Published 4 years ago.
About a 4 minute read.
25% of organisations that say they have a sustainable IT policy dump or destroy their obsolescent hardware — the least sustainable ways of handling them. Here's a business case for better IT lifecycle management.
In 3 Step IT’s recent international survey (results
to be released soon), we found that 18 percent of organisations that say they
have a sustainable IT policy take their obsolescent hardware to the dump, and
another 8 percent have it destroyed. These answers are inconsistent, because
apart from dumping them in a field, landfilling or destroying used devices are
the least sustainable ways of handling them. Even salvaging hardware for parts
is poor end-of-life practice.
It is easy to see how this kind of misunderstanding might arise. The everyday
use of laptops or mobile phones is an obvious cause of CO2 emissions. While
obvious, everyday use is not the main cause, which comes when manufacturing the
laptop. In this case, recycling IT devices reduces landfill waste, but increases
CO2 emissions, because it increases the need to manufacture replacement laptops.
Across society, sustainability has become a critical issue, so it is important
to understand how to make your business and operations more sustainable. Saving
energy is good, but reducing emissions is better. Companies should consider
using circular supply chains. Rather than the traditional ‘take, make, dispose’
model, a circular economy reuses products and materials to minimise waste and
make the most of our natural resources.
When considering CO2 emissions, transport immediately springs to mind,
travel. Less obvious, perhaps, IT emissions also produce megatons of CO2
globally. The typical laptop produces around 300 kg of CO2 over its life,
comparable to a return flight from Heathrow to Dubai.
that by 2040, IT devices —- laptops, PCs, monitors, smartphones and tablets —
will account for 14 percent of the global carbon footprint, more than half of
the contribution of the entire transport sector. Breaking this down, the
production of these devices plays a much more significant role in creating
emissions than their everyday use. For example, Apple reports that 83 percent
of the lifetime carbon dioxide associated with the iPhone
comes from the manufacturing process. Clearly, reusing technology mitigates IT’s
contribution to CO2 emissions.
From a sustainability perspective, while recycling obsolescent IT should ensure
some valuable metal
it is only a partial solution. Every time an organisation throws away a laptop,
phone, or tablet they need a new one to replace it. By comparison, if old
devices are refurbished they can be reused by a less demanding user and displace
the need to manufacture replacements.
In 2018, organisations and consumers together produced 49.8 million metric
of e-waste globally. That’s hard to conceive, so to give it a human scale — this
is roughly the weight of 5,000 Eiffel Towers of e-waste being produced every
year. Worse still, the rate of production is increasing, forecast to increase by
a quarter over the next 5 years.
While nearly a third of organisations with sustainable IT policies dump or
destroy obsolescent devices, the 85 percent of organisations with IT policies
that do not consider sustainability compound the problem. In our survey, this
group said they use the dump even more, with 60 percent taking obsolescent
devices to the dump or destroying them.
There is significant scope to include sustainability criteria within IT
policies, and to subject sustainability policies to greater scrutiny. Not only
will this help reduce e-waste, pursuing the reuse route will also raise cash
from the old equipment to reinvest in IT.
Evidence of human impact on fragile
surrounds us, and we continue to overconsume finite resources. Reusing IT is
part of the solution: one way to reduce the carbon footprint, raw materials used
and e-waste produced.
The choice is not between being sustainable and being profitable. There is a
business case for more sustainable behaviour: Quite simply, reusing IT will
extract more value than recycling. IT departments can sell used devices to a
specialist and avoid recycling fees and landfill taxes. There is also a change
coming in buying behaviour: organisations with sustainability policies will
require suppliers to meet their sustainability standards; this practice started
in Sweden, and is spreading south. Even if not a mandatory buying criterion,
demonstrable sustainability can help differentiate your organisation and create
a competitive edge.
IT devices are natural candidates for circular business models. Use an IT
based on a circular economy approach, and your IT device policies offer a route
to more sustainable IT. This is a simple step to improve the sustainability of
your operations while developing a plan to do better. Not only does this choice
makes good commercial sense, it is also the right thing to do for the planet.
Published Jul 22, 2019 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
Carmen Ene is CEO of 3 Step IT, based in Helsinki, Finland.