Before 2018, when you heard the word “sustainability,” you may have just thought about separating out your plastics and paper, but recently, it has become a wider, more important topic — whether it’s at the dinner or conference table. In an effort to create more sustainable pathways for the future, paper straws are being offered in place of plastic. Some cities and countries have even enacted complete bans on single-use plastics.
As people become more aware of the environmental and societal costs of waste, they are being more selective about the companies they work for, invest in and purchase from. In 2015, Nielsen published its annual Global Corporate Sustainability Report, which showed that 66 percent of global respondents said they were willing to pay more for sustainable goods. One could deduce that being environmentally conscious — or, better yet, being a leader in the sustainability movement — is good business.
But what about the IT space? As restaurants and retail chains are thinking about ways to make the products that we consume daily more sustainable, how are original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) across the world contributing to sustainable information technology practices, as they produce and dispose of the technology we use each day?
Environmental and Societal Consequences of E-Waste
According to a 2017 study published by United Nations University, in 2016 alone, the world generated 44.7 million metric tons of e-waste, which includes IT assets. That’s equal in weight to 4,500 Eiffel Towers, or enough fully loaded 40-ton 18-wheel trucks to form a line from New York to Bangkok and back. Then, there’s plastic. More than 320 million metric tons of it — seven times the amount of e-waste — is produced every year. A lot of it is disposable packaging, but a good percentage of it is the plastics used to produce all those electronic products.
Although technology has without a doubt improved our lives, its disposal has created an irreversible effect on our environment. As manufacturers search for new markets and plan for new supply chain practices, e-waste has become a significant issue they cannot ignore.
For information technology OEMs, “sustainable development” can be thought of in terms of the materials used to make products and the way those products make their way through the supply chain — particularly the reverse motion, which governs what happens to a product once a customer no longer needs it, has outgrown its capabilities or can’t get support for it anymore. That’s where establishing a closed-loop supply chain comes in sustainable IT asset management.
Establishing Closed-Loop Supply Chains Reduces Risk
A closed-loop supply chain can greatly enhance an OEM’s sustainability rating by putting in place sustainable practices that address end of life, whether it’s in the stages of product reclamation, recycling, reuse or elsewhere in the IT asset lifecycle. It’s a sound approach, but the complexity can be overwhelming, especially as governments around the world enact new regulations (and some pretty steep fines for not following them).
China, for instance, has a new ban on recyclables that is disrupting the industry with an extensive list of prohibited — or soon-to-be-prohibited — types of “solid waste.” The banned items include plastics, metals and chemicals. The movement is significant, because up until now, the country had been the world’s largest importer of e-waste, taking in roughly 70 percent of the world’s production. Although not all the materials on its list are tied to e-waste, China’s ban is causing technology OEMs to rethink their reverse supply chains.
Supply Chain Management and ITAD Are Keys to Sustainability
Contending with a product’s end of life is complex, and it can also be expensive. Understanding each country’s environmental regulations is just the tip of the iceberg. Good supply chain and information technology asset management is essential when it comes to sustainability. Partnering with a provider of responsible, secure IT asset disposition (ITAD) services offers OEMs the best of both worlds when it comes to being sustainable without having to make a crippling investment in infrastructure. Finding the opportunity in the reverse supply chain motion can make all the difference between contributing to the sustainability movement and holding it back.
Learn more about how ITAD can benefit your product lifecycle by downloading our whitepaper, OEMs: Capture New Revenue from Old Assets, which covers the benefits of and process for establishing your own reverse supply chain.
About the Author
Hank Meisinger is the Director of Business Development for Tech Data Global Lifecycle Management.