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Going Green

As the UK plans its ‘green recovery’ from the Covid-19 pandemic, Rob Horgan investigates what the IT and tech channel is doing to become more sustainable…

When most people think of carbon emissions, they picture smoke mushrooming out of power plants, aeroplanes leaving trails dotted across the sky or car exhaust pipes spitting out harmful toxins.

What most people don’t realise is the enormous impact that the IT and technology sector has on our planet. In fact, the production of IT equipment accounts for about 1.4 per cent of total carbon emissions and powering devices uses about 3.6 per cent of global electricity consumption. However, the impact of waste within the sector is much harder to calculate. There are currently 9.5bn mobile phones in the world. Most of those will be discarded within 10 years and are likely to end up in landfill. Likewise, the level of carbon emissions related to distribution within the channel is harder to put an exact figure on – but with most UK distributors taking stock from all over the world (Asia in particular), the associated air miles racked up are likely to be in the millions each year.

From carbon emissions associated with production and distribution to the energy used to power products during their lifecycle, the impact of technology is felt from the moment it is created until long after it has finished being used; when it will often end up in landfill (not to mention the plastic-heavy packaging which still comes with most products). The UK government has recently declared a national climate emergency, as well as committing to cutting greenhouse gas emissions down to net zero by the year 2050. There has also been a lot of talk about a ‘green recovery’ from the Covid-19 pandemic, and so the need to be sustainable is greater than ever.

Synaxon managing director Mike Barron believes that the industry is currently not doing enough to address the issue with the channel so far failing to grasp the size of the task ahead of it. “Sustainability is a massive issue for the IT industry. The componentry and materials used in the production of products; the carbon footprint of the manufacturing and supply chain; the energy consumption of products (and data centres); right through to the recycling and reuse of materials. These are huge issues, over which we on the ground here in the UK, would appear to have no influence, let alone control,” Barron said.

“At the present time, the industry is probably not doing enough to address these areas. Tech companies may well be doing things that will reduce their own carbon footprint – and with everyone working at home more now, we are at least, not using as much light and heat, or burning fuel on the commute to work. But that’s the same in every industry.

“I see little effective action being taken to address the bigger problems that I have mentioned above.

He added: “While all attention has been focused on Covid-19 recently, this was probably the issue that was moving up the agenda at the fastest rate at the beginning of the year. It won’t go away now. People understand that we have to take better care of the planet. Vendors that start to make their products and processes more sustainable and recyclable – and provide hard evidence that they are doing that effectively – will start to gain favour in time.

“But I do think there is hope, the reason being that customers are starting to ask about sustainability and carbon footprints now. In fact, sustainability is normally a requirement on most tenders now and often represents a large percentage of the score, so it is becoming important from a commercial standpoint.”

Utopia Computers managing director Craig Hume agrees that consumers are driving change within the industry.

“The fact is that consumers want to be able to buy sustainably. They want the feel-good factor from doing business with businesses that are helping the environment,” Hume said.

“I see the opportunity for IT dealers to be two-fold. The first opportunity is to look for ways you can reduce your impact on the environment. From changing lighting to LED, educating your team about the damage short car journeys do to the environment, providing a water cooler in your store to prevent plastic bottle use, to more substantial investments like solar power.

“The next step is, of course, making these sustainable measures have a positive impact on the bottom line. For that, I would encourage retailers to talk about the changes they have implemented on their social media as well as in conversations with their clients, promoting business from consumers to whom this subject is a reason to shop local and avoid online retailers. From there, look at the products and services you offer and think about how they could be more attractive to consumers looking to make the right choice by the environment.”

To meet this demand, Utopia has started a ‘sustainable’ line of reconditioned products.

And Utopia is not alone in doing its bit to create a more sustainable IT and tech channel. At Exertis, a number of sustainability initiatives are already in full swing. Working in partnership with Macfarlane Packaging, Exertis has reduced the amount of stretch wrap and pallet top sheets material by 24 per cent – a total of 18 tonnes of plastic. This equates a CO2 emission reduction of 45 tonnes.

The distie has also redesigned packaging for own brand products at Hypertec, eliminating plastic and using recyclable materials. Among a host of other initiatives, Exertis has also increased its drop ship services to retailers and resellers, thereby cutting down the amount of time goods have to be moved. Exertis has increased its service in the UK by 73 per cent (March to May YOY), delivering more than 611,000 units.

Meanwhile, cyber security vendor Kaspersky has launched a campaign around relationships in the channel, and restoring the “human touch” between vendors and their partners to lower their carbon footprint. The campaign specifically focuses on vendors and how they can respond to the call from resellers and distributors for greater education and empowerment.

Listen very carefully
Westcon-Comstor VP EMEA, Global Customers & International Sales Alastair Borissow agrees that vendors will have to listen to the demands of their supply chains to adapt to sustainable demands. He added that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought the issue of sustainability to the fore, especially for channel partners along the supply chain.

“Most organisations have been aware of sustainability for some time, but the shift we’re beginning to see now is a circular economy concept, where businesses are realising that there is an economic benefit rather than just the green agenda. Lockdown has accelerated this movement,” Borissow said.

“More remote working has reduced the amount of commuting, and virtual events and meetings have resulted in fewer people flying across the world for conferences. Moving forward, some businesses are even considering downsizing offices and will keep more of a remote approach to operations – further offsetting CO2 emissions produced in commutes.

“The green agenda is obviously much more visible than it used to be. It used to be about doing the right thing. Now it’s a case of genuinely having to address it because of climate change and the significant growth in focus on the subject.”

He added: “A key thing I’ve seen is that the supply chain is leading the conversation. What the current crisis has done is brought the supply chain front of mind. What was previously seen as a back-office operations role is now a strategic competitive advantage. A strong, resilient, agile – and cost-effective – supply chain is a business must-have, and supply chain is the biggest enabler for sustainability. If you don’t have sustainable processes in your supply chain and are looking for sustainability, it doesn’t matter what other business efforts you have, it’s almost impossible to deliver it.

“The pandemic is an inflection point for the supply chain. The crisis has exposed some weaknesses but also unlocked an opportunity to build a future-fit supply chain that is resilient, robust and efficient. One that both drives success and advances the sustainable business agenda.

“Because the channel is the middle man, neither making or buying the products, we are the enabler. We need to make sure that vendors are aware that this is becoming more and more of a criteria. This is becoming a key requirement if you want to dobusiness with us.”

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