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The recent pledge by Microsoft to become carbon negative by 2030 was a significant public boost to the cause of sustainability. As was the software giant’s commitment to “remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption” since it was founded in 1975.
But the vendor’s statement that achieving the target would include cutting carbon emissions by more than half for its “entire supply and value chain” is also likely to focus attention on the role Microsoft expects channel partners to play in achieving its sustainability goals.
It gives rise to a number of questions which could have potentially far-reaching effects on the relationships partners have with their customers, distributors and vendors.
With sustainability moving up the agenda, what should channel partners do to help customers make informed choices on the environmental impact of the technology they adopt? Will there be an expectation on channel businesses to include sustainability as one of the factors in their trusted advisor status?
Will customers expect partners to rank suppliers based on their sustainability policies? Will sustainability become a significant factor in what technology and services channel partners provide or recommend to customers? And how will partners be able to demonstrate good environmental practice across the entire supply chain from vendor to customer?
Channel’s environmental responsibility
Shaun Lynn, CEO at Agilitas, believes “the manufacturing of technology is becoming a mighty problem” from an environmental standpoint. “The manufacturing of IT equipment is using a large amount of our natural resources, and we are unfortunately running out,” he adds, quoting figures that claim “the manufacture and use of one computer can produce up to 1295kg of waste. To put it in comparison, a flight from London Heathrow to New York produces 950kg of CO2.”
The onus is on partners to take responsibility, he says. “We have been presented with the opportunity to lead and change our behaviours when it comes to our focus on the environment. The aim is to help educate the market and make it an integral part of our core offering, rather than a secondary add-on.”
He says channel businesses need to “reconsider how they address sustainability factors”, for example by “replacing the linear approach of ‘make, use, dispose’ with a more circular method” that focuses on recuperating products at the end of their life.
“The manufacturing of technology is becoming a mighty problem [from an environmental standpoint]. The manufacturing of IT equipment is using a large amount of our natural resources, and we are unfortunately running out”
Shaun Lynn, Agilitas
Frank Vitagliano, CEO at the Global Technology Distribution Council, argues that businesses which fail to institute any type of corporate social responsibility or sustainability measures will ultimately find themselves in the minority over time.
“It’s not just a matter of doing the right things,” he says. “Reputation management has always been critical, but society today puts a premium on related factors like never before. In other words, helping customers make informed choices on environmental impact relative to technology begins internally. Practice what you preach – and then some – by making equipment retirement and recycling a priority by first being in the know and tying that knowledge to various types of customers.”
Jens Strinsjö, segment lead for smart cities at Axis Communications, believes partners “should demand transparency from the vendors they work closely with, ensuring that not only is there an environmental strategy in place, but that it places high demand on the vendor to demonstrate continuous development”.
He adds that partners and vendors need to help customers evaluate the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the technologies they acquire. “Energy consumption, for example, is not only an environmental concern, but it also has a huge impact on the long-term TCO,” says Strinsjö. “By encouraging this as a consideration in any purchasing decision, the channel can make a positive impact on the environment and the bottom line.”
He is adamant that sustainability will become an important issue for partners. “I strongly believe it will become a crucial requirement for those channel businesses that wish to be regarded as trusted advisors to be able to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability,” says Strinsjö. He claims this has already happened in the Nordics, where leading IT providers are “driving their activity with a strong focus on sustainability in such a way that it actually acts as a competitive differentiator” in the market.
“Sustainability works when businesses realise that it’s about more than just putting a tick in a box. There’s a real opportunity to challenge customers and encourage more environmentally sound choices”
Jens Strinsjö, Axis Communications
“Sustainability works when businesses realise that it’s about more than just putting a tick in a box. There’s a real opportunity to challenge customers and encourage more environmentally sound choices,” he says.
Louella Fernandes is research director at Quocirca, which recently completed a study of the print industry that found 57% of IT decision-makers expect suppliers to take a leading position around sustainability by 2025.
Sustainability will factor in buying decisions
“The days of tick-box sustainability messaging are over,” she warns. “Customers need genuine, evidenced data on how they can reduce environmental impact. This should be factored into pre-engagement audits and tender responses and presented as integral to the proposal, not an afterthought. Continuous environmental improvement should be an ongoing commitment during customer engagements.”
Fernandes acknowledges that sustainability “will be an interesting addition to the conventional competitive battlegrounds of performance and price when it comes to customer recommendations”, but admits that whether it will outweigh either is arguable at this stage. “There’s a balance to strike, but certainly environmental impact is carrying weight in the equation right now,” she adds.
“The days of tick-box sustainability messaging are over. Customers need genuine, evidenced data on how they can reduce environmental impact”
Louella Fernandes, Quocirca
Axis Communications’ Strinsjö believes there is still some way to go. Customers may talk about the benefits and importance of solutions that are manufactured in an ethical and sustainable manner, but the reality is that at the point of negotiations and procurements, ethics and sustainability are ignored. “These factors are constantly moved down the list of priorities, often due to issues around pricing,” he says.
But Alastair Borissow, vice-president of circular technology solutions at Westcon-Comstor, thinks things are changing. “At the moment, there are three main criteria that customers judge partners and suppliers on: competitive pricing, ability to deliver and customer service levels,” he remarks. “It won’t be long before there is a fourth criteria too – sustainability. If you have those three, but not sustainability, the way things are going, it won’t be an acceptable or competitive solution.”
Borissow predicts that “sustainability will become much more important, and customers will demand it – it won’t be a matter of ‘can you do this?’, but ‘you must do this or you will be ruled out’.” With the direction the industry is moving in, he says sustainability will soon become an issue that customers need to consider when they create a request for proposals – how do they measure this? “As such, I would expect this to evolve imminently, with progress being made on an industry standard in the near future,” he adds.
Hannah Delaney, chief marketing officer at Exertis, agrees, noting that the importance attached to sustainability by consumers is shifting to the business environment as well. “The channel and its supply chain will need to adopt the same approach by ensuring products are sourced, manufactured and transported in a sustainable way,” she states. “Naturally, that includes all aspects of the supply chain where organisations will want to ensure their suppliers are engaged in programmes to reduce carbon emissions. Those suppliers that have a poor environmental record negatively impact the supply chain and are likely to be replaced by a greener competitor.”
“Because the channel is the middle man, neither making nor buying the products, we are the enabler. We need to make sure that vendors are aware that this is becoming more and more of a criteria. This is becoming a key requirement if you want to do business with us”
Alastair Borissow, Westcon-Comstor
Customers will expect channel partners to provide solutions from vendors that “are environmentally-friendly, reduce energy consumption and lower carbon emissions”, she says, adding that sustainability reports “are likely to play an increasingly important role in tenders for projects”.
Westcon-Comstor’s Borissow concurs. “Because the channel is the middleman, neither making nor buying the products, we are the enabler,” he says. “We need to make sure that vendors are aware that this is becoming more and more of a criteria. This is becoming a key requirement if you want to do business with us.”
Check vendors’ green credentials
Strinsjö predicts there will be a natural process of partners starting to scrutinise the credentials of the vendors they collaborate with. “If a vendor doesn’t work towards meeting or exceeding the demands that they or their market sets out, it will, to some extent, become a self-regulated market where vendors that don’t take their responsibility seriously may find they suffer as a result,” he says. “Vendors should look to make positive changes to their practices with sustainability considerations at the forefront.”
But to meet those aims, partners will need to find out all the metrics, proof-points and stats regarding the products they sell, or services they offer, warns George Brasher, UK & Ireland managing director at HP. “Where there isn’t data, start measuring, as soon you’ll be asked by customers.”
Once partners have the information, they need to be fully transparent with those insights. “Be open with your customers about the environmental impact of the products you sell, so they can make as informed a choice as possible,” he says. Brasher believes this is important for partners because “people have woken up to sustainability and more than ever are basing their purchasing decisions on whether firms are taking the environment seriously”.
The onus is on partners to live up to their credentials. “Channel companies are unlikely to convince they can be trusted partners when it comes to sustainability unless they can demonstrate their business is willing to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk,” he says. “To this end, they must establish their own defined sustainability plan.”
James Pittick, partner channel director and sustainability lead at Canon UK, stresses that being sustainable is no longer viewed by customers as a nice to have – it’s now an expectation. “Long-term investment and a focus on product quality are at the heart of customers’ procurement processes, and sustainability is now a key part of this,” he says.
Gain environmental certifications and accreditations
Some customers are already specifying that partners have certain accreditations before they can join the bidding process. “As a result, partners may find that they lose out on business if they can’t offer their customers products from sustainable suppliers,” says Pittick.
Certifications such as ISO 14000 are becoming increasingly crucial for winning business. “If a partner cannot supply the right credentials, they could find themselves out of the running for key contracts,” he adds.
James Pittick, Canon UK
Pittick emphasises the importance of such accreditations to winning business. “It is no longer the case that environmental accreditations give you a competitive advantage – they are now steps that must be taken to keep pace with the competition,” he claims.
Steve Franklin, executive director at Cinos, also highlights the importance of certifications such as ISO 14001 because they not only demonstrate a commitment to limiting environmental impact, but also show an understanding of what it takes to implement an effective environmental management system.
“Increasingly, customers will look towards these kitemarks as a way of gauging how proficient resellers are with sustainable practices,” he says.
Franklin cautions that partners “need to ensure that customers are engaging them early on in sustainability discussions” because “leaving it too late limits the scope of the product and often leads to a fragmented approach”.
Mark Garius, managing director of managed print specialist ASL Group, observes that sustainability is now a board-level issue. “When we talk to our customers, we are routinely asked to provide solutions that will meet their environmental needs, alongside providing a flexible and responsive service,” he says.
“Although everyone knows something needs to be done, a lot of businesses will be looking for guidance on how they can become more sustainable. There is a huge opportunity here for the channel to help show businesses the path to a greener future when it comes to IT”
George Brasher, HP
Garius stresses that the company is “embedding good environmental practice” across all of its operations, as well as its services. “We need to demonstrate our own green credentials if we are to be taken seriously as a credible source of advice,” he says. “As well as being accredited with ISO 14001, we only supply products that are sourced from ISO 14001-accredited manufacturers. That way, our customers can be sure that the products themselves are manufactured, recycled and disposed of correctly.”
Ray McGann, asset management director at HPE Financial Services, says the role of partners is “extremely important” because of their reach into customers and how they can educate customers. “It’s critical from a partner perspective to be part of the evangelisation. Partners can explain sustainability to customers and what it means in practice,” he says, helping customers to transition from where they are to where they want to be. “Each customer has a unique requirement and partners have a critical role in helping them understand how to make that journey.”
HP’s Brasher echoes that view. “Although everyone knows something needs to be done, a lot of businesses will be looking for guidance on how they can become more sustainable,” he says. “There is a huge opportunity here for the channel, as an industry, to help show businesses the path to a greener future when it comes to IT.”