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How tech companies can become more sustainable

The world environment is now facing challenges like never before: climate change, loss of biodiversity, resources scarcity, health issues and the list goes on.

The role of the technology industry in sustainable development is a double-edged sword. On one hand, technology significantly improves the standards of living, financial prosperity and can continue to expand the knowledge of billions of people. On the other hand, the production processes require the extraction of resources which some are from rare materials and its also leading to water, soil, and air pollution.

As technology is a fast-growing industry, companies have a huge role to play in contributing to sustainable development. As arduous as it may sound to start making changes, improving and changing the habits and processes step by step is the best way for a company to move forward, slowly but surely from the norm to an eco-friendly one.

Let’s have a closer look at how a tech company can adopt a greener culture by overcoming the two main factors of pollution caused in this industry: E-Waste and Energy.

Breaking down E-Waste with the 3R concept

Tech companies are often the first ones that set the standards for the latest trends and technologies in their workforce commonly in providing uber cool environment. In fact, that concept is one of the attraction factors that lead to talents growth, especially among millennials. Yet, in its relentless pursuit towards innovation and providing the necessaries for its staff, generally, tech companies never even heard of the “3R” concept.

The ‘3R’ concept; Reduce – Reuse – Recycle, would allow any companies to think of the best approach to handle their electronic material.

Reduce

Did you know it takes 240kg of fossil fuel, 22kg of chemicals, and 1.5 tonnes of water to manufacture just one computer and a monitor? (source: UN). Additionally, over 2 billion computers are being sold every year (source: Worldometers 2015). That’s quite a lot of resources needed then, isn’t it?

So, what can your company do? If you don’t have it yet, you can start by creating an inventory list of all your electronic devices. Monitor them with as much details as you can: category, usage, purchase date, shelf life, maintenance details, pricing (item and maintenance). Run regular audits in order to assess the quality of your IT equipment and plan if part of it has to be replaced.

When you need to buy a new electronic device, think wisely. First of all, assess the real needs of the company. Let’s imagine that an office of 20 people has 5 printers and one of the printers breaks down. It’s time to evaluate if the 5 printers were an absolute necessity or if the office could run with 4.

If your assessment shows that you really need to buy a new equipment, compare wisely the price VS the quality. While it can be tempting to buy the cheapest price in the short term, bad quality and lower shelf life might cost you even more in the long run (money and time). Opt for the best price-quality you can find or consider renting your electronic devices such as printers, computers, projectors, scanners, TVs, etc. One of the advantages of this last option is that you are not tied up with your electronics. Therefore, you can upgrade it whenever you want.

The E-waste, one major source of pollution from tech companies
The E-waste, one major source of pollution from tech companies – Picture: Pixabay

Reuse

Before you throw any types of electronics, make sure it can’t be used anymore. If you are changing your IT device for a better or a newer one, and it’s still working, think about selling it or donating it to a charity or a school. This equipment might be obsolete for you but not for others. If it’s not working anymore, try to fix it or to extract the spare parts that can be saved from demolition.

If you opt for IT equipment’s rental, make sure that you’ll get the maintenance included in your contract so you don’t have to worry about the upkeep nitty gritty anymore. This way you will also limit the e-waste production as rental companies usually will take care of it. Moreover, as they built their business model on the value of their products, they will make sure to use the materials until they can’t get anything from it anymore by upgrading, fixing or using the spare parts.

Recycle

When there is nothing you can do to save your IT-related equipment, remember to dispose of it properly. Each country and city has its own regulations concerning waste treatment. You can do the search online and call your city council to make sure you have the right information.

In Malaysia, there are 130 collection points where you can dispose your e-waste referenced by the Department of Environment of Malaysia and its spread throughout each state. In Kuala Lumpur for example, you can find 12 of them. Private companies are also responsible for collecting and handling e-waste. Find the list here.

Under no circumstances should you dispose your e-waste with domestic waste or worse, in the open nature with wildlife inhabitants. Remember that electronic equipment creates pollution if not disassembled properly and they contain precious metals that are worthy to be saved (gold, tantalum, palladium).

Reducing energy consumption

Together with E-Waste, energy consumption is another main pollution factors within the tech industry. All the types of equipment and platforms needed in the industry like computers, servers, and data centers, these billions of internet-connected devices is estimated to produce 3.5% of global emissions within ten years and 14% by 2040 (Source: Climate Change News).

Here too, a complete inventory of the tech company energy consumption is necessary before moving forward. It will show you which equipment is the most energy-consuming and will provide you a starting point to assess the efficiency of future improvements.

To reduce their impact, businesses should first look at decreasing their energy use and becoming more energy efficient. How so? By buying energy efficient IT equipment certified ‘Energy Star’ for instance. By turning off what can be turned off when not used. And the good news is that technology itself can be the solution for tech energy-consumption issues. Take the example of Google, who cut 15% of its data center energy by using AI and machine-learning technology.

Google cut 15% of a data center energy by using AI and learning-machines.
Google cut 15% of its data center energy by using AI and machine-learning technology

furthermore, as switching off is not an option for servers or data centers, tech companies can make a step towards a greener industry by choosing renewable energy sources such as solar or wind power.

Google (yes, again!) is the world’s biggest corporate purchaser of renewable energy, with more than 40% of its power coming from green resources. And they aim to reach 100%.

Tech companies play a big part in leading the world to a more sustainable way-of-life. The evolution of technologies nowadays tends to be more sustainable and help reduce the impact of consumption on the planet. Tech giants such as Apple, Google, Adobe, and Amazon are already going green. Smaller companies too are moving on to the same direction at their own scale. So why not you?

Forest Interactive is a member of the United Nations Global Compact Network, the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative. Its goal is to gather a global movement of sustainable companies and stakeholders to create a better world. UNGC Malaysia is active from 2008 and supports Forest Interactive in its green initiatives.

Forest Interactive won the Most Influential Sustainable Entrepreneur Award in 2018, a prize that recognizes and honors businesses, projects and ideas whose goal is to link innovation and profit with sustainability.

References:

How technology could contribute to a sustainable world

How the tech industry is becoming more environmentally friendly

Computer manufacturing soaks up fossil fuels, UN University study says

Computers sold this year

Google uses AI to cut data centre energy use by 15%

 

 

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Pauline Ozou

The author Pauline Ozou

Pauline is senior corporate PR, WordPress, SEO and Social Media expert. Traveler in the heart, she writes about it on her blog. She is also passionate about sustainable development and environment protection.

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