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The Next Economy
How Partnerships Can Extend Sustainable Solutions

Partnerships and closer collaboration between organisations are critical if we are to build new, more sustainable ecosystems. One key to the success of any collaboration is that the partners have complementary strengths to exploit.

When we see the effects of our collective behaviour on the environment, it is clear that as a society, we need to do better. Individuals have a role to play, and consumer choices encourage change in companies and governments. But to go beyond greenwashing, businesses and organisations need to implement a sustainability strategy to deliver real change at scale.

Organisations usually start small with simple initiatives. It is a more certain way to deliver early success. A move to sustainable energy may be a straight-forward switch change to make; a remote working policy could help cut carbon by reducing employee journeys to work (and it might improve their motivation, too). Going further usually requires policies, plans — and, in many cases, partnerships — to handle the new challenges.

Stronger together

There is a limit to what one company can achieve on its own. Partnerships and closer collaboration between organisations are critical if we are to build new, more sustainable ecosystems. The United Nations recognises the general challenge; one of its Sustainable Development Goals is to ‘strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.’

An example of this in practice is the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which exists to accelerate development of a more circular economy. Its CE100 network provides a pre-competitive space to learn, share knowledge, and build new collaborative approaches. It is for global businesses that understand that the circular economy must feature in their strategy if they are to remain competitive. The network brings together businesses, innovators, cities and governments, universities and thought leaders to collaborate and work on pre-competitive opportunities. Success requires significant individual effort, as well as collective work, to build new markets.

Partnership for progress

One key to the success of any collaboration is that the partners have complementary strengths to exploit. The new joint venture I am involved in, BNP Paribas 3 Step IT, combines an exceptional technology lifecycle-management solution from 3stepIT with the financing strengths and European reach of BNP Paribas Leasing Solutions (which is also a CE100 member).

A survey that 3stepIT carried out last year found that many organisations plan to integrate sustainability into their IT planning. This has potential to reduce the typical 300- to 400-kg carbon footprint of a laptop over its life; and as most organisations discard obsolescent devices, they also contribute to the growing mountain of e-waste. This is society’s fastest-growing waste stream, and today we produce e-waste equivalent to the weight of 14 Eiffel Towers every day. It is easy to understand the sustainable IT challenge, but much harder to work out how to get obsolescent devices reused consistently, rather than dumped.

Making the most of partners’ strengths

The lifecycle service we offer helps to reduce the cost and improve the service level an IT team delivers. The service is built on circular principles, so we ensure that most devices are reused; and, if that is not possible, salvaged for parts. In the end, we recycle less than 3 percent of obsolescent devices. When devices are reused, the manufacturing element of their carbon footprint — around 70 percent of the total over its life — is spread over two users. And as reuse displaces the manufacture of a new device, e-waste is nearly halved. Our service helps IT teams provide a better service at lower cost, and improves their own sustainability.

As we were planning the joint venture company, the synergy and complementary goals became clear. 3stepIT’s solution had evolved in Nordic countries, with their historic interest in cleaner technologies. Beyond its Nordic and Baltic stronghold, 3stepIT only traded in the UK and wanted to expand in Europe.

In an almost perfect mirror image, BNP Paribas Leasing Solutions has a formidable sustainability record (the parent bank is listed in the top 100 most sustainable companies) and wanted to build its portfolio of sustainability solutions. It was clear we could use its reach and financing expertise to break out of Northern Europe and bring the technology lifecycle-management solution to clients across Europe, with only an overlap in UK operations to resolve.

Purchase policies have a role to play

We are delighted to have earned Solar Impulse Efficient Solution certification — a rigorous, independent assessment of the claims we make. Our service builds sustainability into technology use and should have a place in any plan to provide a more sustainable IT service. Buyers can take this further by choosing products with environmental factors designed in from the start. In technology, TCO certification, for example, rewards products that make it easy to reuse parts and materials when the device is finally beyond refurbishing.

Plans to become more sustainable will always be based on incremental improvements. When planning the sustainability journey, some steps will be managed in isolation. Others require local collaboration, perhaps helping colleagues with an app to share lifts to work. Partnerships will build the new ecosystems that deliver larger leaps in sustainability, and here customers have a big role to play: building circular economy and sustainability criteria into their purchasing decision process will help novel, more sustainable services to grow.

Although the challenges society faces are daunting, new solutions exist that combine business and eco logic. Even if climate change didn’t exist, they would make sense and offer clean growth, rather than the dirty status quo we have today.