It is clear that the issue of e-waste and sustainable technology in the IT industry cannot be solved overnight. However, it is important that we do not hesitate any longer to solve this problem. One of the hurdles to overcome is the focus on new, non-circular IT devices. The internal processes of vendors and resellers are still designed to sell new hardware, whereas we should encourage and help them to promote the use of refurbished and modular systems.
Research shows that a growing number of consumers are embracing refurbished products. According to a study by the European Commission, two out of three consumers in Europe would prefer to use their IT devices longer, if they do not have to compromise on performance and computing power. This shows that the idea of a circular economy becomes more relevant in people’s mindsets. The benefits of a circular economy are twofold. On the one hand, refurbished products are often less expensive than new ones, whilst being just as reliable. On the other hand, by reusing and recycling products, we can reduce our carbon footprint and protect our planet. With consumers becoming more open to the idea of purchasing refurbished products, it is up to the industry to follow suit.
The transition to a circular economy is promoted by member states of the European Union, through financial incentives and legislation. A new law for a common charger for electronic devices is a positive step in the right direction, and the European Commission is expected to propose new measures in the near future. Flex IT supports legislation that reduces e-waste like this USB-C charger legislation and sees it as a step forward in the goal towards a circular IT market. However, we also recognize the challenge that this creates in terms of developing new solutions for R&D and other departments.
Indeed, smartphones and tablets in Europe need to become more sustainable and the Right to Repair can contribute to this goal. To achieve this, the European Commission is preparing a legislative proposal, as part of the European Ecodesign Directive, with a view of saving costs for consumers and facilitating the development of a circular economy. This new legislation will require manufacturers to provide repair information, parts, tools, software and components to consumers and independent repair providers. Gradually, the IT market seems to shift in this direction. Recently, the new legislation encouraged Apple to make its Self Service Repair available in eight European countries. This will mean customers no longer have to take their damaged or broken electronic products back to the manufacturers to get an authorized repair, and can fix laptops and tablets themselves, or take them to lower-cost independent repair shops. From the consumer perspective, this helps them to keep products for longer instead of buying new ones.
”With consumers becoming more open to the idea of purchasing refurbished products, it is up to the industry to follow suit”
All those developments show that circular IT is no longer a niche. All conditions are in place for continued growth, but still there is a lot of work to be done. Until now, most solutions do not sufficiently address the issue of the growing mountain of e-waste. Fortunately, in recent years, there have been some positive improvements, such as an increased focus on quality by refurbishment companies. Several companies have invested in the training of their employees, as well as in state-of-the-art equipment and techniques. Another positive factor is a better availability of information and resources for consumers. With the proliferation of online reviews and forums, it is easier to compare refurbishment companies, allowing consumers to make informed decisions about what to buy.
What can the IT industry do to accelerate the transition towards a circular market? Recognizing that providers, manufacturers and distributors are able to achieve more together is the first step, because we need and can help each other to create a circular market. Moreover, a stronger focus on sustainability can go hand in hand with profitable growth. Globally, the circular economy offers a $4.5 trillion opportunity to reclaim lost growth by reducing waste, driving innovation, and boosting employment opportunities. Innovation breeds opportunity and several initiatives have proven to be successful, such as Framework Laptops and Fairphone. As a result of the reuse of devices, there are more “touching points”, enabling vendors to check in with customers. There are more opportunities to innovate, to explore customer demands and act on it accordingly. By extending the lifespan of IT products, we reduce the need for new products, which will reduce energy consumption and waste. It will also help to protect scarce resources, such as materials and energy. By thus reducing the environmental impact of production and disposal, we can create a more sustainable future together.