IT Sustainability Think Tank: Corporate devices and the circular economy

With sustainability moving up the boardroom agenda, CIOs and IT managers should look to revamp their IT procurement strategies to align with the principles of the circular economy, but why and what does this mean when it comes to managing the lifecycle of their entire IT estate?

Most companies across the world have either made or are working towards a net-zero carbon emissions strategy. But according to PwC’s most recent CEO survey, achieving net zero will still prove “exceedingly difficult” for some companies and industries.

To ease the transition, business leaders need to address every source of their companies’ carbon emissions. Some are already doing this by supporting carbon-offsetting projects and sustainable transport. But many fail to recognise the importance of addressing their approach to devices.

New devices such as monitors, computers and phones contribute a significant amount to global carbon emissions. Estimates suggest it is on par with air travel, but few people realise it. Our own research recently showed that 65% of people labelled air travel as a significant contributor – only one in 10 pointed to technology. Besides carbon emissions, hardware also creates enormous volumes of toxic e-waste that damages the environment and affected communities.

Companies must address their approach to devices to enable the circular economy. Doing so will be crucial to creating a sustainable world. Here are the three best ways to do it.

Get the most out of company devices

Extending the lifespan of devices is the first and easiest step companies can take to address their consumption of new technology. The longer a device lasts, the longer until a new one is needed.

“Extending the lifespan of devices is the first and easiest step companies can take to address their consumption of new technology. The longer a device lasts, the longer until a new one is needed”
Katy Medlock, Back Market

Improving devices’ lifespan can be as simple as providing employees with protective cases and bags. A simple and cheap case will reduce the chances of breakage, removing the hassle and cost of paying for screen repairs or even new devices. Second-hand products, that have been checked by experts, in good condition can further reduce the cost.

A more sustainable long-term approach would be to provide employees with device tutorials. These could include tips on repairing devices, preserving battery life and removing unwanted apps to free up storage. If your IT team lacks the capacity to provide live tutorials, we at Back Market find the videos on iFixit useful.

To take it a step further, companies could offer incentives to those who look after their technology. Results could be based on digital “health check-ups” with the IT team, for example.

Disposing of devices the right way

Devices will never last forever, no matter how well you look after them – batteries will need replacing and, at some point, they will no longer work with the latest software.

Cost proved to be a main factor limiting net-zero target adoption for almost a quarter (22%) of CEOs without them, according to our recent research. Selling used devices such as laptops and company phones is one good way to offset this cost and facilitate the circular economy.

While selling old devices once proved a potential security risk, the mass adoption of cloud storage has reduced it to a much smaller problem. Companies can now easily hand over devices without the risk of locally stored data falling into the wrong hands.

Refurbished device suppliers will often offer cash-in-hand for used devices. Many network providers also offer buy-back programmes where the value can be used as a discount against the next purchase.

If a company is unable to sell for whatever reason, it’s important the device is recycled. Most are sent to landfill sites where they cause extreme damage to the environment and local communities.

Buying refurbished devices

Besides selling redundant devices, companies can also buy refurbished devices instead of new ones. New technology is the main contributor to e-waste, with each brand new smartphone generating about 7.01oz (199g) of e-waste. A refurbished smartphone is 88% less, just 0.84oz (24g). Therefore, buying refurbished kit carries a minimal cost to the environment. It’s also cheaper.

“New technology is the main contributor to e-waste, with each brand new smartphone generating about 199g of e-waste. A refurbished smartphone is 88% less, just 24g. Therefore, buying refurbished kit carries a minimal cost to the environment. It’s also cheaper”
Katy Medlock, Back Market

When looking for refurbished devices, it’s important to buy them from a trusted company. This could be a scheme run by the original manufacturer. It could also be a verified refurbished device supplier.

Most trustworthy refurbished device companies will offer some form of warranty and returns policy. Year-long warranties and 30-day return periods are a good standard. They may never be needed, but their existence will act as proof of commitment to quality refurbs.

Buying refurbished devices may prove more difficult at bigger companies, but it is possible. Here at Back Market we always try to buy all our smartphones and laptops refurbished. Many suppliers are also developing B2B wholesale offerings to ease the process for companies planning to adopt refurbished devices across the business.

To achieve our environmental targets, it will be crucial to adopt more sustainable policies. Yes, this may mean new starters receive a refurb instead of a flashy new Macbook Pro. But since the climate has become the most important issue of our time, we think it’s worth it. They will too.

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