Axis | Technology purchasing for the future: why safer material substances matter


Axis Communications’ Linn Storäng argues that a healthy global environment starts by working with security vendors who care and who go beyond regulatory restrictions.

Organisations around the world are under enormous pressure from all sides. The global economy is highly challenging, energy prices are volatile, and inflation remains stubbornly high in many regions.

Yet while the challenges they face will ebb and flow, environmental concerns and the need to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability will undoubtedly endure. Stakeholders, investors and regulators are taking an increasingly potent interest in the actions of businesses towards materials, vendors, and equipment management.

To stay on top of tomorrow’s challenges, it is vital to make the correct choices today. Those challenges include a move towards a circular economy, whereby all possible materials used in a given product can be reused, repurposed and recycled.

The reduction of waste is a key global issue, and cannot simply be ignored or put off, particularly given the ambitious timescales set out by government targets and regulations.

In recent years, organisations both large and small have embarked on a sustainability journey highlighted by an open commitment to certain initiatives which will cover the environmental impact of not only their own business, but also the upstream and downstream value chain.

Their scope will mean that every aspect of business – from the raw materials used in component manufacturing to energy consumption and the approach to recycling products at their end-of-life – will need to demonstrably contribute to the achievement of carbon reduction targets.

Understanding the regulatory landscape

Surveillance and security technology, as with all other equipment, must meet legal compliance on hazardous substances. Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) and Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) regulations – legislated upon separately in both the EU and UK – apply to chemicals used in both industrial processes and those contained in end products.

Under REACH, it is the responsibility of manufacturers and importers to ensure that their products and processes meet environmental requirements. RoHS adds additional restrictions on chemical use, and further demands that any hazardous substances are appropriately labelled; its associated Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive promotes extensive reuse and recycling, and has set an ambitious material recovery target of 20kg per capita per annum.

In Europe, WEEE’s goals are echoed by the EC’s adoption of the Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP). This is intended to initiate the EU’s transition to a circular economy and is one of the main building blocks of the European Green Deal, Europe’s growth strategy to become a sustainable, climate neutral and circular economy by 2050.

It is important that businesses always seek to work with vendors that support, comply with, and document their adherence to such regulations – something which is not always the case with products of overseas manufacture. Equally, businesses (as end users) must understand their obligations to investors, which are increasingly looking for a strategic outlook which takes Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) standards into account.

Considering environmental costs

Every piece of equipment carries a logical environmental cost. The impact of raw material extraction, the sustainability of the processes used in manufacturing, the energy cost of running that equipment, and the effect of its disposal when it reaches end-of-life all contribute to the end total. And, perhaps most importantly, every product tells multiple stories, of not only the end product but that of all of the materials that go into it.

An ESG-focused approach means considering every one of those stories – in particular, looking at the impact of plastic. There’s no doubt that plastic has been a world-changing innovation, one which has over the course of more than a century contributed to many of humanity’s greatest healthcare, hygiene and construction improvements.

There is also no doubt that the world now overuses plastics, and that particular formulations are both unsustainable and unnecessary given modern chemistry.

The problem with PVC

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is one such problematic plastic. PVC – made of chlorine, carbon and petroleum-derived ethylene, requiring not only oil to extract those base chemicals but also demanding a huge amount of energy to activate the various chemical reactions in its manufacturing process – is by itself a rather unsustainable material. When deployed, it poses a fire safety risk: burning PVC releases toxic dioxins and hydrogen chloride fumes, and when extinguished with water these turn to corrosive hydrochloric acid.

If flexible PVC is required, for instance in the coating of wires, phthalates are often added to the process. Phthalates are an even bigger risk factor than PVC alone, as they are not chemically bound to PVC, and are therefore released into the air during a product’s entire life cycle. Few phthalates have been studied in depth, but those that have are linked to numerous health issues, particularly in children and pregnant women.

The use of certain phthalates is already restricted under REACH, and more currently sit on its authorised list for future restriction. However, official phthalate regulations currently apply only to a small subset of consumer products, and this does not include commercial or office installations. There is no legal requirement for manufacturers of security equipment to use phthalate-free wiring, for example.

Working together towards a circular economy

Replacing phthalates with bio-based plasticisers is one possibility, but given that more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives exist, the use of PVC and phthalates should be considered as largely obsolete.

And reducing their use is just one part of the puzzle. BFRs and CFRs, brominated and chlorinated fire retardants, have also been identified as toxic.

All fossil-based plastics have a sustainability cost attached to them which cannot ever be repaid. And as the world moves towards a circular economy, products must go beyond the goals set by WEEE – their packaging and components should be suitable for full recycling when they reach end of life.

Even in these difficult times, any business looking to meet its ESG goals must seek out vendors that demonstrate green design principles, and which share a commitment to a global future. Strong partnerships happen when vendors not only demonstrate that they work within international regulations or standards for materials, but that they have recognised the negatives of non-regulated materials and made positive decisions, beyond regulations, on their use.

Good vendors must also prove the viability of their manufacturing processes, evidence a healthy and reliable supply chain, and show a commitment to achieving sustainability development goals through schemes like the UN Global Compact and the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi).

This might involve employing ever-increasing volumes of post-consumer recycled (PCR) or bio-derived plastics, ensuring that metals like aluminium come from recycled sources, using components which are free from volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), or much more.

Planning for the future

Realistically, the world is still very much in the early stages of embracing green design principles, but the supply chain is changing quickly. The more organisations that can embrace a top-down ethical approach to doing business, the quicker vital processes like decarbonisation can happen, the closer a circular economy becomes, and the healthier the planet (and its people) will be.

Every small change a business makes towards reducing its reliance on substances like PVC or ensuring a healthy end-of-life for the products it installs today is a step in the right direction. That consideration, consistency and collaboration is the only route to a smarter, safer, more sustainable world.

Download the Axis whitepaper on safe substances to meet composition & compliance targets:


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