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Staying sustainable without compromising on technology

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa)

Sustainability focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. The concept of sustainability is composed of three pillars: economic, environmental, and social.

In terms of environmental sustainability, this can mean reducing emissions, using energy more efficiently and managing waste so as not to pollute the planet. In terms of technology, businesses need to ensure that they manage the technology lifecycle as effectively as possible and recycle equipment where at all possible. In addition, certain components within technology products are hazardous to the environment and need to be disposed of accordingly.

But this is not always the case. In fact, many of the UK’s e-waste has ended up in less developed countries such as Ghana. Much of this waste has been processed illegally leading to the release of dangerous toxins which causes damage to both the environment and to people. Clearly, this is not a sustainable, or ethical, solution.

But technology is also vital to drive any business’s profitability and competitiveness, regardless of the industry they are in. For instance, 44 per cent of businesses plan to increase their technology spend in 2020, according to a recent Spiceworks report. This is not surprising considering that 98 per cent of organisations have, or are putting, a digital transformation plan in place. But this transformation begs the question of, what happens to the old technology?

Responsible businesses will want to ensure that they dispose of or recycle their old equipment sustainably and remain compliant with regulations. But what should they be aware of and how can they manage the process effectively? The first step should be to understand the main regulations which drive both sustainability and security when it comes to technology.

WEEE regulations

The UK Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations were introduced to ensure that waste electronic equipment does not end up in landfill sites. The onus is on the manufacturers and distributors to put processes in place for disposing of the equipment, but it is up to businesses to ensure that this happens. And as of 2019, the EU WEEE directive has a target to collect 65 per cent of all equipment sold, an increase of 20 per cent from previous targets.

GDPR

Any organisation that collects and stores personal data has a legal obligation to maintain the integrity and confidentiality of any customer, employee, or third-party data. It must ensure appropriate security, including protection against unauthorised or unlawful processing and against accidental loss, destruction or damage, using appropriate technical or organisational measures.

It is therefore essential that once technology equipment has come to the end of its useful life, any data stored within it must be wiped — organisations should obtain a data deletion certificate. The technology in question is not just limited to servers and PCs. Even photocopiers, printers and telephone systems can store personal data.

In fact, managing end of life processes can be time-consuming, which is why many organisations opt to use third-party services to manage their technology lifecycles. But not all partners are equal, and businesses should seek to work with those that can manage all aspects of the lifecycle, not just end of life, in order to fully benefit from the relationship.

Lifecycle management

Managing the whole IT lifecycle - right from procurement, through warranty, and finally disposal - can be both resource-intensive and costly in terms of resources and funding the technology. This is often referred to as ‘total cost of ownership’, and it can include elements such as financing, storage and implementation, as well as procurement and disposal.

In an era where digital transformation is hot on most company agendas, it is vital that businesses fully understand these ‘hidden’ or lifecycle costs, as well as the more obvious investment expenditure.

In fact, including these additional elements can have many benefits for businesses. For instance, subscription and as-a-service models are one way to ease the burden of upfront investment — they can balance the outlay by relieving the burden on capex while delivering on business objectives. This protects the bottom line from difficult choices as well as unexpected costs.

In addition, with an as-a-service solution, there is no waiting game in terms of budget or capex; the technology can be added to the existing subscription and deployed within the organisation almost instantly.

The right technology partner can also handle all the administrative, logistics and compliance procedures, leading to a smooth roll-out programme and a stress-free end-of-life process. All data deletion, collection, recycling, remarketing and disposal are managed in compliance with the WEEE directive.

Technology is a business enabler. And it empowers the workforce by allowing more agile working practices. Therefore, it should not cause an unnecessary burden to an organisation. But, disposing of old technology in a sustainable and compliant way could become an encumbrance. With the right technology partner, it doesn’t need to be.

Chris Labrey, MD, Econocom UK and Ireland