IT Sustainability Think Tank: Incorporating circular economy principles into IT procurement

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 where should they start?

Enterprise CIOs and IT managers who want to revamp their procurement processes to align with the principles of the circular economy need to start by asking themselves whether it is possible for their IT requirements to be met by refurbished kit. And if it is, how do these reused pieces of kit compare to new products from an energy-efficiency point of view?

At the other end of the scale, they also need to address what they do with their old, legacy IT hardware once it reaches end of life. Do they give it away or entrust it to an IT asset disposition (ITAD) firm to refurbish and reuse it on their behalf?

It is also important to ensure their IT procurement strategies align with society’s broader climate and net-zero economy goals.

For instance, how energy efficient is their IT and are they deploying it in a way that is as energy saving as possible? Does the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) that makes their kit have robust science-based targets? If so, are they aligned to 1.5°C warming? Do they plan on reaching net zero, and is this verified by third-party certification?

Another area that is also very important for enterprises to consider when procuring IT, from a sustainability perspective, is human rights.

For example, does their preferred OEM or supplier have a credible modern slavery risk assessment in place?

Other questions IT buyers should be asking on this topic are: where did the IT hardware originally come from and did the OEM take steps to ensure it was manufactured in line with international best practice?

Also, does the OEM belong to any reputable industry schemes, such as the Responsible Minerals Initiative?

Eliminating e-waste

From a circular economy point of view, there are a few first steps that companies can take to set them on a path towards eliminating e-waste from their operations and becoming champions for the promotion of IT reuse.

They can do this through purchasing refurbished IT equipment, because used kit has a lower carbon footprint.

They can also take steps to ensure any end-of-life kit they do not need any more is given an effective second life by handing it over to an ITAD firm that can refurbish these devices.

Enterprises should also take a closer look at their IT procurement policies to make sure they align with the principles of the circular economy.

Setting circular economy targets in procurement requests for proposals (RFPs) is a good way to drive supplier engagement on this front, while also making sure the procurement criteria are not strongly biased towards buying brand new tech.

It is also important to have in place mechanisms and metrics that allow enterprises to track their progress when looking to embrace the principles of the circular economy.

One way of doing this is by obtaining data on the percentage of their IT assets that is going to landfill versus the percentage that is being refurbished and reused.

Also, emissions are not directly linked to carbon, but they are converging – so enterprises should make an assessment of the energy performance of respective IT gear, factoring in lifecycle emissions. A huge percentage of emissions are in the manufacturing stage, so keeping devices longer means lower emissions overall.

Ensuring effective value chain due diligence should encompass IT use and disposal. And if products are being defined as e-waste, take a deep interest in how IT is treated and disposed of, as there are numerous environmental and human rights risks in the waste sector.

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