The technology industry is facing one of its greatest challenges yet. It doesn’t involve operating system flaws or shady groups of highly skilled hackers, although the latter is a significant cause for concern. No, it involves sustainability.
What have environmental issues to do with the IT industry? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Electronic products are manufactured using several metals, including lead, zinc, silver and gold. The world has finite supplies, and reserves are running low. Some, in fact, may run out in the 2020s.
Given the electronics industry has, in recent years, relied on consumers replacing devices every couple of years, change is needed. Dell’s new partnership with jewellery company ‘Bayou with Love’, where gold recycled from end-of-life Dell motherboards is used to make elegant rings and earrings, may seem like a drop in the polluted ocean. Coming from one of the world’s largest IT companies, though, it signals a desire to do more than just check the corporate responsibility box.
Dell’s move sets out a challenge to the rest of the industry: shift to a more circular economy, or face the consequences of the planet’s resources dwindling. A circular economy maximises the value of materials, such as the metals used by Dell, keeping them in use for as long as possible by repeatedly reusing them. It avoids the typical linear economy, where materials are used once and then disposed of, usually in landfill.
The circular economy goes beyond gold trinkets (although they make a great Christmas gift choice). Products are designed with the entire lifecycle in mind, so that components are easier to reuse, repair and recycle. There is also a focus on finding more efficient and sustainable materials, and using recycled materials like plastics in production of new goods.
While we’re not all, like Dell, in the position of manufacturing products on a massive scale, we do all use those products, which means we can take action to handle technology end-of-life responsibly. As a Dell partner, we share the belief in building a more circular economy and in pushing for more sustainable IT practices. Long before the jewellery partnership, we were working with customers to manage lifecycles from an environmental as well as technology perspective.
At Stott Hoare, doing our bit includes helping our customers to dispose of equipment in the most ‘green’ way they can. Through our services, any data is first securely wiped. If a machine can be used elsewhere, we work on re-homing it. In some cases, that means customers get a little returned to their budget for the next purchase. When a device is at its end-of-life, the customer chooses their preferred disposal method, and we provide a certificate detailing the e-waste method used. We encourage all organisations to consider carefully what happens to their unwanted IT equipment – if in doubt, our experts are always happy to help!
Discarded electronic materials can be dangerous to the environment. They contain heavy metals, such as mercury and lead, that become hazardous when they enter landfill. Many first-world countries ship e-waste overseas; Australian laws require e-waste to be sent to approved recyclers, but campaigners such as Basel Action Network (BAN) have tracked items to countries such as Thailand, where disposal may not meet Australia’s strict requirements.
It is worth, then, taking the time to ascertain how your company – or your technology partner – disposes of unwanted equipment. There are many options available. As times change – and IT needs
change faster – most organisations have times that their investments no longer fit their vision. Our customers are able to enjoy a full audit trail of their equipment, as well as decommissioning and, where necessary, e-waste. We also buy devices with life left in them, delete data and refurbish them, before finding them a new home where they are needed.
Whatever method you choose, it is worth investigating the attitude of vendors towards environmental concerns next time you are planning a data centre refresh. The decisions you make may have a profound effect on the longevity of the tech industry.
Got questions about environmental concerns and where technology fits in the circular economy? Contact our friendly infrastructure experts to find the answers.