IT Sustainability Think Tank: Understanding 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?

As IT spending rises to $4.4tn this year, the importance of digital in corporate strategy cannot be overestimated.

This brings new opportunities and new challenges for CIOs. As their impact on business grows, they are charged with tackling complex, strategic issues with nine in 10 saying their role has expanded beyond traditional IT management, according to a Lenovo study.

That’s why forward-thinking tech leaders turn to the circular economy as a catch-all solution – realising the financial and environmental benefits it offers businesses looking to manage risk and gain competitive advantage.

The circular economy represents a $4.5tn economic opportunity for organisations and society, and analysts predict it will soon be the only economy.

Adopting a circular strategy focused on reusing, repairing, refurbishing and extending the life of devices – potentially eliminating a business’s e-waste footprint – represents an excellent place for organisations to start the transition towards a much more efficient business model.

Moreover, moving to as-a-service, circular, technology lifecycle management allows CIOs to fuel digital transformation with new hardware while making e-waste management, repair and reuse an integral part of regular IT renewal cycles.

Working alongside procurement managers to select suppliers and partners that apply circular economy principles within their operations, CIOs have the opportunity to help their organisations bridge the digital divide and contribute to society’s decarbonisation.

By 2025, emissions from enterprise IT will be equivalent to almost 500 million passenger vehicles driven for a year, and the UN predicts global e-waste will nearly double between now and 2030, creating additional disposal costs and operational burdens for businesses.

With the right technology so crucial to forging a competitive advantage on the road to net zero, reducing the environmental impact of tech assets is both an operational and reputational imperative.

Embracing a circular tech strategy can also be part of a successful risk management plan. Regulators are tightening policies, and shareholders and consumers want to move beyond single-use products and practices – all while the EU is powering ahead with its ambition to transition to a circular economy by 2050.

Another significant advantage of transitioning to a circular model for technology is data security. Security cannot be in place only until devices are decommissioned, and secure data erasure does not mean having to physically shred hard drives.

Using a circular lifecycle management service that extends beyond the first life of the device offers a way to make technology sustainable and reduce e-waste while addressing privacy concerns.

The role of the CIO is increasingly complex, and the margins within which an organisation can operate are narrowing due to rising regulatory pressure, erratic supply chains and increasingly sustainably minded stakeholders.

Digital tools – such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and blockchain – undoubtedly offer a reliable path to reduce the need for hardware and extend the useful life of devices. And, alongside them, circular lifecycle technology management provides the opportunity to secure a competitive advantage and sustainably manage business risk.

As organisations strive to futureproof their operations and contribute to a greener, fairer society, technology can and should be their most sustainable business asset.

Read more from Computer Weekly’s IT Sustainability Think Tank on the circular economy

Read more on IT efficiency and sustainability

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