Africa as a Circular Economy Pioneer
In an interview with Florian Doussot, a circular economy enhancer at Orange, one of the world's largest telecommunications companies, Doussot shared the challenges and opportunities of implementing a circular economy in the telecommunications industry.
The African Context: A Model for Circular Economy
According to Doussot, the African continent has a unique perspective on circular economy that could serve as a model for the rest of the world. He notes that African people have long extended the life cycle of products by repairing and reusing them, and that this mindset is essential for a successful circular economy. Doussot states:
"Some surprising things I learned from the ground in the African continent... African people are extending the life cycle of products, they are able to repair as much as they can. They are looking for opportunities to keep material in use. And this is very, very important because to me, Africa is some kind of mother for circular economy."
Floria Doussot -
Global Program Manager Finance & Sustainability at Orange
Collaboration is Key
Doussot emphasizes that collaboration between all stakeholders in the telecommunications industry is necessary for a successful transition to a circular economy. He believes that a "win-win" situation must be created that benefits both operators and suppliers. He states:
"If you want it to be a long term one, you need to have a win-win situation... we need to transform... we cannot continue to dig in the planet, recover the raw material for almost for free, and to build things and throw it away. Now, it's not possible anymore. So from supplier perspective, there is a massive challenge to reduce this manufacturing trend. And to increase the reuse process, the supply chain reverse logistics, to be able to refer your product to give more services, like the refurbishment services, the warranty and so on."
Quick Wins and Long-Term Transformation
Doussot believes that there are both quick wins and long-term transformational strategies that can be implemented to promote a circular economy. He suggests that consumers can make a difference by keeping their equipment for as long as possible and going for refurbished products instead of new ones. He states:
"As a quick win I shall say, go for refurb. You have lots of players today that are providing reliable refurbished equipment, okay, it's quite new, but you have good players... It's cheaper. So it's good for your business. And it's less carbon, so it's good also for the planet."
Mindset Shift is Needed
Finally, Doussot emphasizes that a shift in mindset is necessary for a successful transition to a circular economy. He notes that a few years ago, sustainability was seen as a "nice-to-have" rather than a necessity, but that this has changed due to the current global challenges. He states:
"If you don't have this trigger in mind, if you don't consider that the challenges we have, in fact in front of us is a matter of survival. I think that's the wrong direction... This is about the civil society. What kind of world do we want for the next two years to come? Do we have? We want to have plenty of goods, plenty of cars with a planet that is dying? Or do we want to change the way we are acting?"
Doussot's insights highlight the urgency and importance of transitioning to a circular economy in the telecommunications industry. Collaboration, quick wins, and a shift in mindset are necessary for a successful transformation that benefits both the industry and the planet.
1.The circular economy is important for the planet and for businesses. It requires a shift from a linear economic model to a circular one, which involves reducing waste and enhancing the value of materials.
2.There are challenges to implementing the circular economy, such as the need for collaboration between stakeholders in the value chain and for regulatory support.
3.The telecommunication industry can benefit from circular economy practices by reusing, refurbishing, and reselling infrastructure equipment.
4.Buying secondhand and refurbishing equipment can be a quick win for reducing carbon footprint and saving money.
5.African communities have a history of extending the life cycle of products and can serve as a model for circular economy practices.
6.The circular economy is a matter of survival and purpose-driven, and everyone can make a difference by extending the life cycle of products and reducing waste.
Hello, everybody. I'm really happy to be here with Florian Doussot. He's a circular economy enhancer at Orange, one of the most important telecom companies around the world. So, Florian, welcome to the aim10x community.
Could you please introduce yourself to our members and tell us a little bit about what you do at Orange? Thank you very much, Juan, for this invitation. Really, really glad and thanks for giving me the opportunity to share what Orange is doing in this marvelous area that is circular economy. From my personal
So my name is Florian Doussot and I am in Orange for more than ten years now and I've been mainly engaged in expertise in core network expertise, meaning technical backgrounds and on the African continent. So far I've been living lots of years in the African continent, in the various countries that Orange has around 18 countries so far in the African continent. So I get a chance to work with our telecommunication industry on various, various contexts and geographies, as of course, you can understand. Based on this experience in the MEA zone, Middle East and Africa region, we started the operation of Circular economy.
That was back in the eighties when we started those operations by reusing the products and sourcing refurbished equipment. And trust me, at that time, it was not the priority that an environment is a critical deal to move on. So we had those drivers based on the local challenges of our affiliates in Africa. This is no surprise that CapEx is critical there much more than it could be in some operations in Europe.
So when you don't have so much money, you have to be inventive and you have to go for new way of working. And that was a chance for me and for the teams, especially in the countries where I've been working on in Central Africa or Cameroon or Botswana or even Kinshasa in Congo, that was to launch a new way of working by sourcing those kind of refurbished equipment. So it's a pure line on quick wins for circular economy. And even today, it's something that's not that popular.
So I'm very happy that we are today discussing about this topic to make it more popular and for each and every player and stakeholder of the industry to move on into this new way of working. So this is mainly what I am doing so far and following this Oscar program, which is the program we launched in Orange, dedicated to a circular economy for infrastructure. We are promoting this new way of working via the whole value chain. This is very important for everyone to understand that such shifts of paradigm, the goal, I mean the way to move from a linear economic model to the circular economic model requires massive transformation from all the peers, operators, suppliers, institutions, associations.
So in that manner, Orange is trying as much as we can to synchronize all those players and to collaborate in order to update all our processes to make more sustainable operations in the telecommunication industry. I'm really happy that you touch upon that topic because one of the reasons that I was really looking forward to interviewing you is that your work has direct impact already on very diverse communities. So you mentioned the MEA region, especially in Central Africa and Congo. What are some challenges that
these communities are facing that you wish more people in the Western world understood, especially when it comes to the implementation of networks and with supply chain?
That's a very good point. What about African context - That's a very, very interesting continent for so many reasons. And for our population in Europe, most of the time it's seen as, you know, difficult and challenging contexts. Indeed it is.
African countries are facing a lot of challenges, especially the climate ones. It's quite a fun time for them. And obviously in terms of sort of CapEx capacity, it's a challenge on a daily basis. Obviously, the driver of environmentality not as strong as it is today in Europe, but we hope it will become in the next two months and years to come.
But today, when you deal with the African continent, you need to know the ground. This is why I've been working there, living there, exchanging with all the colleagues and the civil populations. And what has been very surprising to me coming from Europe, and quite so, yes. So European and Western way of life.
As soon as you come to Africa, you see a different spirit and a different manner to consider the goods and the products. And this is very, very important because to me, Africa is some kind of model for circular economy. This is for years that African people are extending the lifecycle of products. They are able to repair as much as they can.
They are looking for opportunities to keep material in use. And this is in our society, in the Western society, most of the time, We are throwing things away. We are really, really too much aligned with the linear economic model. So one surprising thing to me and I think what European people could learn from Africa is the way to implement a circular economy on a daily basis for each and every category of products.
Well, using so far, indeed. And also, if I can take just a few minutes to talk about the low tech fair tech or low tech - which is something quite surprising today when you are discussing with telecommunication operators, 5G products, innovative products. I think we definitely have a great opportunity thanks to the low tech mindset, but also technical capacity to match the issue of climate change with the scarcity of the resources and the capacity to be innovative. And all of this for me was definitely something I learnt from the ground in the African continent.
And speaking about that experience that you had in the African continent, could you share
with me a profound transformational experience that you had while working in those regions, something that pops up your mind? Yeah, absolutely. We had quite interesting opportunities for reusing infrastructure equipment. Today, the Orange Group is 26 countries worldwide just for the telecommunication operations.
We have something of seven operations in Europe and more than 15 in the African continent. Recently we had ran sharing agreement, meaning in some countries, two operators are merging the networks. So we are dismantling products. And those products, they are not very old and they are one or two years old.
So definitely from a circular economy perspective, we can do something. We shall not recycle or scrap it. So we had in mind to propose those equipment to our African entities saying, Guys, we have good and reliable equipment. We will obviously refurbish it, give a warranty, make it as reliable as new, and it would be even cheaper than new product.
So from my understanding, I think it's a good opportunity. And trust me, we faced a really strong pushback from our affiliates and was not really understanding why. And after some discussions, some back of the curtain, we understood that the feeling of African people was that we are not the thrash of Europe, so we don't want to have your old product for us. So very surprising, but also make sense.
Indeed, there is this relationship that is quite complicated so far based on history, facts and so on. So I think if we want to make the circular economy a success, we need to be very careful in the way we communicate.
It shall not be something like: We don't want this product to please take it. No, this is beneficial for everyone. And those operations are also happening in Europe, in France and Spain and other operations. So in terms of communication, I think this is definitely something we all need to be aware of when we are talking about reusing product.
This is not something that is second zone. Look, it's a second hand, but it's not shiny as new. But we need to build altogether a communication path saying that this is good for the planet and this is good for the business. It's a change of mindsets.
It's not easy at all. Trust me. It's my daily business to explain to people. And even in Europe, it's not only an African issue.
The second hand is not something coming right, especially for the technical and experts of our energy innovation. So we are all the day long working to modify this mindset and to promote simply new ways of working that are more sustainable and also more competitive for operations. I'm talking about this sustainable way of working that you were mentioning earlier. What are some big challenges
that you would like to solve to transform the telecom industry from a linear to a circular model?
I think, from the basis for each and every transformation. If you wanted to be a long term one, you need to have a win-win situation. If I want my supplier to give me some kind of product and if he's not feeling that it's a good opportunity for him, he will never do that. From about our perspective.
No question. Okay. If you source or if you use, you will decrease your carbon because you will not ask for manufacturing in your product. So this is good from government perspective.
And most of the time when you buy a second home, it's cheaper than you. So sounds good on the on the both panels. Now taking the foot of the supplier. I'm selling new products.
Okay. I have lots of margin or a few margin, but I have big volume of new product because my manufacturing plant is running like crazy. Okay. That was the reason I like it.
If you want to move to the circular economic model, you need to transform that. You cannot continue to dig in the planet, recover the raw material almost for free, and to build things and throw it away. No, it's not possible anymore. So from a supplier perspective, there is a massive challenge to reduce this manufacturing trend and to increase the reuse process, the supply chain, reverse logistics, to be able to refurb your products, to give more services like the refurbishment services, the warranty and so on.
So it's something very, very important for suppliers. The impact is huge. So I would definitely recommend to have a collaboration between operators and suppliers once again on a win-win configuration to make sure this is a long term transformation and we cannot live anymore under the current regional economic model, it's not possible. And one question maybe to expand on that, is there
a wicked problem in the industry, meaning a very difficult multi-stakeholder problem that you would like some help in solving?
That you feel is really urgent and really critical? I guess you're right. This is more than urgent and we see it on the news every day. It's.
for the next generation to come. It's wow. Wow. It's really not an easy situation. So once again, I will get back to this win-win configuration because we believe in Orange that if all the value chain is not mobilized on this topic, if we are not able to discuss with the suppliers, obviously, but also with the institutions, we are having communications with the European Parliament, for instance, because we want also them to understand that these new practices are beneficial for the society.
And this is not only in Orange, I can say that. So it's a consortium of operators plus suppliers. That's our configuring and promoting new way of working that could be beneficial to the civil society. And this is why you mentioned GSMA GSM Association, if you know what I'm referring to.
Very recently March this year, we issued with 22 operators a strategic paper. The GSMA strategic paper on the best practices for circular economy, for network equipment, and this is, I think, the strong base of quick wins. What can we do today from now on to decrease our carbon footprint? How can we I mean, this is amazing when you are walking and you say, okay, I am doing something for the planet, I have so many colleagues coming to me say, what can I do to just to support that?
I mean, this is the proposal even, you know, above this, I'm sure. So you can act via some quick wins. You can do change. But if you want to be a long term transformation, once again, Win-Win collaboration beyond competition and find all together this new way of working with the good regulation.
Because honestly speaking today, if you wish to industrialize the the circular economy and second hand equipment, for instance, it's sometimes more complicated than buying new. So on your daily basis, what you do, you go for the easiest way. So we have to work all together to make it as smooth as possible to source new or second hand should be transparent. So as a weak problem, yes, I would say this kind of offers what we call the circle ourselves.
I think it has to be a standard for each and every suppliers they have. It's a question of responsibility. And once again, on a win win solution, I'm pretty sure we can succeed. Just building up on that.
What are some ways, for example, that we as the aim10x members or consumers can be more aware of the environmental impact of our purchases? Or how can we contribute to the mission of being more sustainable in the industry of telecommunications? That's a good point, because we all are users of telcos. I mean, I have smartphones, most probably you have as well.
I'm sure you have laptop. I'm sure you have lots of electronic products today. What can we do just at our small and modest level to make a difference as a quick win?
I would simply promote: stop buying new. Okay. It's a bit provocative. I do it on purpose.
The idea is. If you want to contribute today, we need to reduce the carbon footprint. Okay. This is today the target.
We can see now the biodiversity is coming behind. Okay, let's focus on the carbon then the biodiversity will be the second challenge. We need then to make them much together. I will simply propose keep the equipment you have as long as possible.
Make it like the African people do. Repair. Reuse. Extend the lifecycle of product. And this is especially true for the smartphones.
The kind of equipment smartphone is made of more than 70 different kind of raw material, I tell you. And when it comes to a recycling process, I think we can recover less than 15 of them. So all the rest are lost forever. And as you say, as you know, this planet is not able to renew all this kind of raw material.
So it would be lost forever. So this is in our interest to keep in life the material. We have to keep in use, the material we have. And this is one of the recommendations of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which is promoting the circular economy.
The idea is to design out waste and pollution and to keep in hand the material we have. So as a quick win, I shall say go for refurb. You have lots of players today that are providing reliable refurbished equipment. Okay, it's quite new, but you have good players.
Let me see if I can give some name, but black market or e-commerce, those guys are quite serious. They have subcontractors that are refurbishing with reliable processes with warranty. And this is not something you are buying on a flea market, right? It's not a waste.
You're buying something really that is as reliable as new. And this is a quick win. It's cheaper. So it's good for your business and it's less carbon.
So it's good also for the planet. So let's keep that in mind If you have to source any electronic device for your cell, for your business, for your family, just think about this possibility to buy it second hand. There is definitely an impact on the planet. So I think what I would really like to know is like, what are
some difficulties that you face every day or objections or, a kind of objections that you hear every time that you are trying to drive change the sustainability as someone that is a leader or a trailblazer in that field.
Well, I think the most challenging part is the mindset. Is the mind set. I can tell that to, as you said, five or six years ago, if I was talking to a top manager about sustainability, that was a nice to have. Say, okay, if we can do, let's do.
But if we don't have time, we keep running on another economic model. That was not a priority. And that was not felt like like an emergency at that time. Saying so because of the COVID situation, saying so because of the supply chain disruptions, saying so because to the all material scarcity, it's becoming now a must have.
It's not anymore a question of shall we do it or not is just no question. We have to move from it. We have to go for it. It's a question even of survival.
Today we are eating more than 1.7 planets, I think, for worldwide in terms of natural resources. And it seems that we are going to be more than 10 billion human beings in the years to come. I mean, all those people, they want to have a smartphone, they want to have a laptop, they want to have access to digital, and this is their right.
But how can we do that with the limited resources we have? So it's not a question, as I said, of nice to have. Now we shall move into this new trend because it's a matter of survival and it's a matter of digital inclusion. If we want to give the service to the whole planet, if we continue on the our model, you will pay your iPhone 25, $10,000 maybe in the years to come.
So I think it's not interest to anyone but Apple. But this is not the case. And so, yes, I would simply say that we can all make a difference. This is something that is even more important than job.
This is purpose driven. This is about the civil society. What kind of world do we want for the next year to come? Do we hope?
Do we want to have plenty of goods, plenty of cars with a planet that is dying? Or do we want to change the way we are acting? And I will get back to these strong mindsets, because if you don't have this trigger in mind, if you don't consider that the challenges we have in front of us is a matter of survival. I think that's the wrong direction.
And this is why I'm very, very glad and proud to be part of Orange, that is supported at the highest level of the company four or five years ago when it was not yet a must have. So indeed, circular economy is a must have. I think that's what's quite clear. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today, Florian.
It was a really good interview and I'm really looking forward to the next one. Before we close, are there any tips you
would like to give all our supply chain leaders that are that are also trying to drive transformation into sustainability in their own companies? Sure. Sure.
I would maybe give the advice to have a look at the GSMA strategic paper for a first step. It's nine recommendation. Pretty easy and clear to understand and to apply. Lots of them are quick wins, by the way.
And from supply chain perspective, the biggest challenge I think we have is for all of us to have this reverse logistic available. I've been reading a book recently and they say that less than 10% of the worldwide companies are circular economy compliant, less than 10%. So meaning almost 90% of the companies need to build up this reverse logistics. The idea, once again, is to keep a hand on the material to move from the linear model when all the products were disappeared into nature to the circular one.
Where we can recover those equipment, reuse them, or at least make it scalable to reuse it as much as we can. So from supply chain perspective, yes, reverse logistics is a critical matter and also the stock creation. One of the issues we face in Orange when we want to buy second hand equipment is the lack of stock, because today this second hand market is not regulated. So we are definitely having problems on that.
So I would recommend to make stock, to give visibility and to have a reverse supply chain. And if you get a chance, maybe I can give you the link later on during the Orange CSR supply forum last month, I had the chance to discuss with other supply chain experts and telecommunication operators, suppliers on this topic. So if you would like to know more about that, we'd be glad to have a look to the video that would be available on YouTube very soon. And thank you so much.
Thank you so much, Juan, for this interview. It was really my pleasure. No, it was a pleasure to have you, Florian. And I hope it's not the last one.
Of course. And really looking forward to the next one. Thank you so much.
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