In this article, Tom Newbald of refurbished mobile phone provider Swycha, says that IT decision-makers (ITDMs) don’t tend to prioritize or value sustainability when making IT purchasing decisions. He argues why you should care more, and how you can improve your IT department’s contribution to your company’s overall sustainability goals.
Sustainability matters for managers (trust me!)
If you are a budget holder, you have likely attended senior management meetings that discussed your company’s core objectives, visions, and values.
In 2022, more often than not, these will now include your company working towards being more eco-friendly. Many companies even tend to have a business sustainability strategy built into the heart of their operations. But I know what many of you are thinking.
Sustainability and ESG (your environmental, social and governance decisions) are just the latest corporate lingo passed down from your management. But in reality, they are much more. An increasing number of your employees, customers, directors, and shareholders really do care that you’re not being wasteful! In fact, being a sustainable business doesn’t just strengthen your company’s airy-fairy ‘corporate reputation’.
Today, it tangibly influences your consumer’s purchasing decisions, drives customer loyalty, and it puts a real focus on being a more resource-efficient company (all of which improve your company’s bottom line). Here are some important insights to consider:
- 32% of UK consumers are committed to buying from more sustainable businesses.
- 62% of CEOs consider sustainability necessary to being competitive today.
- 65% of people want to work for a company with strong environmental policies.
Even if your senior management has not briefed you yet on being a more sustainable manager in your remit (or just being more resource-efficient to cut costs) – perhaps above all, it’s key to take your personal responsibility as a ITDM seriously.
Where do IT decisions come in?
We tend to consider corporate sustainability to just be a few key areas: our manufacturing processes, packaging, supply chain, delivery methods, and waste management. These focus on minimizing the production of harmful toxins, opting to use biodegradable and renewable materials, or mitigating the company’s carbon footprint with transportation.
But the IT department, or specifically our IT equipment, is often overlooked. They shouldn’t be – not at all. It is a crucial factor for corporate sustainability. If you are an ITDM, factoring sustainability into your decisions, particularly your tech purchasing habits, should really be encouraged. What do I mean? Well, when you decide that pieces of your IT equipment are outdated and are no longer of use to staff – you create harmful waste (assuming that the device is not totally smashed to bits!).
- Every year, 2 million tonnes of e-waste (‘no longer useful’ electronic devices) is discarded into landfills by UK companies
- Unwanted devices in landfills leak toxic substances such as lead and mercury into the soil and water (also discarding non-renewable resources like aluminum) also lead to health issues
- By deciding that a piece of tech is no longer fit for the purpose you create the need (and cost) to purchase brand new equipment ITDMs tend to be the ones in the company that decide when certain equipment is no longer needed after assessing staff needs (i.e. when they complain “I can’t work with this device.”)
But it’s not just about you being more conscious of e-waste. When you decide that staff need a brand-new set of devices (laptops, monitors, mobile phones, etc) – you also create costs. You also create a harmful precedent, expectation, and demand for constant new tech within your business. How?
- You will never make the cost savings you need or stay within budget (a key managerial competency) if you’re constantly ordering brand new equipment
- You are adding constant demand to the global manufacturing of laptops, desktops, and mobile phones which is extremely harmful to the environment (large use of fossil fuels, harmful chemicals, pollution, extraction of natural resources, and often conflict minerals)
- By setting an expectation that areas of the business can just have brand new equipment if they shout loudly enough, you’ll never be able to break the cycle
Whether you want to take sustainability in IT seriously, make cost savings, or impress your senior management – here’s how I recommend you factor sustainability into your IT decisions.
Create a culture where IT in your business prioritizes sustainability
Yes, ITDMs (particularly IT Directors and IT Managers) are responsible for ensuring your organization and stakeholders have the technical capabilities and kit they need to thrive (with as little trouble as possible). But ITDMs must also balance this with their organizational sustainability objectives.
Work with your senior leadership (speak to the CEO even) to create a culture in the business where IT decisions also prioritize sustainability. Break the cycle where the first option is to just simply buy new equipment when there appears to be a staff need. Create a culture where the staff knows that IT sustainability is a crucial component of the business.
Rather than ordering new equipment, can staff who are happy with an older piece of kit swap with new recruits? Explain to them why this is important to the business and the associated environmental benefits. Similarly, are some staff happy to only have one screen and can do without two, to spread screens around the business, for example?
All of this will also go a long way to being resource-efficient and saving on your IT budget.
Refurbished mobile phones for staff
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift to hybrid and remote working. As such, it is more commonplace for businesses to provide a business mobile phone as equipment for employees.
One way to factor in sustainability in the IT department is to purchase refurbished handsets for your staff rather than buying brand new devices. Refurbished mobile phones are phones that are second-hand, but have been repaired, restored, and re-used by a professional company. By purchasing refurbished handsets rather than new ones, you will not only help the planet by lowering your carbon footprint, but you will also help save valuable minerals from being mined, which not only harms the environment but also contributes to massive CO2 emissions.
You can contribute to the reduction of e-waste and ensure that devices are used to their full lifespan (supporting circular economy principles). This is an excellent and simple environmental practice to consider for ITDMs.
Refurbished servers reduce IT costs but also support sustainability
Similar to the point above, if you only purchase brand new IT hardware, you’re just perpetuating an unhealthy demand for new equipment that affects the environment.
Again, refurbished IT equipment is a sustainable option. Many companies opt to buy refurbished servers, including high-quality refurbed hardware from global brands such as Dell and HP. Purchasing refurbished servers from reliable sources is a key way to factor in sustainable IT purchasing decisions whilst also saving a significant amount of money. Do be careful to ensure you are doing adequate research in this area of IT procurement, however.
Complete e-waste audits and considers options for circularity
Quantify your business’s e-waste stream. What devices and equipment are you discarding of, or making defunct? What is the associated environmental cost? To fully understand the impact of your company’s e-waste, pinpoint what e-waste you are generating, why, and in what quantity. Then understand how you are processing end-of-life. Can you focus on repairs over replacement? Are you handling equipment repair processes thoroughly? Then figure out whether you are actually discarding your devices in an environmental fashion if they do in need to be discarded.
Many secondary markets extract components from electronics for reuse and recycling. Can you send your unwanted equipment to a company that specializes in this area? Can you donate equipment to charity or smaller companies? Make sure you are recycling and handling e-waste properly without creating additional environmental issues for the planet. Rounding up this point – quantify what you are making defunct or figure out why the staff is not using it anymore, conduct lifecycle assessments for your tech products, and explore e-waste recycling practices.
Perhaps the top and bottom of this are always trying to consider your IT decisions from an operational, economical, and environmental perspective before you make them. Do we really need to buy this brand new? Can we buy alternative refurbs? Can we still use this? Are we working towards sustainability? Oh, and also consider smart energy-saving printers – they will save a lot in energy consumption!