The eco-karma of everything-as-a-service

HP’s subscription services for consumers and businesses are driving the trend of making products cheaper, more efficient and kinder to the planet.

By Garage Staff — April 5, 2018

It’s 8:48 and you’re working late to prep for a big meeting in the morning, putting the finishing touches on the leave-behind case study you want to hand your prospective new client. But your printer has something else in mind, and a message for you: “Printer ink is running low.”

Does this scenario ring a bell?

How lovely would it be to never have that happen again? This is the genius of HP’s Instant Ink subscription service: When replacement time nears, your printer automatically alerts HP — and a new cartridge shows up in the mail in a flash. Plus, the monthly fee, which starts at $2.99, saves you 50 percent on the ink.

But there’s another bonus of the service that you might not notice at first glance. Instant Ink isn’t just good for you — it’s also better for the planet.  

Products morph into services

First, getting your printer ink as a service uses less packaging and cartridge materials. That slashes material consumption by a hefty 57 percent per printed page. And because you don’t jump in the car to buy the cartridges, your carbon footprint for an ink purchase and disposal is chopped by a whopping 84 percent.1

Call it the sustainability payoff.

HP's Instant Ink service automatically ships a new cartridge to users when their printer ink runs low.

Doug Adesko

HP's Instant Ink service automatically ships a new cartridge to users when their printer ink runs low.

Treating more of our everyday needs as a service rather than making repeated individual purchases is a growing trend in many sectors now that technology has made it more efficient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly to sell goods this way. Computer programs rarely ship in a box these days — instead, you pay for a subscription that guarantees you the latest bits on your PC. Ditto for your company PC, bicycle and makeup. All are morphing into services.

“We're moving to a service-based economy, and that’s creating incentives for companies to design more efficiently,” says Shelley Zimmer, HP’s environmental leadership program manager.

Slashing costs, energy use and paper waste

HP is driving this trend by offering more of the devices it makes as subscription services. The company’s desktops, notebooks and accessories are part of an expanding portfolio of devices and related gear that organizations are signing up to get as a service rather than having to buy these items and then manage them, keep them up to date and secure and provide customer service. In February, for instance, HP expanded its device-as-a-service offerings to include managing Apple products.

HP Managed Print Services is a prime example of where businesses, like consumers, get a sustainability payoff from device-as-a-service. With HP MPS, rather than owning printers, business customers pay HP for the service of onsite printing.

After studying an organization’s printing habits, HP figures out how many printers employees require, where the devices should be installed in different offices and the best way to manage them. HP often consolidates the number of printers a company has, replacing ones that waste energy or aren’t protected from hacking. Then it programs the new suite to print more efficiently by, for instance, defaulting to printing on both sides of a sheet of paper.

“Once we take ownership of the entire printing environment,” says Zimmer, “we have all the information we need to help that customer save money and energy, plus reduce the amount of paper they're using.”

What kind of savings are we talking about? Printing costs typically fall by 10 percent to 30 percent, paper waste drops by 25 percent and energy use tumbles by 20 percent to 40 percent.2

The closed loop expands

The device-as-a-service model is a critical piece of HP’s global “circular economy” sustainability strategy. As a pioneer of closed-loop manufacturing, HP aims to keep the materials used to make its hardware and printer cartridges in circulation for as long as possible and out of landfills.  

HP started with its groundbreaking closed-loop program for recycling the plastic in its printer cartridges to make new HP cartridges. Last year, the company raised the bar for the tech industry by expanding that closed-loop recycling program to hardware products.

Device-as-a-service dovetails with this closed loop.  HP Instant Ink ships out postage-paid envelopes with replacement cartridgers for sending back used cartridges, so people with Instant Ink subscriptions are more likely to recycle, says Zimmer. The Instant Ink cartridges contain 50 percent to 75 percent recycled content. That service helps cut the energy used to make cartridges by 86 percent, and water use is slashed by 89 percent.

“Once we take ownership of the entire printing environment we can help customers save money and energy, plus reduce the amount of paper they’re using.”

Shelley Zimmer, HP’s environmental leadership program manager

Freeing people to do their jobs

For organizations, the service approach fixes plenty of headaches. In one school district, for example, managing printer supplies was a huge challenge since teachers were never sure if an ink cartridge would be on the supply shelf when needed.

After signing up for HP MPS, district staff went to every building and room in search of hidden supplies teachers had stashed away. The team collected five pallets of ink and toner cartridges, each piled five feet high — all of it wasted treasure, since they were for outdated printers or machines not even used by the district anymore.

Establishing a steady supply of up-to-date cartridges tailored to the schools’ needs ended the hoarding right away. HP Instant Ink let the district’s teachers be teachers, not supply-chain strategists. You could call it a happiness payoff  — one HP hopes to deliver to many more organizations to come.


Learn more about HP’s Device-as-a-service offerings.


1. Compared with non-subscription purchase of the same HP Ink cartridges. Based on a 2017 life cycle assessment (LCA) performed by Four Elements Consulting and commissioned by HP. Analysis includes the CO2 equivalent associated with customer trips to purchase ink cartridges at a retail store versus delivering directly to a customer’s house, and it includes recycling empty ink cartridges versus throwing them away. Data and assumptions drawn from six years of customer data in the United States. Reductions in materials consumption, carbon footprint, energy use, and water usage are average values.

2. Estimated energy and paper savings based on analysis of select HP Managed Print Services customers’ imaging and printing operations using data gathered on devices and paper consumption and comparing with post-MPS actuals or projections. Results depend on unique business environments, the way HP products and services are used, and other factors. Overall printing costs are unique to each company and should not be relied on for savings you may achieve.