The evolution of the way we live and work has historically been defined by two things: technological advancement and the changing wants and needs of the next generation. In 2023, these two things have never been more inextricably linked, with technology being used by Gen Z and Millennials to disrupt industries to align with their values, and top among these is sustainability.
Consumers demonstrate a desire to be more eco-conscious in their consumer purchases and increasingly invest in products that are built to last. For example, last year in the UK, 38% of consumers decided to pay extra for a more durable and longer lasting product, showing that consumers are beginning to prioritise more sustainable products, including technologies, from brands they trust will be able to provide this.
However, this isn’t a trend we’re only seeing for consumer purchases. As millennials move into IT buying positions and Gen Z start their careers, we are already seeing the signs that sustainable purchasing is increasingly important for businesses, from carbon-reducing initiatives to greater acceptance of refurbished and recycled technology devices.
For businesses on their journeys to become more sustainable, their tech estate is one area that is important to look at. Electronic waste (e-waste) has become a mounting challenge for businesses and individuals alike and threatens the health of our ecosystems. The Global E-waste Statistics Partnership found that the world generated 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste in 2019 — approximately 16 pounds for every person on earth. That amount of e-waste could fill 263 Olympic swimming pools a year.
So how can businesses make the most out of their existing IT estate, and buy their technology sustainably?
Building new: sustainable sourcing and efficient design
Many new devices are built with greater energy and resource efficiency as central to their design.
The way that the industry approaches the design and materials for the latest devices is evolving, with an increasing emphasis on responsible sourcing, including the use of recycled materials and bioplastics, and more efficient product performance.
On a materials level across the industry, businesses are looking at the amount of recycled and renewable materials in our products. At Dell, we have set a goal that by 2030, over half of our product content will be made from recycled or renewable materials, and we are exploring several novel and innovative approaches to replacing plastic in our products, for example the use of bioplastics and bio-based rubber.
This means that new devices, with the latest features, are being built with sustainability in mind. For example, the percentage of post-consumer recycled materials in our latest commercial devices makes them our most sustainable, including select Latitude laptop series, our Precision 3000 workstations and our latest commercial monitors.
We are also intentionally designing our products to be more energy efficient. We have recently increased our ambition to drive down the emissions associated with our sold products, with a goal to reduce these scope 3 emissions by 30 per cent by 2030.
Collaboration is also a key piece here – as we can drive more change together. Industry partnerships, like the Circular Electronics Partnership, are enabling us to come together and increase the impact of our collective circularity efforts across the electronics industry. For businesses and consumers, this means they can invest in new products knowing that they are likely more sustainable than their previous devices.
Building old: the rise of refurbishment
Buying refurbished can be a responsible environmental choice. By buying through an approved reseller, or directly from the manufacturer, businesses can save costs and reduce their environmental footprint by buying a device that may otherwise have been destined for the e-waste pool.
Technology refurbishment has long been a sustainable model for businesses looking to invest in circularity. However, in the past, this has meant employees may not benefit from the innovative new devices that enabled them to work efficiently, especially as part of a hybrid or remote team. The good news is that the rise of refurbishment initiatives, such as buy-back and designing for repairability, means that there is a wide range of devices that can be purchased, including newer models with the same top-of-the-range features.
Building the future: new concepts for a changing world
In recent years we have seen exciting advancements in technology recycling and refurbishment. Soon, businesses can source brand new devices built using recycled components harvested from devices at the end of their lives.
Dell’s Concept Luna is one example of what the future of sustainable PC design could look like. It demonstrates how sustainable PC design meets intelligent telemetry and robotic automation to, potentially, expand focus from the devices themselves to a broader lifecycle approach that is anchored by reuse and refurbishment vs. recycling. Essentially, projects like Concept Luna provide a vision that could enable computer components to be re-used for a second, third or even fourth life in next-generation technology devices. It’s a future where nothing goes to waste and the huge volume of e-waste could be dramatically reduced, as well as minimizing the need for new, raw materials.
The way employees use their technology varies, which means not all components reach end-of-life at the same time. People working from home, for example, may use external components, such as keyboards and monitors. The laptop’s keyboard and monitor have, therefore, barely been used, even when the motherboard is ready to be replaced. Rather than replace or recycle the entire device, the usable components can be repurposed into another laptop. This is one of the visions Dell has for the future of sustainability PC design.
And, while Luna is currently still a ‘concept,’ it demonstrates the positive change being driven, not only by consumer demand, but by innovative designers and passionate sustainability advocates in our industry who see the potential for greater sustainability realized in their work.
There is still a long way to go, but existing initiatives, an increased focus on circularity, and innovative plans for refurbishment means that there are more options than ever for buying more sustainably at each price point. Together, we can have a strong impact on the way we design, buy and maintain our technology, and each sustainable purchasing decision helps to reduce our collective environmental footprint over time.