Digital technologies emit 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions(1). Three-quarters of those emissions come from the extraction of tonnes of minerals and metals, and the manufacture of equipment(2)(3). We must do more to increase the life of the technology we use. This article outlines how to reduce environmental impact from IT equipment.
240kg of fossil fuels, 22kg of chemicals and 1,500 kg of water are used to manufacture an average desktop computer and a monitor(2). 110kg of carbon is released in the manufacture of a laptop (2), with 48kg of carbon from the manufacture of a mobile phone (3). The average lifetime of digital technology is around 3 years (3)(4).
To increase the lifetime of IT equipment there are strategies we recommend employing.
1. Purchase quality, long-lasting equipment from companies with a strong environmental record
The first step in getting long-lasting equipment is to buy it with a high specification, ensure that it is versatile and the technology is usable within the digital environment you work within. Choosing an environmentally considerate supplier is not particularly vexing as leading companies in the tech space are doing a lot to be environmentally friendly.
When looking for companies with a good record of recycling materials, using renewable energy in manufacture, and in sourcing ethical materials for manufacture, using Just Capital rankings of US companies or other sites such as Worlds Most Ethical Companies can really help. We provide a quick synopsis of leading companies from Just Capital across sustainable products (which tests reliability, safety and durability), climate change (for carbon impacts and resource efficiency (how much of product is taken from non virgin sustainable sources):
|Brand||Sustainable Products||Climate Change||Resource Efficiency|
2. Reduce the amount of IT equipment each person uses
A few simple things that can be done to reduce the amount of IT equipment each person uses is to:
- Get versatile laptops that restrict the need for a desktop or tablet
- Start having employee owned IT equipment
Versatile laptops with long-lasting batteries and detachable touch screens that may attach to a desktop setup restrict the need for both a desktop or a tablet. It also means that people can use these in meetings to read documents, instead of having printouts. These types of computers are usually high-end and longer-lasting. If bought with the right protective equipment they will be less prone to damage and will last a long life, often allowing for new keyboards or other equipment to replace existing ones.
A new concept we wish to introduce is the idea of employee-owned technology so that employees don’t have to own two of everything. This idea is simple. You encourage people to use their own technology when they come to work, or you buy them technology which they can use at home. The employee owns the technology but gets support from the company to manage it. This would then allow for everyone to have one phone, and one computer, which they take everywhere with them. Read more here.
3. Ensure IT equipment gets a second life
There are a few ways of making this happen. Firstly, use a system at work whereby employees can purchase equipment that is no longer used by the company, or involve this in a scheme of employee-owned technology. Secondly, use companies that can help restore IT equipment or can help your organization rethink how it uses IT.
Better Century can help set up systems such as employee-owned technology but if you want to go really deep you may want to employ the services of a company such as RDC Recycling. They are the first company to provide circular services for IT systems. They effectively help you with purchasing and regeneration of IT equipment and link you with other companies that you can trade with.
You can also use a company like Globechain, which trades office and IT equipment between companies or Warp-It which provide a loan service of goods and services. There are plenty of other companies that will safely recycle IT equipment at the end of life. These companies will ensure the equipment returns to the manufacturer for recycling into another product.
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(1) The Shift Project. https://theshiftproject.org/en/article/unsustainable-use-online-video/
(2) Life Cycle Assessment of a Smart Phone https://www.atlantis-press.com/proceedings/ict4s-16/25860375
(3) Life Cycle Assessment of a Laptop Computer and its Contribution to Greenhouse Gas Emissions; https://www.researchgate.net/publication/268414508_Life_Cycle_Assessment_of_a_Laptop_Computer_and_its_Contribution_to_Greenhouse_Gas_Emissions
(4) Life Cycle Assessment of Dell Latitude 7300 https://corporate.delltechnologies.com/content/dam/digitalassets/active/en/unauth/data-sheets/products/laptops/lca-latitude_7300_25th_anniv_notebook.pdf
(5) Statista Average lifespan (replacement cycle length) of smartphones in the United States from 2014 to 2025 – https://www.statista.com/statistics/619788/average-smartphone-life/