Designing eco-responsible connected objects is emerging as a strong trend for many French companies, which make it the pillars of their strategy. The industry is getting organized.
In 2023, the goal of many French companies is to transform their connected objects, stuffed with electronics, into eco-responsible products. This is the case, for example, of the IoT operator Kerlink, with its strategic plan “Serve IoT 2025”, or of the company Arcure, which has defined environmental goals for its Blaxtair Origin camera, or of the intralogistics Jungheinrich, which has received the highest sustainability certificate from the rating agency EcoVadis.
“There have been few initiatives so far because the volumes were too low to be taken into account, analyzes Henri Bong, CEO of the operator and provider of IoT services. UnaBiz. Now that IoT projects are expanding and the context is favorable, we can no longer design IoT without taking this aspect into account.”
But the first companies that took the plunge all recognize it: the approach is not obvious and there is a long list of elements to consider. Gillo Malpart, president and co-founder of Mavana, a French company specializing in low-carbon strategies through the IoT, referred to around twenty environmental indicators, from the choice of components (minerals, metals, carbon) to the impact of factories (the water used or the pollution generated for production). Faced with this trend which is only in its infancy, everyone is gradually advancing their pawns on their side. One way, joining then, to cover the whole chain.
“ABS, a thermoplastic polymer, is the most used plastic in the IoT because it is very resistant”
The choice of components being essential in an eco-design approach, the agritech start-up from Vaucluse brad begins his reflections by supporting research on the new generations of plastic materials. “We are discussing the use of plastic of biological origin,” indicates Olivier Lépine, its CEO. Plastic can really be a source of questions on its own. “ABS, a thermoplastic polymer, is the most used plastic in the IoT because it is very strong and has good mechanical properties. But its recycling is complex. Sometimes the recycler does not know which plastic is used in the product, which it allows them to redesign it,” explains Arnaud Huvelin, founder of the start-up Decline.
Always linked to the components, it is subject to their traceability in view of the recycling that it has taken on Linxens, manufacturer in the field of electronic components for the security and identification markets. The company is in discussions with its partners to be able to trace them. “The gold wires on the electronic board and some of the copper can be recycled, but what about the resins and silicon, the production of which requires a lot of water,” asks Cyril Proye, IoT marketing director at Linxens. Similarly, IoT operator and service provider UnaBiz collaborates with recycling experts on circuit boards and batteries.
Sustainability, one of the pillars of eco-responsibility
In its corporate strategy, Ogga has for its part made sustainability its main asset. “Eco-responsibility is in our DNA, we have banned disposable products and have been designing our own products for ten years”, says Stéphane Gagnat, its president, who considers the reparability indices not very strict and has therefore made them the heart of its strategy. . The French company specializing in smart building solutions makes all products openable, removable, repairable and upgradeable with extension ports to aid repair. And its customers are encouraged to return products that have reached the end of their life rather than throw them away. Ogga also chose to use the EnOcean communication protocol to avoid batteries, the power supply being a black spot in the IoT impact. And to limit the impact of transport, Ogga favors made in France.
Uses with a positive impact are for many a first step before committing to the recyclability of solutions. This is the case of the IoT operator Kerlink, which implemented the use of the measurement of environmental conditions by the IoT in CSR logics in 2022, before presenting its eco-responsibility strategy last December. “We create self-powered networks with sensors that have the smallest possible carbon footprint,” says CEO William Gouesbet. Kerlink will continue to promote edge computing to reduce data transmissions in the cloud, as well as blockchain, through a partnership with Kalima, whose first integrations are expected to take place in January. The next step will be the creation of a specialized team and a commercial offer in 2023 dedicated to recycling.
For its part, the start-up Accopilot followed the same path. Publisher of IoT software for road equipment, Accopilot launched its offering three years ago to provide information on equipment consumption and the carbon footprint of projects. Since its inception, it has joined forces with recycler Maneko to anticipate the return of its end-of-life products. Another example with intralogistics Jungheinrich, for whom eco-responsibility is the engine of its “sustainable growth”. “The IoT makes it possible to optimize the use of our trucks and to recover them”, rejoices Elena Perennes-Longchamp, National After Sales Sales Manager of Jungheinrich, who has set herself the goal of achieving 94% reuse since the inauguration of its new reconditioning line.
The return of connected objects, “the nerves of war”
This approach underlines the link between “profitability and eco-responsibility,” says Arnaud Huvelin, founder of the start-up Déclique. “It is the economic model that allows for the implementation of eco-responsibility strategies. If the user owns his connected object (as happens in the BtoC), he will tend to throw it away at the end of its life so as not to be subject to the constraints of recyclability, and its supplier will favor a short life to quickly resell new products, vice versa, if the supplier rents a connected object via a subscription, it will be in his interest to ensure its durability and recycling will be his responsibility. “
“It is the economic model that allows for the implementation of eco-responsibility strategies”
The management of reconditioning and recycling is the activity that the producer of connected objects Altior intends to erect for more than a year as its added value. “That requires a dismantling line, just like a production line,” says Thomas Gauthier, partner at Altyor, for whom the return cycle of connected objects is “the sinews of warfare.” Becoming a company with a mission at the end of 2022, its dedicated team performs product life cycle analysis (ACV) from the design stage.
“We also need to think about packaging, accessories and the transport of connected objects, even if the latter is not the biggest pollutant if you don’t use the plane”, explains Thomas Gauthier, during a webinar on eco-responsibility, organized by the GR-IoT think tank, of which JDN is a part. Setting up a dedicated recycling industry will be the next big project in the IoT industry. “Connected objects are thrown away with electronic products and buried, there is no specific recycling for them,” regrets Arnaud Huvelin. To find concrete solutions, Gillo Malpart has just launched a study on the subject within the Higher Committee for Eco-responsible Digital, for which he leads the working group on the decarbonization of the IoT sector.