PCR July/August issue sustainability roundtable

A reduction in carbon footprint or ultimately going carbon neutral is a key agenda for many businesses within the channel. But there is still much more work to be done if the channel is to ultimately reach this goal. Here Michelle Winny, editor of PCR talks to Craig Hume, Managing Director at Utopia Computers, Trevor Evans, MD at Consenna, Alastair Wynn, Operations Director at Softcat and Kevin Brzezinski, SVP Operations at Westcon about their views on sustainability with the channel.

How is your company involved in sustainability within the tech channel?
Craig Hume – Managing Director at Utopia Computers: “Over the past 10 years, discussions around sustainability at Utopia have grown, with considerations on our impact to the environment now being discussed by my team multiple times each day. I think sustainability is a journey that many go on without knowing the end destination. For some businesses, it will be a simple checkbox exercise, and for others, like Utopia, it will be a transformational journey. I think of it akin to joining a gym, some gym users go there and grind it out because they think they need to and for others, it becomes a way of life. For Utopia sustainability is now a consideration of every aspect of our business, from our clothing to our packaging and our energy supply. We want the world to be a better place because of the actions we take.

Trevor Evans, MD at Consenna: “Sustainability is very much on the radar of OEMs and resellers, and we bring their strategies to life in a way that brings greater impact and visibility.

“Sustainability is non-negotiable. It’s no longer a strapline or a ‘nice to have’. We support the channel – from the largest IT vendors to niche specialists to authentically embed it in their brand identities. Not because it’s a lucrative revenue stream, but because it’s right.”

Alastair Wynn, Operations Director at Softcat: “We, as an IT reseller, have been working with our vendors, suppliers, partners and couriers to deliver a Net Zero Supply Chain for our customers and the planet. We have aligned our sustainability strategy with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and Science Based Targets and it can be summarised as being focused on People, Planet and Prosperity – we need people to adapt, change and influence for the good of our planet, to deliver a prosperous outlook for future generations.

“On top of this, Softcat is involved with organisations such as Tech UK and Techies Go Green.”

Kevin Brzezinski, SVP Operations at Westcon: “As a distributor, we are at a critical vantage point to understand the impact of the supply chain on the environment. At Westcon, we work hard to consciously and actively reduce our carbon footprint. Our CSR programme has long been integral to our business, and we focus a large amount of our resources on energy conservation and utilising recyclable materials.

“To take this one step further and truly hold ourselves accountable, we partnered with sustainability ratings provider, EcoVadis in 2020. EcoVadis creates a scorecard based on our sustainability performance, which we use as a means of evaluating our long-term progress. Our goal is based on four major indicators: Environmental, Labour & Human Rights, Sustainable Procurement, and certifications based on GRI, UNGC and ISO standards.

“Through the use of more efficient lighting and motion, the optimisation of our energy usage and our continuous recycling efforts, we’ve reduced our energy consumption by 27% and CO2e gases by 18%, primarily in our logistics operations, which equated to a 14% reduction in costs year-over-year.”

Do you feel corporate social responsibility should be a key consideration of all channel partners if so why and how can this be achieved?
Craig Hume, Utopia Computers: “The tech industry has a lot to answer for, we produce huge amounts of e-waste and use large amounts of energy. The supply chain in the UK still uses excess packaging and single-use materials to ship a lot of its goods and the global brand’s flagship products still ship in hard plastics that will no doubt end up in landfill, save for the few collectors that decide it should have space on a shelf. We all need to take ownership of this and make the hard choices now before the choice is taken away from us. Corporate social responsibility needs to be more than words on paper, it needs to filter down to every action.”

Trevor Evans, MD at Consenna: “Absolutely – CSR generally is a value to be upheld and the channel certainly has a key role to play. In the same way that as individuals we seek to do the ‘right thing’, doing the ‘right thing’ is the best option in business also. We see no distinction between our role as everyday consumers and our professional responsibilities within business. All channel partners know the customer has the power to choose the business that is making the right decisions across all aspects of CSR, not just from a sustainability perspective.

“Once channel partners recognise that customers are increasingly demanding a strong CSR commitment, and that they’ll hold resellers to account in this respect, those resellers have no choice other than to act. Yes, to attract more custom but also because it’s right. Those that are slow to act have no cause for complaint when customers vote with their purchase orders.”

Alastair Wynn, Operations Director at Softcat: “We all need to play our part, no matter how big or small. Nobody can conquer this alone, so we need to work together as an industry to tackle this monumental challenge. Collective energy, influence and action is key.”

Kevin Brzezinski, SVP Operations at Westcon: “Absolutely, CSR is a crucial component of a company’s competitiveness and should be a key consideration of all channel partners. To achieve this, it should be part of their core strategy which has for overall aim to improve environmental, ethical, human rights, and collaborate and work closely with other channel partners and stakeholders.”

What if any initiatives is your company involved in regards to sustainability?
Craig Hume, Utopia Computers: “Utopia’s biggest impact project is our new Tech Sustainability Centre which opened in February this year. From this centre, we have brought in new employees that don’t have a background in technology and train them up to be able to repair and upgrade all kinds of technology, keeping those items out of landfills. Once trained, those new members of the team will move on to work with the part of our business that most attract them, be it the system building, managed services or even our accounts and marketing teams. We will then bring more trainees into further the work in our Tech Sustainability Centre.

Trevor Evans, MD at Consenna: “In the last year alone, we’ve worked on recycling strategies for vendors that have prevented over 44,000 devices going to landfill. That’s an impressive figure, which translates to a huge 363 tonnes of electronic waste, 7,595 tonnes of CO2e and, staggeringly, the equivalent to 4,688 return flights from London to New York! It’s good but not good enough. There is a lot more to be done and we’ve only just got going.

“Furthermore, we only ever work with specialists in their fields. Whether that’s recyclers with the highest WEEE Directive accreditations to carry out device recycling, or other experts who work with us to provide real-world, scientifically backed data and insight into the impact of purchasing and recycling decisions. This is key to informing the vendors and resellers we work with and, ultimately, their end customers. Information has never been more valuable.

“’If the sustainability credentials of those we partner with don’t stack up, we can’t risk the damage to our own reputation. There is no level of compliance here; it’s either 100% or not at all.”

Alastair Wynn, Operations Director at Softcat: “We have internal initiatives to be net zero ourselves, including using renewable energy across all of our offices by 2040, but most of our goals span beyond Softcat. Our ambition of a net zero supply chain needs the help, support and co-operation of all of our partners and we’re working with many of them to share understanding, increase awareness and increase the pace of adoption and change. We’re also working with a number of other partners to improve the traction in relation to circular economy. As a channel we’re great at product design and delivery, but we don’t always complete the loop with recycling and reusing as much as we could. We need to increase awareness, build scale and deliver a truly circular economy, that keeps the wheel/circle turning.”

Kevin Brzezinski, SVP Operations at Westcon: “We engage in several activities in regards to sustainability, more specifically to reduce our carbon footprint and that of our partners.

“The first initiative is automation. In our warehouses, we’ve adopted automation and robotics to help drive sustainability through optimised inventory performance, warehousing and fulfilment. A more efficient supply chain helps our vendors receive products quicker, while reducing the environmental impact.

“The second is around packaging. To reduce our impact in 2020, we’ve successfully complied with the new German Packaging legislation, which was approved on behalf of the German environmental agency.

“The third is about reducing e-waste. Our reverse logistics expertise and hardware lifecycle management promote the re-use, recycling and refurbishment of end-of-life equipment. Our partnership with Cisco enables us to offer like-new equipment through the Cisco Refresh program, which is part of our own Circular Technology Solutions programme.

“Finally, sustainability also sits at the heart of our employee strategy. We run initiatives, which give our people the opportunity to be good corporate citizens of their local communities – and the world. For example, to celebrate the last Environment Day, we distributed indoor plants to all employees as a step towards fighting indoor air pollution and raising the importance of global warming as an issue.”

How is the tech channel currently contributing towards negative environmental impact and how can this be addressed?
Craig Hume, Utopia Computers: “I’m watching with real interest the Right to Repair movement in the States. Global brands like Apple have been very vocal about sustainability and what they expect from their partners, but they still provide almost no parts or support to repair centres to keep their devices out of landfills. I’d like to see more pressure put on brands like Apple to allow consumers to have the free choice to repair a device and for those parts to be available. I’m not saying the repair needs to be easy, that’s where skilled technicians come in, but deliberately building barriers against repair is not what the world needs right now.”

Trevor Evans, MD at Consenna: “Frankly, too many resellers were complacent for too long and focused disproportionately on securing the sale. As organisations, they’re often relatively lean so their own carbon footprint hasn’t been overly pronounced.

 “However, resellers also need to use their influence with greater effect. We need to see more channel partners applying pressure on vendors to be increasingly transparent about their CSR credentials, not only in respect of environmental impact, but on topics such as anti-slavery, equality and diversity. Just imagine if ‘everyone’ in the channel collectively used their leverage to raise the bar across the vendors. The impact would be profound and rapid.

 “With all these factors of increasing importance to end customers and their purchasing decisions, it is imperative that those at the heart of the channel recognise the role they have to play. They too can vote with their purchase orders.”

 John Gladstone, Lifecycle solutions lead at Softcat: “One of the biggest areas the IT channel can make improvements on has to be the logistics within its supply chain. Our vendors are working hard to reduce packaging and ensure packing is produced using sustainable materials, however, more still needs to be done. The introduction of electric delivery vehicles internally, plus the supply chain becoming more carbon aware as well as chasing their own goals around carbon net zero, will make a huge difference to the overall environmental impact.

“Other key areas that the tech channel need to work on is the circular economy, including the reuse and the recycling of IT equipment. With the ongoing pressures and awareness for organisations to adopt the use of remanufactured equipment, we need to ensure equipment that no longer has a use is recycled or disposed of correctly. Currently the process between the different elements of the channel is disconnected, resulting in a sometimes negative experience for end user organisations.”

Kevin Brzezinski, SVP Operations at Westcon: “The products and services that are procured today have a bigger environmental impact as they consume more carbon and energy due to the increase in online demand and new technologies such as 5G. Manufacturers turn raw materials into components or these products, and along with warehousing them, transporting them across the supply chain requires a massive use in energy and carbon usage. This has become even more complex with the current global semiconductor supply shortage. This can be addressed and reduced through the usage of circular technology, by jointly collaborating across the channel in contributing to a more circular and low carbon economy. This can also be addressed by using recycled or less ‘new’ natural material, extend a product’s lifespan by reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling it and improve energy efficiency as much as possible.”

Do you feel the channel has a key responsibility to help towards the reduction of our carbon footprint? If so how?
Craig Hume, Utopia Computers: “We need to do all we can to reduce our footprint. When Covid-19 hit we saw the amazing innovation that we are capable of when we adapted, providing services in products in ways we never dreamed possible. When the pressure is on, we can do amazing things. Thinking about packaging is key for me, a reduction in single-use plastics, as well as considered shipping materials, would be a great start. On top of this, we are now well adapted to letting employees work from home when it suits them so I hope that fewer people will have to commute. Once physical events return choosing trains over flights can also go a long way to reduce our footprint. These are all small changes, but cumulatively they will make a big difference.”

 

Trevor Evans, MD at Consenna: “When engaged with a customer, they can discuss and encourage the options for recycling end of life devices; they can demonstrate how some devices are better from an environmental perspective than others and that whilst these may initially cost more, the long-term cost is comparable; or they may provide the customer with tangible, real-life comparisons of the impact that their purchasing decision will have. The channel’s power is to help customers make informed decisions. In doing so, they not only build trust and credibility but also play their part to a more sustainable future.”

 Alastair Wynn, Operations Director at Softcat: “Absolutely – everyone has a part to play and we all need to get involved. My call to action for everyone would be to read and learn more about the topic and the issue, challenge yourselves to adapt and change in line with what our planet needs and to determine a plan with the right pace and priorities for your business and your partners.”

Kevin Brzezinski, SVP Operations at Westcon: “Yes, the channel plays a critical role in reducing its carbon impact on the whole value chain. The industry needs to develop circular solutions that encourage the use of recycled and refurbished material for end user equipment and develop supply chain sustainability solutions that encourage the use of recycled or organic-based materials as well as reduce multiple points of transport, logistics, warehousing and fulfilment, that create Greenhouse Gases like CO2, CH4, N2O that trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming.”

Does your company provide products or services that if adopted can help run a more efficient business if so what and how?
Craig Hume, Utopia Computers: “I think all tech providers are doing this and in some cases just are not aware, from managed services that allow Cloud Computing, Paperless Offices, Remote Working and energy-efficient products, to repair stores that help keep end-users devices out of landfills. I think the trick is to start thinking of your services and products through the lens of sustainability. The more we talk about it to our suppliers the more they will bring more services and products like this to market and, even more importantly, is the understanding that clients and end-users now put a high value on items and services that come with a sustainability credential. They will often pay more for the same device or service if they know it has a lower impact on the environment. This isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for the businesses bottom line.”

John Gladstone, Lifecycle solutions lead at Softcat: “Softcat is working with vendors such as Apple, HP, Lenovo and Logitech around their end user products and how they can support end user organisation’s ongoing sustainability journeys. There are some impressive options available from devices made from recycled materials, through to carbon neutral products.

From an infrastructure prospective the cloud providers are making very good progress and are very mature in the space, with some being carbon neutral from as early as 2007.

“Organisations need to consider their journey to net zero, how they want to get there and what their priorities are. Softcat do have a sustainability assessment service which will allow an organisation to understand the emissions created by their IT estate as well as the operational Scope 3 emissions, which include business travel and employee commuting. Completing an assessment like this will not only allow an organisation to understand the emissions caused by their IT estate, but it will assist in the planning of their IT strategy going forward, allowing them to prioritise areas that need to be addressed.”

Kevin Brzezinski, SVP Operations at Westcon: “We work closely with our vendors and partners to make sure they have a strong sustainability programme in place. If a partner has a poor programme, it’s reflected in our scorecard. When they don’t meet our criteria, we work with them on improving programmes such as reverse logistics. Over the last 12 months we’ve notably provided some of our key partners with a complete asset management, end-to-end reverse logistics solution.”

What else can be done to reduce our carbon footprint that the channel can assist with?
Craig Hume, Utopia Computers: “During Covid-19 the tech industry was there to guide many businesses through a fast transition to home working and other technology, we were the thought leaders in this space and we excelled at it. Now we need the tech channel to become climate leaders. We need to encourage every business to adopt – for itself, its clients and most importantly for our planet. There’s no downside to this. Renewable energy, electric cars, energy conservation and waste reduction will all save you money – and your clients and team will respond positively to these changes. One thing is certain: as the level of Co2 increases in our atmosphere and bad weather becomes the norm, business as usual is no longer an option.”

Trevor Evans, MD at Consenna: “We all need to do more, the channel included. We all need to be more challenging, more probing, and less tolerant of the myriad of statistics our industry is so fond of producing.

“It should consider reducing the sales of products people ‘think’ they need but, in many cases, no longer do. Consider a different, more sustainable solution to the same customer problem. Resellers command a unique position whereby they can influence both vendors and customers. They should not underestimate this influence.

“For example, a print focused reseller must consider the merits of adopting a document management strategy. Printers, print cartridges and paper will continue to have a legitimate role to play, however small changes will make a big difference. Just imagine if every print partner committed to only supplying recycled paper, ink and toner cartridges. Just imagine if printer life cycles were extended by two, three or even five years? Just imagine if sufficient pressure were applied to a vendor to produce a recyclable printer? It would dominate the market in a heartbeat. There are many additional considerations such as how to keep monitors and AV equipment out of landfill? Is the case for new on-premise servers now completely flawed in favour of cloud based infrastructure? These questions far from causing concern for customers, will engender trust and integrity on the reseller asking them.”

John Gladstone, Lifecycle solutions lead at Softcat: “Everyone has a key role to play in reducing our carbon footprint; from a business and a personal perspective. Education and understanding is the most important area and the channel needs to work with the end users and its supply chain to understand what needs to be done and put appropriate plans in place to help reduce emissions.

“Promoting green solutions is one area that can make a difference – but organisations need to understand why they need to adopt the change and visualise what their journey looks like.

“Organisations challenging their supply chain will help increase awareness and drive suppliers on their sustainability journeys, resulting in more sustainable solutions and products being made available. Working to accreditations such ISO 140001 and 50001 will help organisations to understand their emission footprints and put controls in place to manage and improve them.

“The last piece is the education and adoption by employees. If employees can be educated around all areas of sustainability and are able to adopt it in their professional and personal lives it will be one more way to spread the awareness which is hugely needed.”

Kevin Brzezinski, SVP Operations at Westcon: “The channel needs to set climate targets jointly, and work together to reduce carbon and CO2 emissions and the usage of natural resources. To achieve a true circularity or circular economy, we need to reduce the use of new raw materials and natural resources, switch to more sustainable materials that reduce energy and carbon usage or extend the lifecycle of products and services. We need to focus on standardisation, reusing, refurbishing, recycling, and avoiding the use of natural resources and reducing our carbon footprint. We also need to setup and monitor metrics, goals and progress and be transparent on the data. We all have a responsibility and need to work together to bring about a circular economy and minimise the environmental impact to our planet.”

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