Sustainability is currently one of the biggest environmental, economic and social drivers of humanity and business alike. No longer just a buzzword, businesses today are taking the issue seriously, and committing to sustainable practices as a ‘must’ rather than an ‘nice to have’. As the negative impacts of climate change become more obvious by the day, it’s important for organizations to realize that unsustainable practices will cost them more in the long run – both in terms of reputation and profitability.
About the author
Nick Offin, Head of Sales, Marketing & Operations at Dynabook Northern Europe.
While all industries and sectors have different contributions to emissions as a whole, there is one thing that holds true for all of them. This is that technology will play a pivotal role in shaping their sustainability strategy in the years to follow. While technology is not a panacea for a global problem, it does have the power to increase efficiency, while reducing product and resource waste.
Implementing a sustainable IT strategy
A clearly defined sustainable IT strategy – including a commitment from management and measurable targets – can help any organization reach social, economic and environmental goals. While hybrid working is undoubtedly here to stay in some form (indeed, respondents of our research described laptops as “the unsung heroes of the pandemic” due to their portability and flexibility in a variety of working scenarios), smart investments into secure and robust IT equipment will not only save time and money in the long run, but can improve sustainability credentials and create a better and more robust reputation for businesses that want to be greener.
A silver bullet?
At a first glance, engaging in a sustainable IT strategy seems simple when more remote work is on the cards. In a report drafted by the World Economic Forum, The Future of Jobs 2020, a number of trends including the expansion of remote working and the acceleration of digitalization and automation were highlighted as potentially having an overall positive impact on the environment. This is no surprise: a reduction in office workers means a reduction in CO2 emissions caused by means of transport, and heating and cooling buildings, commuting and associated day to day consumption.
But sustainability is rarely about direct carbon emissions alone. Around 54 million metric tons of e-waste were generated in 2019. That figure is set to rise to 74 million metric tons by 2030. What’s more, 20% of this was reported to be correctly processed using the reduce, reuse, recycle model. The rest was likely recycled or dumped to end in landfills.
So how can technology solve a sustainability problem it seems to be creating?
The answer is complicated but also clear. IT leaders know they need to consider the impact of the number and types of devices to both power their businesses and sustain it. Computers, laptops, tablets, phones and printers all invariably have their own environmental footprint and, following a global surge of interest and need for portable devices during the pandemic – it might be easy to think that remote working is bad for the planet. But that is not necessarily the case. While the current consumption of electronic materials is seen as ‘unsustainable’ by some experts, IT leaders have the opportunity to move away from a linear model and towards a circular economy in electronics, by improving the life-cycle environmental performance of products. For a sustainable, circular economy in the IT industry, reducing e-waste, and using schemes such as reusing, recycling and asset recovery have never been so important.
A sustainable hybrid option
The first way to alleviate e-waste for IT users, is with good IT support. Technology vendors are the largest part of the technology chain, so it is up to them to ensure that purchased devices last for as long as possible, and that the technology operates smoothly and efficiently. This can be achieved remotely too – general maintenance updates and technical support does not need to be an in-person task.
Luckily for IT decision-makers, technology vendors are already taking measures to reduce the carbon footprint of their devices, such as by helping their customers deal with the device at the end of its lifecycle. Two of the most effective methods are reselling and recycling, which involve either the resale of old devices that are still in good condition, or sustainable recycling initiatives which allow customers to dispose of their items in eco-friendly ways.
The benefits of these initiatives extend even beyond their eco-friendly credentials. With resale, old equipment that is still in good condition can be bought back from the organization, so places with smaller budgets benefit from a refund while freeing up space for new investments. For equipment that has reached the end of its lifecycle, a robust recycle initiative will ensure that any buyer can entrust the process of disposal to their vendor, relieving the burden while safe in the knowledge that equipment is being managed in the safest and most sustainable way.
Does technology help or hinder?
The answer of course, is: it depends. Most technology vendors are focused solely on the environmental credentials of their own products. But customers are more multifaceted than that. Tech users – whether business or consumer – are rarely constrained by a single vendor, so the onus on how well a product is disposed of often rests on their decision-making at the top of the buying chain.
There is good news however. More vendors are applying more sustainable policies to their businesses – and this pressure is coming directly from the businesses and customers they supply. So the shift to a more circular model of operating when it comes to technology devices, and improving behaviors when it comes to electronic waste is already in full force.
IT asset management is an important part of the role of IT teams. As key links in the technology supply chain, they’re in the perfect position to become an intrinsic part of the sustainability cycle that follows technology from its origins to end of life.
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