Before 2018, sustainability may have meant separating out your plastics and paper, but over the past several months, it has become an 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 this same movement as they produce the technology that we use each day?
Environmental and Societal Consequences of E-Waste
According to a study published in December 2017 by United Nations University, in 2016 alone the world, generated 44.7 million metric tons of e-waste. 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 is 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 is also the plastics used to produce all those electronic products. So while 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 technology OEMs, “sustainable development” can be thought of in the terms of the materials used to make products and in 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 with proper 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 practices that address end-of-life, whether it’s in the stages of product reclamation, recycling or reuse. It’s a sound approach, but the complexity can be overwhelming, especially as governments around the world enact new regulations—along with 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. While not all the materials on their list are tied to e-waste, their ban is causing technology OEMs to rethink their reverse supply chains.
Supply Chain and IT Asset Disposition (ITAD) are Keys to Sustainability
Contending with a product’s end-of-life is complex, and can also be expensive. Understanding each country’s environmental regulations is just the tip of the iceberg. Good supply chain and asset management are essential when it comes to sustainability. Partnering with an IT asset disposition (ITAD) provider 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 – or to holding it back.
Learn more about how ITAD can benefit your product lifecycle by downloading our white paper here.
About the Author
Hank Meisinger is the director of Business Development for Tech Data