Corporate e-waste: The unfashionable global crisis

‘Carbon neutral’, ‘carbon zero’, ‘carbon positive’ – they’re the new corporate buzzwords creating all the headlines around sustainability

And rightly so, as they represent much needed action to reduce our carbon footprint and ease the pressure on a steadily warming planet. 

Big businesses are now starting to get on board. Apple has vowed to become carbon neutral for its supply chain and products by 2030, Amazon by 2040, and even the UK and the European Union by 2050.

As the world recovers from the pandemic, we can expect the calls for action on the climate crisis to reach fever pitch again. There is strong hope that the corporate world will lead the charge on sustainability in 2021. 

But if you’re not Amazon or Apple, then what can your business do to make a difference?

Organisations of all sizes can start by tackling the world’s fastest growing waste stream and one of the biggest environmental challenges we face, right now – electronic waste.

The impact on electronic waste in 2019

The world generated 53.6 million metric tonnes of e-waste in 2019 – the equivalent of throwing away 1,000 laptops every second. 

These are already staggering numbers, and this could be set to skyrocket once the impact of the pandemic is fully realised.

For almost a year now, IT departments have been working full throttle to transition their workforce to remote working. Employees have embraced better flexibility as working from home became a full-time reality overnight, and most businesses adapted quickly, finding new ways to be productive, creative and collaborative online. 

The enforced change to the work environment has represented digital transformation on a previously unimaginable scale, with the shift to mobile devices that many had talked about for years taking place in a blink of an eye.

The result has been the mass abandonment of desktop PCs, many still sitting in offices as we continue to work from home. Our research shows almost a quarter (23%) of PCs in Europe won’t be needed again as a result of home working.

This could mean a new wave of electronic waste, larger than ever before, especially as many businesses are still unsure about the most responsible way to dispose of IT devices at the end of life and some are even still sending redundant equipment to landfill. 

We must ensure widespread adoption of more sustainable IT practices to prevent the devices, which have been made redundant by the pandemic, spelling disaster for the planet.

How can businesses reduce their tech waste?

Ensuring redundant business technology is reused is an important way to reduce our environmental impact. When a device reaches the end of its first lifecycle and a business needs to upgrade, that device still holds value, both to the company and to a second user. 

Giving a device a second life reduces carbon emissions and electronic waste. Every laptop that is reused, displaces the need to remanufacture a new one, also saving natural resources. We like to say that every time we rehome a device, we’re saving the planet one laptop at a time.

Dumping old devices also represents a wasted opportunity to help people access used IT equipment at more affordable prices. Not everyone needs or can afford new tech, so a vibrant secondhand market is crucial to closing the digital divide.

Plus, while the disposal of IT equipment is hassle and an expense for businesses, ensuring old devices are reused gives equipment extra value – a value which can be used against the cost of purchasing new IT devices. With organisations faced with accelerating the shift to mobile devices, this could free up much needed cash to fund digital transformation projects

Circular IT 

We call this approach Technology Lifecycle Management. It means businesses embrace a circular and more sustainable approach to IT, from acquisition, to in-life management, right through to the way a device is refreshed, repaired, reused and recycled.

It is a new way of thinking about managing IT equipment sustainably and efficiently throughout its entire lifetime. But done properly, it helps extend the lifecycle of an asset and reclaim investments once they’re no longer of use. 

As big players like Amazon and Apple make big moves on sustainability, customers are becoming increasingly savvy about where they place their spending power with businesses of all sizes. Managing IT sustainably and responsibly is a really simple change every business can make to ensure they are doing everything they can to meet their sustainability goals, while recouping value from redundant IT – it’s a win, win.

About the Author

Carmen Ene is CEO of 3stepIT, which is focussed on one single objective: to take care of the world’s technology by helping businesses to manage IT more sustainably. We offer IT lifecycle management services to help our clients acquire IT equipment (especially IT devices, like laptops, desktops & smartphones), to manage them in use, and then to refresh them after a planned life.

Featured image: ©Willyam