For many companies, the IT department became the unsung hero of the pandemic, playing a pivotal role in the rapid transition towards remote working; during the first Covid wave, organisations spent a massive $15 billion extra per week on technology to rapidly adapt to remote working.  By Carmen Ene, CEO, 3stepIT

While such investment into new computers and devices is key to ensuring workplace productivity, its environmental impact can’t be ignored. And in most organisations, the process of managing the lifecycle of IT is out of date, wasteful and unsustainable. This must be addressed to ensure the rising demand of technology is managed sustainably. 

Electronic waste (e-waste) is the world’s fastest growing waste stream. Producing just one computer along with its monitor takes at least 1.5 tons of water, 48 pounds of chemicals, and 530 pounds of fossil fuels. And the mountain of e-waste is growing exponentially, with 53.6 million metric tonnes (Mt) generated worldwide in 2019. This increased by 9.2 Mt in 5 years and is the equivalent of throwing away 1,000 laptops every second. And we know this is only going to keep increasing exponentially with the figures predicted to reach 74 Mt by 2030.


Addressing the sustainability issue within IT

This is an issue that can’t be ignored, as brand and businesses’ reputations are on the line; stakeholders are demanding accountability for e-waste, with 62% of consumers wanting companies they buy from and work for to take a stand on sustainability issues. And there’s pressure from the top too,  92% of business leaders say reduced carbon emissions is important to their business. 

So while companies must stay competitive, which includes making sure they equip their employees with the best technology possible, they also need to ensure they can dispose of and replace their devices responsibly and sustainably when it comes to the end of their two-year lifecycle. 

Worryingly, in the State of Business IT 2020 report, 36% of businesses admitted they did not know where their e-waste ended up, and one in 10 confessed to dumping old technology in landfill. This suggests that devices abandoned during the pandemic could add to growing levels of harmful business e-waste, many also still lock unusable IT assets away until they figure out what to do with them (26%).

 With the worrying e-waste figures, and the rising demand for sustainable organisations from customers, businesses should strive for better, greener circular IT management. Many of the barriers faced when achieving these goals can be addressed through sustainable IT management. This means that, instead of disposing of technology after one period of ownership, businesses can look to refurbish them to give them a second life. By thinking differently we can collectively put an end to this waste and save the e-waste crisis. 


Sustainable IT services

A circular economy of IT management is required, where businesses switch from ‘take, make, dispose’ to ‘take, make, reuse, recycle’. Products are actually designed to enable multiple cycles of reuse to reduce or eliminate waste. But this is something few businesses are aware of, or take advantage of. 

PC shipments were met with a record ten-year high in 2020; something that IT manufacturers were not prepared for. This resulted in device shortages, which we are still experiencing in 2021. Refurbishing IT products reduces the reliance on IT devices, which are already high in demand. By giving devices a second life, the rising demand of technology, as we have just seen during the pandemic, will always be met with reduced impact on the environment.  

But rebuilding businesses and reinvigorating economies will require businesses to explore opportunities to do so even before mass purchasing IT. This includes understanding and managing the entire IT lifecycle by questioning the way devices are acquired, managed and disposed of. This also means challenging assumptions that devices are obsolete and considering whether some tasks could be managed with reliable IT second-life equipment. All of these should be included in an organisations’ default approach of all IT equipment management, especially in the coming months when planning their office return. 

As we emerge from the current health crisis, businesses need to act in the face of the climate crisis, and sustainable IT management can be a big part of the solution. Leading decision-makers need to rethink their technology lifecycle management in line with the demand for flexible working, growing environmental challenges and stretched IT budgets. It’s better for the business, and better for the planet.