In 2019, society broke its own record for the rate at which it used a year’s worth of our natural resources, with Earth Overshoot Day taking place on 29 July – two days earlier than the year before. We are using nature’s resources 1.75 times faster than our planet’s ecosystem can regenerate them. This cannot continue indefinitely: we have to reduce our environmental impact on the planet. But this is far more easily said than done.
Businesses have made quite a few changes to become greener: planting trees, using recyclable materials, or choosing fresh air ventilation rather than air conditioning. These are all part of the solution, but only a small fraction. In our technologically dependent lives, IT devices fall outside many sustainability initiatives.
From laptops, mobile phones and tablets, through the communications network, to the servers we access, we place an ever-increasing reliance on technology. When surveying 1,000 organisations to understand how they handle obsolete technology, we found that just over 24 per cent say they dump or destroy all their old devices and a further 31 per cent dump or destroy some of them. There is ample scope to do better.
This traditional linear economy approach (take, make, use, and dispose) has massive e-waste consequences. We already produce the equivalent weight of 14 Eiffel Towers of e-waste every day, and it is getting worse. This is our fastest growing waste stream, with experts foreseeing a further increase to 110 million metric tonnes of e-waste by 2050. There is a better way to handle obsolete technology that delivers value, and avoids e-waste.
From linear to circular
The circular economy offers a route to reduce e-waste. Its take, make, use, reuse, recycle approach tries to extract the maximum value from products in use, then recovers and regenerates materials at the end of their life. It replaces the end-of-life concept with restoration, drives greater resource productivity, and helps to reduce the environmental impacts of consumption. Example business models include; product as a service, sharing of assets, life extension and finally recycling.
With rising resource depletion concerns, the circular economy offers a path to a more sustainable future. The technology device market is particularly suited to this model but awareness of it is limited. Many IT procurement managers may take into consideration power and CO2 footprint per device and operate on a tactical level but in many cases, a strategic approach to sustainable technology management is often missing. Additionally, data security concerns are an inhibitor and at least part of the reason why so many companies choose to destroy their old equipment.
Circular business models deliver new kinds of products and services, so they demand an open mind and a fresh approach from the buyer. Allowing consumers to personally take steps toward sustainability as part of their buying experience is a powerful strategy for building loyalty and trust. It can be achieved by choosing to collaborate with and scale these circular strategies alongside customer needs to develop more sustainable behaviours. Being transparent and educating consumers about a company’s impact on the environment, can help implement your redesigned circular economy model effectively, while also allowing consumers to be more engaged in sustainable topics that matter.
The future is circular
With Earth Overshoot Day consistently moving earlier in the calendar (it has shifted by two months over the past 20 years), we are clearly depleting our natural capital at an unsustainable rate. Population growth, increasing consumption and linear business models compound the problem. Circular economy business models offer a constructive way forward and the opportunity to develop plans and goals for a sustainable future. Doing business with circular suppliers also helps to improve the sustainability of your own business. Better still, this may be a simple way to make progress, without making more challenging changes in your own organisation.
Our survey also found that two thirds of organisations intended to integrate sustainability into their IT plans. Ensuring IT devices get reused when they are replaced, is a good place to start. Rather than ‘buy, use, dump’, IT teams can easily switch to a more sustainable approach by working with a technology lifecycle management specialist with a circular economy business model.
The approach will include ways to support device acquisition via flexible funding arrangements, track equipment in use and handle data destruction before refurbishing the device for reuse at end of life. The package of services integrated into this approach should also digitalise routine IT administration tasks, making it easier to carry out software updates for example and manage departmental budgets.
As returned devices get reused, you share the manufacturing carbon footprint, helping you to report lower e-waste. This is a tangible way to enact a sustainable IT procurement programme. Even better, with a regular refresh plan, user support costs are reduced and IT service levels rise. It’s a win for your users, a win for your budget, and a win for the planet. This more sustainable approach makes good business sense too.
Carmen Ene, CEO, 3stepIT