Five simple steps to make your business IT more sustainable

Sustainability is the current buzzword within many businesses, yet they often fail to make impactful changes to either their practice or the environment. Although I hate to disagree with Kermit, it is easy to be green, especially with a little thought and planning. Here are five ideas to help you find ways to make your business IT more sustainable.

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Shop smart

One of the easiest ways for any business to improve sustainability is to make smarter IT purchasing decisions. Selecting the appropriate hardware for the task or end user, rather than the sales rep’s “bargain of the month”, can often be the greener and cheaper option.

For example, there’s little sense in buying touchscreen laptops for users who don’t need them. Or top-tier workstations for settings where that technology isn’t appropriate or required. All you’re doing is adding to your repair bill later down the line.

When considering sustainability, it pays to remember that much of the environmental impact generated by any commodity occurs during the creation process. It’s critical to extract as much functional use from our devices as possible.

In addition, considering a device’s running costs will help decide if a product could be a sustainable fit for your business. A cheap full-colour inkjet printer may look attractive for the first six months, but once the office is forced to dip into the Christmas party budget to keep it primed with eye-watering priced ink you may think again.

If a printer is mainly there to cope with the relentless end-of-month report printing marathon, someone should rightly ask if a good quality mono laser was the better, and more sustainable, purchase.

Even if your purchasing choices are limited, remember that one pillar of sustainability is longevity, so aim to maximise the useable lifespan of your inventory. Quiz your vendors about how easy a device is to upgrade in order to keep your purchase’s performance punchy for longer. If they can’t answer, find a vendor that can.

Buying new is not the only way

One habit that most of us need to break is to only think in terms of new products rather than refurbished ones. I mention maximising the lifespan of a product above: which includes buying things others may have already used.

I’m not suggesting that your business’s next laptop refresh should be sourced from Facebook Marketplace, but there are reputable refurb companies that offer a vast range of modern-spec machines, backed by a warranty, and all the trimmings you’ll get from any supplier of new goods.

Even Apple refurbs its own products, which are sold in its stores with a full warranty and a significant slash on the RRP.

According to YouGov, seven out of ten British smartphone owners replace their handsets within four years, which means the mobile market is saturated with fabulous second-user, refurbished, returned and open-box products.

Established refurb companies can help you make better sustainable choices throughout your entire IT inventory, whilst offering support, finance and, very often, a hefty saving on purchasing expenditure.

Embrace repair

What’s your organisation’s repair budget? Does it even have one? If not, then you’re not alone as societally we sleepwalked into switching repair for a replacement many years ago and it has taken sustainability alarm bells to wake us all up.

Although many electronic devices are challenging to repair, many of the most common breaks — smashed screens, broken power sockets, cracked cases — can be fixed by reputable repairers, country-wide (indeed, this is my day job).

Globally, the primary reason people buy a new mobile is because of the poor battery life on their current handset. Sustainable businesses get the battery changed in order to keep the handset working in order to extract as much usable life from it and save a fortune on unnecessary handset replacements.

Changes driven by repair advocates are being implemented by governments around the world, forcing manufacturers to bring repairability back to device design. Nokia has already released an easily repairable phone, with cost-effective spares (screen £45, charging port, £19), perfectly showing that it is possible to fix new products.

Don’t fear repair. Embrace it.

Perform a business IT sustainability audit

Look around your business and I’m sure you’ll discover many practical things you can do to improve your current levels of sustainability.

One of the biggest sustainability gains has already been made: allowing employees to work from home more frequently. But another big change is to simply improve the scan and share facilities of your printers, enabling your workforce to slash paper, consumable and printer usage.

Smaller changes don’t need to be so drastic. I know of one business that is slowly switching out broken wireless keyboards and mice for wired versions to reduce battery disposal. Another has implemented a power-down schedule to turn off printers, NAS drives, PCs and servers for a few hours every night to reduce wear, running costs and energy usage. It’s a tiny change that makes a big impact in the long term.

Also, look at what can be upgraded. Sustainability isn’t about having a third-rate infrastructure, it’s about leveraging the potential of your current assets and squeezing everything out of them before they’re finally replaced.

If you have desktops that are getting sluggish, get advice on their upgrade potential: slipping in a new graphics card or a few sticks of RAM will be cheaper and more sustainable than buying a new machine. And here’s a bonus: it will avoid productivity slumps by avoiding onboarding.

End-of-life considerations

Although we’re talking about sustainability, we really need to think about how your business fits into a future with a circular economy (produce, use, recycle) instead of a linear one (produce, use, dispose).

Once a decision has been made that a machine or fleet of machines is to be replaced, consider what will happen to the old kit. Work with companies who specialise in repurposing corporate machines to give to schools and charities. Or donate to Tech4Families, which helps thousands of UK families currently living in digital poverty.

Ensure that any electrical recycling is done correctly. According to Vodafone, 4.7 million Brits admit to placing mobile phones away in general waste, so finding a Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) recycler is vital for your sustainability targets.

One of the most common barriers to corporate WEEE recycling is fear of data security, but this argument is negated by implementing a robust drive-erase or removal strategy. Pay particular attention to Apple devices as failing to deactivate the activation lock makes devices useless to their new owners and they’ll probably end up heading for the crusher.

Don’t hang onto old hardware. The longer it’s sitting unused in the stock cupboard, the less chance it has to be useful to someone else. Also, there are many firms that will pay for old phones, tablets and laptops, so rummage through drawers and cupboards and get rid of anything old or unused. If you’re lucky, it may just turn a sustainable profit.

Long-term sustainability requires a change in mindset and perhaps, corporate culture. These are simple steps which may ignite a cascade of other ideas to make your business IT more sustainable.

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Lee Grant

Lee is a long-time advocate for sustainability within IT, with a fierce passion for everyone to have a right to repair. In his day job, Lee and his wife Alison run a computer repair shop, Inspiration Computers, near Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, UK. He's also a contributing editor and podcaster for PC Pro.