The Circular Economy. Good For The Planet. Great For The Bottom Line. Here’s How You Join The party.

The IT industry is rapidly becoming the bad boy of IT product reusability, forcing companies into often needless IT equipment disposal. In a profit-driven adaptation of the old adage, more and more tech companies are forcing their consumers down the path of ‘if it’s broke, don’t bother fixing it’.

And even for consumer electronics that ain’t broke, ‘planned obsolescence’ means we’re forced to replace many appliances because of their artificially limited shelf life.

Being forced into premature IT equipment disposal is just one of the bugbears for businesses with a green conscience. There are numerous others:

  • Manufacture is a drain on the planet’s finite resources
  • Disposal is difficult, costly and damaging to the environment
  • Energy usage hurts the bottom line and raises carbon levels
  • The constant need to upgrade and replace kit is expensive and wasteful
  • Many components contain toxic materials, which create hazardous waste.

Faced with these, and numerous other eco-concerns, lots of businesses are becoming increasingly committed to adopting green IT practices.

Are you embracing the Circular Economy?

It makes commercial and ethical sense to be part of this growing movement, especially when it comes to IT equipment disposal. Green practices create savings you can pass onto your customers, and the careful use of precious resources is an end worth pursuing in itself.

Many companies are taking a new approach to reducing the impact of their IT systems on the environment. They’re entering the ‘circular economy

The old way of doing things – make, use, dispose – is bad for the planet and bad for the economy. There are smarter, cleaner, more sustainable ways of doing business.

Businesses embracing the circular economy use things for as long as they can. They extract as much value from them as they can. And they recover what they can from them at the end of their life, rather than just chucking them away.

It’s all about cutting down waste and minimising pollution.

It may require creativity and a change in culture to embrace the circular economy. But it will save you money in the long term.

And if your business counts environmental sustainability as one of its brand values, your professional reputation can only be enhanced.

Here’s our quick 6-point guide to what your business can do to embrace the circular economy – and add value to your bottom line.

1. Preserve natural resources by switching to a green tariff.

The circular economy is based on the idea that we need to preserve the planet’s natural energy stocks. If we’re burning fossil fuels to create the energy we need to run our IT systems, we’re still part of the problem.

A great way of reducing your business’s carbon emissions and contributing to the circular economy is to switch to an energy supplier with a high percentage of renewables in their fuel mix. Bulb is a fabulous supplier offering electricity supply with 100% renewable electricity, particularly for households in the UK.

For other ideas on who to switch to, this website is good for sorting the genuinely green from the greenwash.

2. Use sharing platforms to access equipment you only use occasionally.

The circular economy is about keeping resources in circulation and reducing surplus demand. It makes no economic or environmental sense for several units of the same item to be produced to meet the needs of multiple consumers, when a single unit would do the job.

The high demand from businesses purchasing IT equipment they only use once or twice means we’re manufacturing more kit than we need. And that means environmental damage through unnecessary harvesting of raw materials for production and packaging. Not to mention the energy needed for manufacture and transport.

Jisc is doing great work in this area, particularly for universities, colleges and the research community. Using shared data centres and cloud-based storage solutions is enabling organisations to cut down massively on cost, as well as doing their bit for the environment.

Jisc’s online Kit Catalogue enables institutions to record and locate kit, such as laboratory equipment, workshop machines and ICT tools, and can throw up interesting collaboration opportunities with new partners.

How can you set up your systems and data management so you only acquire short-term resources for the periods you actually need them?

At the very least, it’s worth maximising your use of hosting applications and other cloud-based solutions for back up and storage.

3. Think of ways of reusing equipment instead of disposing of it.

The relatively short first lifespan of IT equipment like phones and PCs creates a major headache for advocates of the circular economy.

The carbon footprint of a computer is similar to a fridge. But most Smegs live a lot longer than an iMac. So, during its short life, the computer isn’t coming anywhere near to offsetting the carbon used to make it.

Too much kit is disposed of without thinking about how else it could be used. Extending the life of anything, or giving it a second life, from a mobile phone to larger pieces of IT infrastructure like networking hardware, will save you money and preserve precious resources.

We can all help, at home and in the workplace. Age UK and Oxfam offer solutions to recycle PCs, iPads and Mobile phones that go through recycling partners who give a donation of 25 to 100% of the value to the charity.

4. Refurbish and/or buy refurbished equipment

According to the United Nations, the average new computer system requires ten times its weight in fossil fuels to manufacture. So why buy new? Refurbished equipment brought back up to full spec is much cheaper than the shiny new model.

The same goes for upgrading. It’s just as easy to refurbish hardware in need of an upgrade as it is to dispose of what you’ve got and replace it with the latest model.

There are plenty of companies selling refurbished equipment. The positive impact you’ll be making on the environment by buying from them speaks for itself.

And consider earmarking your end-of-line or surplus kit for refurbishment. If it’s still in working order, it has a value. Find a company offering secure collection and destruction of data to keep you compliant with data and privacy laws.

5. Maintain equipment to prolong its life

Sounds obvious, but we’ll say it anyway. Like any kit with a complex structure and multiple, delicate working parts, most IT equipment failures are down to a lack of love – which means kit being needlessly dumped. And the circular economy is all about keeping assets in circulation. So:

  • Extend the life of components by getting post-warranty support from the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), or a trusted independent service organisation.
  • Install security updates and patches.
  • Use software and application updates, where needed and recommend.
  • Ensure good housekeeping in your comms room: regularly clean your equipment environment to keep it dust-free.
  • Keep a cleanliness regime in place at your desks. Clean it all: PC Fans, keyboards, monitors, the lot.
  • Run regular antivirus and spyware scans.
  • Back up data.
  • Keep software up-to-date.
  • Clean up your hard-drive, then defragment it.

6. Recycle redundant kit – as a last resort

In the past, when equipment came to the end of its life, it may have been tempting to dispatch it to the dump.

Thankfully, as consumers and businesses, we’re much more enlightened now when it comes to sustainability. The Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (ROHS) came into force in 2004, and helped change things from the top down.

But it’s still good to remind ourselves of the importance of recycling. Many components are hard-wearing, do not degrade naturally, and may release hazardous chemicals if left to rot in a landfill site. Incineration is only marginally better, resulting in significant releases of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Most of your equipment can be recycled. Sure, recycling has a carbon footprint of its own – the process consumes energy and requires resources. But the impact on the planet of creating new from old is much less than dumping the redundant asset in a landfill site and manufacturing a new one from scratch.

Besides, there are newer laws and regulations to be aware of too:

  • WEEE directive: businesses have a duty of care when getting rid of electrical and electronic equipment. Which means you have to store waste equipment safely, use a registered waste carrier, and keep a waste transfer note when equipment leaves your site.
  • GDPR: the General Data Protection Regulations, in force in the UK since 25th May 2018, are the latest in a long line of EU data protection laws requiring businesses to dispose of personal data responsibly.

Eco-friendly IT equipment disposal is reasonably simple. You can recycle your IT assets safely and legally, and a lot of manufacturers will take your unwanted computer equipment back. But for any company with a steady turnover of IT stock, it’s a good idea to turn to a recycling specialist for help.

The circular economy is not just about saving the planet for future generations. It’s a model of excellence for businesses to follow if they want to up their green IT credentials and add clout to the bottom line.

Square the circle. We’ll help you embrace the circular economy by ensuring your surplus IT equipment is an asset you can realise and reinvest. Find out about our IT asset management services today.

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