Sustainability is everyone’s job: From the panel at Reset Connect 2023

Our Partnerships and Fundraising Manager, Natasha Early, writes on the panel discussion at Reset Connect 2023 on sustainability and reusing devices to reduce e-waste.

What is the distribution of responsibility between companies and individuals when it comes to being more sustainable with technology devices? 

This was a question posed to the panel I recently participated in at Reset Connect 2023 and the echoes of that question have chimed through conversations amongst the Good Things Foundation team since we returned. 

Tech could have a second or even third life

The panel, moderated by Sophia Kesteven of Tech Zero, came together to discuss responsible use of tech devices, including using them for longer, making them easier to repair or upgrade and encouraging more responsible tech usage among consumers.

Our role in the conversation was to introduce the idea of extending the lifecycle of devices by promoting reuse for digital inclusion. 

Our recent research report Circular electronics for social good highlighted that, whilst the UK government has set a target to recycle 65% of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) by 2030, current recycling targets focus on the destruction and the appropriate reuse or proper disposal of the materials once a device is destroyed, they do not incentivise reuse of working devices. 

Considering that 75-85% of the overall carbon footprint of a device is in production, it makes sense to have the device in use for as long as possible; in a circular electronics for social good value chain, end of purpose within an organisation does not have to mean end of life for the device, advanced refurbishment can offer a second or even third-life.  

The panel picked up on and reinforced this missed opportunity and wasteful approach.

“There is a rule that even if the devices are working fine, you are swapping them out every three years” – Panel Member.

The consensus within the panel was that premature destruction and disposal was avoidable and that distribution of responsibility stretched across the supply chain including; responsible selection and procurement of raw materials, building longer lasting hardware and reducing the scale of planned obsolescence for both software and hardware. 

We all have a role, IT, Procurement, ESG teams, tech users

The panel agreed that responsibility also extends to the consumer, whether that be organisations or individuals, with the idea proposed that: 

“The most impactful thing to do is not buy new products, laptops, servers, whatever device it might be” – Panel Member.

This idea as THE solution might not be practical or feasible for an organisation, however when the time comes for a tech refresh organisations can consider whether the tech they are disposing of is actually end of life, or just end of purpose for their organisation.

But how do they know this is possible and who decides? 

One of the enablers we presented in our research was that of ‘awareness raising and collaboration’. For some organisations there just isn’t an awareness of the potential for reusing their IT devices and good practice or guidance is not readily available or shared. 

This was affirmed during the panel discussion

“Education is key, Demonstrating to the customer the value they are adding by returning their equipment for recycling” – Panel Member. 

Our research established that strong internal collaboration between IT, procurement and ESG teams is essential to ensure that reuse of tech is embedded within both an organisations tech replacement strategy, ESG metrics and annual report. 

We can all ask the sustainability question

But, beyond these teams, we all have the capacity to ask the right questions of ourselves and others when it comes to sustainability. Engaging employees in social responsibility initiatives can increase the awareness of opportunities like reusing tech for social good. 

The range of people we spoke to at Reset Connect, the roles they held within their organisation and the enthusiasm they shared for responsibly disposing of even their personal devices was heartening and shows that sustainability can be everyone’s job. However, if reuse and recycling of equipment is to become a standard aspect of responsible consumption, we need to work together to achieve this at scale. 

Find out how you can reuse IT equipment to bridge the digital divide through our National Device Bank

Natasha was joined on the panel by Amael Parreaux-Ey; CEO of Resilio Solutions, Darren Long; Sports Technology Integration Project Lead at Warner Bros Discovery, Ben Tongue; Digital Net Zero Lead at NHS Digital and Michael Wyatt; Sustainability Champion, Google ChromeOS