In the living world there’s no landfill; instead, materials flow. One species’ waste is another’s food. Energy is provided by the sun. Things grow, then die, and nutrients return to the soil safely, and it works.
As humans we’ve adopted a linear approach: we take, we make, and we dispose. A new phone comes out, so we ditch our old one. Our washing machine packs up so we buy another one. Each time we do this, we’re eating into a finite supply of resources and often producing toxic waste. It simply can’t work long term. So what can?
Circular economies are economies that are, like living systems, regenerative by design. Regenerative economies are sustainable and, aside from being a fantastic moral notion, they’re good for the bottom line. Here’s how your business can cost-effectively deal with the technology it already has and make better tech decisions going forward.
Out with the old tech
Today, digital dumping grounds are piled high with all types of electronic waste, or e-waste. Last year, nearly 50 million tons of e-waste were generated worldwide (that’s more than 15 lb. per person on the planet). According to the UN's StEP initiative, the global volume of electronic waste is expected to grow by 33 percent in the next four years.
Not only is e-waste, well, wasteful, it’s also toxic. That’s why electronics can’t simply be tossed in the trash and sent to a landfill. They need to be recycled properly. The first thing that needs to change is our outlook; instead of regarding e-waste as both an economic and environmental burden, we should look at it as an opportunity, or as Sean Nicholson, Sr. Business Strategist at Microsoft, calls it, an “e-opportunity.”
In practice, circular economies create jobs in reuse and recycling. Given the proper facilities, electronics can be disposed of safely, without leaching toxic chemicals into the environment, and create viable jobs for the community.
Get started: In many states, companies are subject to environmental legislation and data protection regulations when disposing of obsolete electronics. The good news is, recycling services are often free. Use this Take Back Map to find a refurbisher, recycler, or Microsoft Store in your area to collect, process, and dispose of your unwanted electronics.
Greetings to greener devices
If you’re hanging on to old technology and debating whether to upgrade, here are some considerations that aren’t always obvious. First, not all new technology is made sustainably equal. From raw material acquisition until the end of life of a product, there are choices made that impact the environment. Materials have to be mined, transported, transformed into devices through manufacturing processes, transported again, used, and disposed of.
Some electronics manufacturers have already taken the initiative to raise green device awareness. For example, Nokia has managed to reduce its devices’ environmental impact up to 65 percent over the past 10 years. Today, every Nokia device has an Eco-Profile that includes information on the device’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions; this way you’ll know the carbon footprint of your device, from its manufacture to its end of life.
Not only do green devices help build brand sensibility, but they also consume less energy. For your business, this means smaller energy bills and a reduction in carbon emissions—in other words—it means savings. When choosing what devices to purchase or which manufacturers to go into business with, your choice is more than a statement of environmental stewardship and good citizenship; it’s economically sustainable for your business.
Looking ahead: First, get your facts about greener devices and cost-savings right. (Check out this short video for a quick overview). Then test your knowledge with the Greener IT Challenge. Finally, get familiar with EPEAT environmental standards and keep an eye out for products with Eco-Profiles to help inform your purchasing decision.