Going Green in Tech Part 1: Sustainable IT is achievable!

Dec 11, 2023 | Green Technology

In the rapidly evolving realm of technology, where innovation frequently takes centre stage, a notable shift is underway – one that emphasises sustainability and environmental responsibility.

What has become known as Green IT or Sustainable IT has come to the forefront as businesses begin to recognise the need for a holistic approach to IT management, and use products that are not harmful to the environment. This ranges from considering the entire lifecycle of equipment to addressing the issue of planned obsolescence, a practice that has instigated legal disputes in multiple countries.

 

What is planned obsolescence?

Planned obsolescence is a business strategy in which a product is intentionally designed with a limited lifespan or functionality to encourage consumers to replace it sooner than they might otherwise need to.

It is increasingly viewed by end users as a cynical strategy, as the goal is to stimulate repeat purchases and keep consumers coming back for the latest models or versions of a product. This practice is particularly prevalent in the IT sector, including the full spectrum of products from hardware to software, accessories and more.

In IT in particular, planned obsolescence takes the following form:
• Functional Obsolescence: Products are designed to become outdated or non-functional after a certain period, often due to the introduction of new technologies or features.
• Systemic Obsolescence: This involves designing products that are not compatible with earlier versions or other products, making it difficult for businesses to have full systems compatibility to integrate new and old items.

The ethical and environmental impacts of planned obsolescence has raised concerns. Critics argue that it contributes to electronic waste and the depletion of natural resources, as end users are encouraged to discard still-functional products in favour of newer ones.

In response, there have been calls for increased sustainability, greater interoperability, improved product longevity and regulations to address the negative impact of planned obsolescence on both end users and the environment.

 

The need for a wholesale change to production and consumption practices

The lifecycle of IT equipment should be a pivotal consideration for companies aspiring to adopt sustainable practices.

The fact is that planned obsolescence fosters a throwaway culture, where electronic devices are prematurely discarded, resulting in a concerning surge in electronic waste. This not only strains landfills but also poses significant environmental hazards due to the toxic materials present in many electronic devices.

The issue is not only limited to hardware – oftentimes it is a software obsolescence which causes a piece of hardware to no longer work optimally. Regardless, the fact remains that obsolescence is simply not a viable approach as businesses look to diminish waste, lower their carbon footprint, and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Additionally, planned obsolescence has a negative impact from a financial perspective – constantly replacing technology is an expensive strategy, and one that reduces budgets that could be better spent in other areas, not least of all on planning and implementing sustainability strategies.

 

Legislation against planned obsolescence

In many countries across the EU and the rest of the world, planned obsolescence has become a target for new legislation which hopes to address the issue.

In 2015, France pioneered the legal banning of planned obsolescence, with manufacturers there now required to provide clear information about the lifespan of their products and to make spare parts available for a minimum of 10 years.

In response, many other countries are in the process of implementing similar legislation. These include Canada, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom and others.

As a broader framework, the European Union adopted a directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) in 2020 – this directive requires manufacturers to design products that are more durable and easier to repair.

 

How can your business implement a sustainable approach?

The best starting point is understanding the challenges, and then working with an IT partner who has the right approach to help you develop and implement a sustainable strategy.

When considering your business’s IT requirements, from computers, laptops and mobile devices to phone systems, printers, data storage and more, ask your IT provider to help you develop a list of suppliers, brands and products that fulfil the following requirements:

• Design for Durability Invest in hardware and software that prioritise durability and longevity, and can easily and regularly be updated to operate optimally. Remember to consider re-use rather than disposal, if something is no longer fit for its initial planned use can it be redeployed.
• Modular Design and Repairability Integrate products with modular components that can be easily replaced or upgraded. This approach supports repairability and extends the overall lifespan of devices.
• Service and Repair support Ensure your IT support includes regular service and repair terms that promote a ‘repair rather than replace strategy
• Transparency and Staff Education Clearly communicate the business’s strategy regarding IT sustainability, and inform staff on the expected lifespan of products and the availability of repair options. Keep abreast of evolving regulations related to electronic waste and product lifespan. Ensure compliance with existing laws and actively participate in discussions about sustainable business practices.
• Product Recycling Programs Implement product recycling programs to responsibly reduce electronic waste. Additionally, consider how you can repurpose items through an upcycling or redistribution program that finds alternative uses for pieces of equipment. This can include charity donations to facilities or organisations who will be able to use equipment that you no longer have use for, as their needs may not be as complex as a business’s when it comes to technology.

 

If you’d like to find out more about how to investigate, implement and manage a sustainable IT approach for your business, get in touch with us today on 01223 834844.

 

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