By Shunli Wang, Vice President of Huawei Middle East
Decarbonizing the world is a momentous, multi-faceted effort with numerous moving parts. Energy transition from fossil fuels to green sources, energy efficiency, zero emissions transport systems and more all contribute significantly to reducing CO2 emissions. However, an emerging paradigm promises an equally impactful effect on the environment as the others.
The circular economy refers to a production and consumption model involving sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling products as long as possible to reduce waste to a minimum. It seeks to replace the traditional, linear economic model built on a take-make-consume-throw-away culture.
In the ICT sector, an effective circular economy strategy must cover the entire product lifecycle by emphasizing product durability and reparability, reducing the amount of e-waste generated by electronic devices, reducing the need for new mineral resources and curbing carbon emissions. A recent study estimates that a circular economy could reduce global GHG emissions by 39%.
Huawei, a company that has integrated sustainability into its core corporate mission, is spearheading industry sustainability efforts by building a business model that incorporates circular economy practices and a closed-loop value chain. The company's environmental protection efforts are guided by its green pledge, "Tech for a Better Planet."
The first phase of a circular economy is to build quality products from the get-go; this prolongs their lifecycle. Huawei is working to improve the quality of its processes and results and to provide customers and consumers with quality, durable products and convenient, affordable repair services. These practices have helped slash product costs over their lifecycle and reduce their consumption of natural resources. For example, Huawei's high-end NetEngine routers have highly sophisticated, large-capacity line cards that contain more than 20,000 components and nearly 100,000 solder joints. By building high-end router manufacturing lines and an end-to-end quality assurance system to ensure the quality of such products, Huawei has achieved 1.56 defect parts per million (PPM) opportunities for board solder points, significantly lower than the Six Sigma benchmark of 3.4. Huawei's board return repair rate is only one-third of the industry average.
These efforts are complemented by improving the energy efficiency of products. The 2021 Huawei Sustainability Report reveals that Huawei was able to increase the average energy efficiency of its main products by 1.9x compared to 2019 (base year).
Another highly effective method to reduce the environmental impact of electronic products is to reuse e-waste and recoup its value. A report by Accenture shows that the circular economy could generate an additional $4.5 trillion of economic output by 2030 through job creation and innovation.
In close collaboration with recycling service providers, Huawei categorizes its e-waste so it can be efficiently recycled and reclaimed. Through its global recycling system, Huawei works with scrap service providers to recycle the raw materials of e-waste in more than 170 countries worldwide. In 2021, the company disposed of 11,826 tons of ICT e-waste, only 0.78% of which was landfilled, and processed 8,643 tons of smart device e-waste, none of which was landfilled, the report shows.
Additionally, in 2021, Huawei launched a second-hand phone service on Vmall for recycling, refurbishing and resale, together with industry-leading recyclers and service providers. All Huawei-certified second-hand mobile phones must pass stringent tests to ensure they are equipped with 100% original Huawei components (including original brand-new batteries) and have HarmonyOS 2 pre-installed.
Reducing the use of plastic in products' production processes is critical to the circular economy goal. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimates that about eight million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year, and 60% to 90% of the litter that accumulates on shorelines, the surface and the sea floor is plastic. Reducing plastic is, therefore, an imperative for all businesses. Plastic bags take decades to decompose. In addition, toxic substances are released into the soil when plastic bags perish under sunlight, and if plastic bags are burned, they release harmful substances into the atmosphere, causing ambient air pollution.
To reduce plastic waste, Huawei keeps improving its product packaging and reducing the amount of plastic used in packaging materials. For example, the surface of a packing box is usually covered with a layer of plastic film to protect the text and printed graphics. Huawei's packaging designers developed water-based inks to replace the plastic film, which has been applied to the HUAWEI Enjoy 20 Pro and nova 7 SE (5G) models and will be used in the packaging of more products in the future. This optimization alone is expected to reduce the use of disposable packaging plastics by approximately 46.3 tons for every 10 million phones.
The company is also reducing the amount of plastic used inside gift boxes. For example, the amount of plastic used inside the gift boxes of P50 series phones decreased by 89% compared with the P40 series. The Sustainability Report reveals that plastic now makes up less than 1% of the packaging of a P50 phone, an industry-leading figure. Huawei is applying these plastic reduction measures to headphones, watches, bands and many other products to provide eco-friendly products to our consumers and drive green consumption.
Green and low-carbon development has become a globally recognized goal and helps reduce products' environmental impact across their lifecycle. By the end of 2021, Huawei's digital power solutions had helped customers generate 482.9 billion kWh of green power and save about 14.2 billion kWh of electricity, equivalent to offsetting 230 million tons of CO2 emissions. At the same time, Huawei itself used over 300 million kWh of electricity from renewable energy sources in its operations in 2021, up 42.3% over 2020.
Sustainability is a team effort, and ecosystem-wide collaboration is essential to have an impact on the environmental challenge. In May 2021, Huawei held its Supplier Carbon Emissions Reduction Conference. At the event, 98% of the company's top 100 and energy-intensive suppliers set carbon emissions reduction targets with Huawei's support.
These efforts by Huawei and others can help Middle East countries accelerate their own circular economy objectives. Dubai Municipality announced that it would establish the largest plant in the Middle East to convert solid waste into energy at a cost of AED2 billion. The move aligns with the UAE National Agenda to reduce landfill by 75% by 2021 and thus protect the environment from methane gas emitted by landfills. Meanwhile, the Saudi Investment Recycling Company, established in 2017 as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Public Investment Fund, seeks to divert 85% of hazardous industrial waste, 100% of solid waste and 60% of construction and demolition waste away from landfills by 2035.
The current linear model of consumption is unsustainable. A regional shift to a circular economy that replaces virgin resource usage in manufacturing with recycling, repair and remanufacturing practices alleviates the need to consume new raw materials. This, in turn, helps reduce carbon emissions while creating new green jobs for the region's workforce.