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In April 2022, I was appointed as the new CEO of Flex IT. After more than 25 years of experience in the European IT sector and having worked at several companies in the IT industry, such as IBM, Lenovo and HP, this was a new exciting step in my career. The acquisition of MKCL – which I have led for two years – was a major milestone for Flex IT and gave a jump start to my new role in this ambitious organization. Over the past five years, Flex IT has experienced very strong growth and I am proud to be in a position in which I can contribute to bringing the company to the next level. I will build on the success that has been achieved in the past few years, which is the result of a strong and continued focus on sustainability and circular IT.
The topic of sustainability is gaining momentum and the idea of a circular economy becomes more relevant in people’s mindsets. Consumers start to reflect on how they want to behave and, in turn, how they expect other companies to operate. In parallel to that, legislation efforts at EU level are being translated into local legislation. This requires both the public as well as the private sector to include circular IT options in their buying processes. Flex IT wants to lead the change towards a fully circular European market for IT hardware. We aim to achieve this by sharing our knowledge through our products and solutions, and by being fully transparent about our refurbishment processes and the circular IT business we have built. In my role as CEO, it is my ambition to establish Flex IT as a leading player in circular IT. I believe we are well-positioned to achieve this goal, which is reflected by our strong offer in five domains: New, Refurb, ITAD (IT Asset Disposition), Demo and Rent. Flex IT is the only player in the European market that offers all those disciplines as a one-stop-shop, based on a complete and integrated portfolio of IT hardware for different purposes. Those five domains are complementary to each other, and together they enable us to support vendors and channel partners with excellent sourcing of supplies. With those five domains Flex IT has access to numerous types of machines and devices, which enables us to differentiate and build the right, tailor-made solutions for customers. We offer a complete portfolio with standardized high-quality circular IT products for every target group.
”Flex IT is the only player in the European market that offers all disciplines as a one-stop-shop”
Circular IT is a very promising market and has a lot of growth potential. The desire to reduce CO2 emissions, waste and the use of natural resources, is significantly growing across Europe. That makes me confident we are in the right type of business, even though we do need to address some major challenges as well. In the competitive, price-driven IT market, we have to persuade purchasers to make a change and say goodbye to the misconception that ‘circular’ is inferior to ‘new’. Many purchasers wrongly believe that end-users will always demand the newest generation hardware with the best specifications, whereas in practice only a few functionalities are being used. Gradually, we see manufacturers wanting to develop circular IT solutions, based on a mix of ‘new’ and ‘refurbished’ as a circular solution for certain markets. Similarly, many resellers are looking at how best to include circular IT solutions into their portfolio for customers.
One of the most exciting milestones I have experienced in the past three months is our partnership with HP and the launch of our circular IT line, ‘HP Approved Selection by Flex IT’. It is a textbook example of how we can join forces in our journey toward a circular IT market. I am impressed by the transparency and open-mindedness of both HP and Flex IT. We are very straightforward in giving feedback to each other, but share a common goal and that is to offer high-quality circular products to our end customer and get the circular movement in motion. I believe this collaboration is an example of how the market can act to embark on this journey, because there is a strong demand for circular IT. Together with HP, Flex IT extends the lifespan of IT devices, by repairing and upgrading discarded products and literally making them as good as new.
”HP Approved Selection by Flex IT” is a unique partnership between HP and Flex IT that launched in October 2021.
Research by the European Commission indicates that two out of three consumers in Europe want to use their IT devices longer, provided that they do not have to make concessions in terms of performance and computing power. This proves that end-users are ready for the transition towards circular IT. Flex IT wants to accelerate the optimization of circular IT in Europe. I am very confident that with our team of experts, Flex IT will contribute to this goal. During my years of leading teams at several IT companies, the most satisfying experience has been seeing people grow and, as a result, seeing our business grow. I look forward to embarking on this journey with all our employees and partners.
A proposed law is turning the world of smartphones and tablets upside down in Europe. Ecodesign will become the new standard, ensuring that devices are more energy and resource efficient, have a longer lifespan and are easier to repair.
Smartphones and tablets in Europe have to become more sustainable. To achieve this, the European Commission (EC) is preparing a legislative proposal that may come into effect this year. The proposed law is part of the European Ecodesign Directive: Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR). The new law adds smartphones, cordless phones and tablets to the 10 categories of products for which these rules have already been in place since 2009. At its core, the goal is that designs for smartphones and tablets will be more energy efficient and have a longer lifespan. On the one hand, by requiring manufacturers to support the devices longer with updates. On the other, by making it easier to repair the devices. At the end of their lifespan, they should also be easier to recycle.
The reason cited by the EC for the new bill is the growing demand for smartphones and tablets and the consequent growing energy demand and environmental impact of the raw materials needed to produce these devices. Adding to this is the fact that smartphones and tablets can be used for much longer than the current average of two to three years. The Commission is concerned with using raw materials more efficiently, preventing unnecessary premature replacement and achieving better repairability and reusability. A greater reliability of the products and 15 key components such as batteries, screens, cameras and microphones are also points of attention.
With the new law, the EC aims to achieve a 33% savings in the primary energy consumption of the devices. All smartphones, cell phones, wireless phones and tablets in Europe combined used 39.5 TWh (terawatt hours) of energy over their lifetime in 2020, including the energy needed to manufacture these devices outside the EU. That should decrease to a level of 25.4 TWh by 2030, the proposal says.
The term used by the EC is “ecodesign”. This means that devices must be designed in such a way that:
Furthermore, manufacturers must guarantee that updates for operating system will remain available for three years after a device is no longer sold. For security updates that availability must be five years. Upgrades must also no longer result in deteriorating performances of devices. Twelve months after the law takes effect, manufacturers of smartphones and tablets sold in Europe must comply with the new rules. Excluded from these new rules are phones and tablets with flexible, rollable screens and smartphones designed for high security communication.
If passed, the new law will have far-reaching implications for manufacturers and importers of smartphones and tablets. Many manufacturers will have to redesign their products and business model to comply with the rules. That includes stopping gluing on parts and making their devices dismountable and repairable. They are also required to make a wide range of spare parts available to the public quickly, and at reasonable prices. In addition, they will have to start providing operating system and security updates for much longer than is common today. The reliability and robustness of devices must also improve, because even without a cover or case, devices should not be damaged by falls, dust or water. All these interventions should not lead to a large increase in the cost of the devices.
In general, the EC’s ecodesign plans have received positive feedback. Industry representatives however, voice their concerns about the proposed regulations to make smartphones more sustainable, repairable and circular. Manufacturers such as Apple, Samsung, Google and Huawei argue that the proposal will lead to higher prices and an increase of e-waste due to overproduction of spare parts.
The Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) reminds the EC that ecodesign proposals should be balanced, realistic and not unnecessarily burden the industry. Regarding the obligation on manufacturers to provide spare parts, the ITI wants to specifically focus on the parts that fail most often. The industry also wants more time to deliver the parts, i.e., longer than the proposed five business days. The requirement that phones be more resistant to fall damage, dust and water should be modified to reflect “realistic conditions of use”. Users having the ability to restore the operating system is also not to the ITI’s liking. According to the ITI, this creates vulnerabilities and risk of data loss with no obvious positive environmental impact. The ITI also would like the industry to have 24 months rather than 12 to comply with the new rules.
DIGITALEUROPE, the European digital industry association (formerly EICTA) also thinks the ESPR proposals for smartphones and tablets go too far. The association in which manufacturers such as Apple, Samsung and Huawei are represented published a position paper in which they argue that security updates for three years and functional updates for two years are sufficient. When it comes to spare parts, DIGITALEUROPE does not want to go beyond screens and batteries. Components such as cameras, microphones, speakers and connectors should be omitted from the obligation since they rarely break down. Deutsche Telecom questioned that the rules will only apply to new phones and that it is unclear what it will mean for refurbished models. The telecom provider further believes it is unrealistic that manufacturers will be required to implement updates within four months.
The U.S. Consumer Technology Association (CTA) worries that the new rules could do more harm than good. The CTA, which represents 1,500 technology companies, fears that implementing major design changes in consumer electronics will be too much for the industry. Especially taking in account the already existing pressure on supply chains. They see no point in developing separate devices for the European part of the global market. According to the CTA, the EC proposals are crippling for:
Criticism has also emerged from parties who feel the EC’s proposals are not ambitious enough. There is the Coolproducts campaign, which is pushing for ambitious minimum energy efficiency and environmental requirements for products sold in Europe. Coolproducts believes there can no longer be any room for self-regulation by the industry, as, in their eyes, it has achieved virtually nothing in the past. They propose that manufacturers provide 6 to 7 years of spare parts after a device is taken off the market. In addition, Coolproducts wants 5 years of operating system support.
There is a good chance that the European Commission will make the proposal law despite opposition from within the industry. The EU’s Ecodesign initiative dates back to 2008, and air conditioners, kitchen appliances, power tools and refrigerators, among others, preceded smartphones and tablets. The new law will start to significantly improve the energy efficiency and lifespan of these devices, whilst reducing the mountain of e-waste. The environment and consumers will certainly benefit from this circular breakthrough.
Not only is sustainability rising up the priority list of boards and chief executive managers, it’s also rapidly becoming an essential factor for businesses and consumers alike. Ultimately, how green an organisation is perceived to be can have a significant impact on customers’ decisions to purchase from them. As such, IT leaders are under a lot of pressure to improve their IT procurement strategy with a sprinkling of sustainability if they are to appease people, planet and profit.
To help them in this endeavour, we have outlined five steps businesses can take to become more sustainable.
To know where you want your green journey to take you, you need to outline a clear roadmap for how you plan to get there. Being a sustainability-led business will not only benefit the environment, it will also make you more appealing to like-minded customers and will solidify your reputation as a conscientious provider that people will want to do business with. Finally, by challenging yourself to think differently, you’ll cultivate a culture of innovation that will spark new ideas, new processes and new ways of converting customers.
To set a net zero goal, you must have a clear understanding of your current shortcomings (i.e. emissions, waste, providers) and then set an agreed plan for how you will change these and by when. To ensure success, you need organisation-wide buy-in; after all, it takes a village.
B Corp, ISO 14001, GBC and One Planet Living are all UK-recognised certifications that prove that you are walking the walk and talking the talk when it comes to building a sustainable business model.
Working towards any of the above certifications will give you a strong framework that will help you decrease emissions, limit waste and champion sustainability at every level. Find out which certification is relevant to your business, earn it, and use it to let partners, customers and everyone else know that you’re a reliable, green business that’s doing its bit for the planet.
While eco-driven technologies typically require an upfront investment, they will quickly save energy and money once they’re up and running. High costs may initially put off cash-strapped businesses, but it’s worth investigating how quickly you will break even and how quickly you will start saving money before making a decision.
But sustainable technology doesn’t have to be new and expensive – by engaging in the circular economy, whereby organisations opt for used hardware that’s preloved but otherwise as good as new, you’ll save tonnes of plastic reaching landfills and stop unnecessary emissions that come from repairing, remanufacturing and refurbishing IT kit.
Regardless of their operations, every business produces waste. That’s inevitable, but what they do with that waste can have huge impacts on their sustainability efforts.
Whether it’s cutting down on paper, opting for a recycled alternative or adjusting your processes to become paperless by default, there are plenty of immediate steps you can take to go greener. Paper is one example, but technology is another often-overlooked waste generator. By adopting a circular approach to IT, you can save money and find a new use for hardware that would otherwise become e-waste.
Buying secondhand equipment or selling your own pre-loved kit is not only great for the planet, but it’s also a new route to cost savings as you can purchase good-as-new tech at a fraction of the RRP.
By adopting a circular approach to IT, you can prevent hardware ending up on landfills as e-waste.
This requires time and focus as you look at the multitude of providers and services you buy from and assess if they’re the best partner to help you in your journey to net zero. It can be a long process, but the benefits are worth the ordeal as customers will undoubtedly take note of your emphasis on your partners’ values as well as your own and will be far more likely to give you their business as a result.
Changing everything all at once can be a time-consuming and costly process, so start by recognising the quick changes you can make today before focusing on bigger changes that will take time and investment to alter. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and every effort, no matter how small, will put you one step closer to your net zero targets.
These five steps will supercharge your sustainability journey, but one quick fix that ticks all of the above is the adoption of circular IT. By choosing to procure reused IT equipment, you will immediately start reducing waste and reducing energy consumption, all whilst reducing your own spending and making you far more attractive to conscientious customers. In doing so, you will be working with sustainable suppliers and be better equipped to achieve your green certifications and reach your sustainability goals in record time.