SUSTAINABILITY FOCUS 21

Ring the changes with circular IT procurement It is fair to say that sustainability and environmental responsibility is higher on the agenda for many businesses now than it has been over previous years. Not only is legislation slowly pushing businesses in this direction but the media spotlight, its increased importance to staff, as well as the high priority placed by consumers, means that many businesses are making improvements to their environmental footprint. By Mark Sutherland, director of e-commerce at Stone Group

Stone Group conducted a survey that showed environmental responsibility being a high priority for 32% of businesses and ethical beliefs as well as cost benefits were the driving factors behind this. Interestingly, 42% of businesses said that the COVID-19 pandemic had accelerated their plans in this area, forcing them to adapt their working practices more quickly.

However, when we look at the measures that businesses are taking, there appears to be an obvious gap. Whilst 45% of respondents identified a green supply chain as a priority, 39% focused on the green credentials of their office or building, 37% were tackling their logistics operations, and only 36% identified a more sustainable approach to IT estate management as a focus area.

According to recent figures, if no action is taken, the UK is set to become the biggest e-waste producer in Europe per capita by 2024. In 2019 alone, the country produced a total of 1.6million tonnes of e-waste which is the equivalent of around 23.9kg of waste per person so the opportunity to make a difference in this area is clear.

A ‘circular’ or ‘360-degree’ procurement strategy puts sustainability at the heart of every stage of the IT equipment’s lifecycle. In contrast to the linear ‘take, make, dispose’ economy, a more holistic circular approach encourages procurement teams to consider a ‘make, use, recycle’ route, looking at how a business can maximise the lifespan of a product through repair or re-use as well as how they can re-use or recycle products when they reach the end of their useful lifespan.

By doing this thinking up front, it also allows the business to be clearer on specification as they have the kit’s entire lifecycle and cost in mind. Plus, the added environmental and ethical importance of the procurement process can also act as a barrier or deterrent to ‘rogue spenders’ that buy equipment outside of the agreed specification and process (we’ve all come across them!), which leads to both engineers and support teams being unable to manage that product and is a huge and costly headache for many businesses.

For IT equipment, this circular process can include buying remanufactured or refurbished products that would not only help to lower e-waste but is more cost-effective and also reduces the carbon footprint and environmental impact of manufacturing new products. Alternatively, lease or buy-back options could also be a more sustainable route, either leasing the equipment you need for a period of time or buying the technology but with a clause in the contract for the supplier to buy-back all or part of the equipment which they can then go on to remanufacture or reuse.

However, there is still some hesitation from procurement professionals and wider business around these sustainable routes, ranging from a fear of receiving inferior products or inadequate guarantees, through to believing they have a shorter shelf life or having their procurement options limited by their own company’s policies to only allow kit to be purchased from certain manufacturers. In truth, refurbished IT equipment is a great way of achieving the specifications a business needs at a lower cost. Reputable sellers offer refurbished equipment in a ‘like-new’ condition and offer warranties that rival those for new devices.

Similarly, considering the end of life for equipment that a business owns is equally important, particularly when you take into account that IT upgrades for the average business take place approximately every three to four years which leaves a vast number of defunct printers, servers, and tablets that are not all being sustainably processed or disposed of.

Whilst our research showed that a quarter of businesses were unsure what happened to their e-waste or admitted sending it to landfill, two in five (41%) organisations were trying to give their kit a second life by donating it to charities or schools and 31% use an IT asset disposal (ITAD) facility. In fact, those using an ITAD facility were not only reaping the benefits of their equipment being recycled or refurbished but cited the ease of the items being collected from their organisation and the fact that they could trust that data was securely wiped from their devices as significant factors behind their choice.

To be sure that you can benefit from the same peace of mind, it is vital to check a company’s ITAD accreditations to ensure their service complies with the necessary environmental and health and safety laws and guidelines. It is also a good idea to ensure they can provide a full report and traceability as proof that your equipment has been disposed of responsibly, and make sure you choose a provider that guarantees zero waste to landfill.

Finally, it should be easy to book collections via an app or website and, contrary to the many providers who charge a premium for collecting old kit, you should in fact look for a company that will offer rebates for your old equipment as many items will hold a residual value.

It is clear that more and more businesses are now committed to a more sustainable future and, with e-waste being one of the biggest environmental problems and IT estate management a seemingly untapped area of potential for many organisations, the opportunity is obvious – for the business itself as well as the wider world.


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