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Tackling e-waste and making sustainable choices

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Written by Mark Skelton, VP & CTO at Telefónica Tech UK&I

Historically, businesses have bought technology without thinking too hard about its carbon footprint. As part of our Creating a Sustainable Future series, our CTO, Mark Skelton highlights some of the initiatives that can help tech leaders begin to make more sustainable choices.

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Video watch time: 2 minutes

1. Buy Sustainably

In the past, the IT industry has taken a plan-for-a-rainy-day approach, often over-specifying requirements to de-risk projects. Ultimately this has led to e-waste.  As a case in point Telefonica Tech’s recent research revealed that 81% of businesses made expedient ICT purchases during the pandemic that serve no long-term strategic value. With a renewed emphasis on sustainability, it’s important to avoid waste by planning up front and closely aligning strategy to clear outcomes.

Additionally, we also need to consider what happens to hardware and devices in 3-5 years as part of the refresh cycle. Start to scrutinise the sustainability of all your purchases in terms of what elements you can reuse and recycle. Most major technology manufacturers are now factoring sustainability into the entire product lifecycle—from design and supply chain through product usage and end-of-life management.

 

2. Reuse, recycle, repurpose

Recycling, reusing, and repurposing assets is helping to reduce CO2 emissions and send less e-waste to landfill. As well as reducing e-waste, asset upcycling removes the need to remanufacture and remine assets helping to reduce water consumption and the tonnes of earth mined as part of the process of producing IT assets.

However, to keep data safe and meet the required regulatory standards, it is important to collaborate with a partner, like Telefonica Tech, whose Asset Upcycling and IT life cycle service has been CO2 assessed as part of the Carbon Footprint Standard and who can provide data destruction certification and authentication.

 

3. Move more to cloud

For example, trialling data centers under the sea to improve power usage and investing heavily in renewable power. Given the research and innovation resources major vendors are funnelling into sustainability initiatives, moving your workloads to one of the major cloud hyperscalers could be a simple way to improve your sustainability position.

 

4. Replace physical with virtual

From video streaming to virtual desktops, cloud computing reduces the need for physical assets, reducing cost, waste, effort, and environmental impact.

For example, by using a virtual desktop and application delivery solution, organisations can deliver desktops and applications to more energy-efficient thin clients. These are considered by many to be more sustainable as they tend to have a longer lifespan, use less raw materials, and are lighter to transport. Additionally, they consume less electricity and produce less heat compared to their heavier traditional counterparts.

 

5. Use Data and Insight

Powered by the cloud, the combined power of data & AI are providing insight for all sectors to innovate faster to both avoid waste and drive sustainability. For example, within construction, smarter built infrastructure is being used to capture data to monitor and control wasted energy  Meanwhile, in agriculture, sensor technology and data are being used to monitor and optimise equipment, fertiliser, waste, and soil.

It is also true, however, that AI has the potential to produce significant and impactful carbon emissions. This is another reason why it makes sense to align with a major cloud provider. Their research and development programmes will help to reduce the impact of AI-driven carbon emissions. In terms of headline figures, Google already matches 100% of its operational energy use with renewable energy sources , Microsoft has been carbon neutral across the world since 2012 and commits to being carbon negative by 2030, while AWS can lower customers’ workload carbon footprints by nearly 80% compared to surveyed enterprise data centers.

There are, of course, many different aspects to developing an effective sustainability strategy but by tackling e-waste and beginning to make more sustainable choices, we as tech leaders, can begin to improve the sustainability performance of the digital infrastructure and services we provide.


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