expectations for a better world?
Can we share ideas, learnings, best practices, pitfalls and resources?
Can we finally have the conversation that is long overdue?
I invite you to show your support of a more transparent future, where valuable resources and materials are not sent to the ground in favour of “new”.
Your signature is what we need to help fight the stigmas of “unused” as a dirty word. Together, we can show those in power that a more sustainable, transparent and ethical industry future is not just what the industry wants to see but what the people and our planet demand of us to do better.
Help us move from a global Wish List and Waiting List to an Action List.
Let’s turn this moment into momentum.
business owner, CEO, global citizen, father,
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