The future of sustainable business requires greener IT

June 5, 20184 Minute Read

Building a sustainable business is top of mind for organizations of all stripes, and the future of sustainability is heavily dependent on green IT procurement. However, when you’re already scrambling to keep up with cybersecurity threats, compliance pressures, and doing more within a tight budget, more sustainable practices—like recycling—can easily sink to the bottom of the to-do list.

Old computer monitors, outdated PCs, and empty printer cartridges pile up in dusty storage areas around the world, threatening to end up in landfills for the sake of expediency. And old technology is stockpiling faster than ever, as sleeker devices are needed to run advanced applications in connected, digital workspaces and employees expect the latest devices to be productive wherever and whenever possible.

Today, IT procurement must take the entire lifecycle of hardware into account, and there’s increasing pressure to make sure the supply chain you’re purchasing from is also green and ethical. To attain a future of sustainability, everyone must do their part, but the question is: How can your business do its part without adding to the many pressures already on your IT staff?

Face it—you can’t separate tech and the environment

Dr. Vanessa Thomas has been studying the environmental effects of digital technology. In a presentation at the 2017 FWD50 conference, she said she no longer separates social activism from her computer science work, because the environmental impact of digital technology is more wide-reaching than you may think.

For example, the environmental impact of hardware goes beyond the wasteful disposal of digital devices. Every digital device is made up of a unique mix of natural resources, and extracting and processing those precious metals take a toll on the environment, as well. Mines can have accidents that contaminate the surrounding water, while manufacturing facilities rely on large amounts of freshwater.

Thomas also says hardware and software both affect the environment, because they rely on each other—software advancements dictate the characteristics of hardware, and hardware dictates how software can be used.

Reduce IT’s large footprint

Building up IT infrastructure can also change the environment and disrupt wildlife. The online services everyone consumes requires more electricity, not only for the devices people use but also for the data centres that must be always running.

The amount of energy data centres require is predicted to triple in the next decade—which is saying something, since the world’s data centres currently use more energy than the entire population of the United Kingdom. A lot of water is also required to cool them. Because of all this, IT and digital services have a bigger footprint than the airline industry. On top of that, e-waste has been the fastest growing waste stream over the last decade, and the effects are happening too fast for academics to study.

Most customers don’t know what to do with their old devices, which accumulate quickly given their marketed lifespan of about two years. They often end up in a drawer, although recycling facilities are ubiquitous today. Working PCs and smartphones are also donated for shipping overseas, but devices from developed countries often end up in dumping grounds on the other side of the world.

Build a sustainable business one step at a time

Given the picture these stats have painted, committing to creating a sustainable business may seem daunting or overwhelming. However, you can contribute to sustainability in a few simple ways as part of your everyday job.

Although building a sustainable business is more than just recycling your PCs, it’s a good starting point. Recycling ink or toner cartridges from your fleet of printers is a strong first step, too. You can also choose to do business with technology vendors with programs in place to support green procurement and e-waste management. By doing so, you’ll know your dollars are committed to building a greener world.

Leasing equipment instead of purchasing it is another good method for reducing your footprint. For example, managed print services (MPS) can reduce your footprint by helping you improve energy efficiency and printing efficiency. It also eliminates the temptation to throw out your hardware when you’re done with it—instead, the vendor will simply take its devices back.

Overall, think about sustainability by taking these steps:

  • Develop a framework: Create a broad set of principles ensuring your procurement guidelines are fair, socially and environmentally sound, and economically viable. Companies such as HP offer tools and guides to help with the process, including carbon footprint calculators, a materials strategy, and an action plan for environmental sustainability in office printing.
  • Evaluate products: Compare the products you’re considering to your framework to make sure the two align. Start by checking for energy certifications, such as Energy Star; eliminating products containing harmful chemicals; and checking for replaceable parts.
  • Vet vendors: Before selecting a vendor, check for an ethical supply chain and end-of-use services that encourage recycling.

In the long run, sustainability is about participating in the circular economy—and finding vendors who are committed to doing the same. This is a key step toward better corporate social responsibility, too, which is better for both the environment and your bottom line.

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