Recycling innovation: if Adidas can do it, so can the IT industry…

20 November 2023

Simon Townsend, field CTO, IGEL

Simon Townsend, field CTO, IGEL

David Beckman wears them. So, does Lionel Messi and Taylor Swift. But it has to be New York hip hop pioneers, Run DMC, who take the celebrity prize for loving their (unlaced) Adidas trainers the most. Why? They sang about them in their 1986 hit ‘My Adidas’ which reached no.5 in the Hot Black charts.

Celebrities wearing cool trainers might not be much of a surprise. What’s more interesting is Adidas’ position on sustainability and how its products are now made. Through a partnership with environmental organisation, Parley for the Oceans, Adidas uses plastic collected from the sea to make some footwear, clothing and accessory ranges. In 2022, close to 27 million shoes were made from the stuff, with Adidas also announcing that it will only use recycled polyester across the board from 2024.

This idea of being creative, recycling and reusing - rather than making brand new – should set an example and be copied by the IT industry.

Take end user computing (EUC). It has become a major contributor to environmental pollution and climate change, directly and indirectly causing around 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions. 1% of this is due to the yearly manufacture of 460 million devices and the associated energy consumption by 4.2 billion users. This emits a whopping 556 million tons of CO2 and would require a forest the size of Argentina to remove from Earth’s atmosphere annually. A further 1% is attributed to the pollution associated with people commuting to access IT in the workplace.

Other stats support this bleak picture. According to the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, the UK produced the second largest amount of e-waste as a country in 2022 at 23.9kg per capita.

We’re drowning in a tsunami of e-waste. One of the reasons for this is the technology refresh hamster wheel of upgrades which has become commonplace in the public and private sector. Most PCs or laptops are updated every 3-4 years as they break or OS vendors introduce major new releases requiring updated hardware to run. For example, Microsoft announced that Windows 10 will go end-of life by October 2025. It is estimated that 1 in 3 laptops won’t support Windows 11, with organisations forced to buy new endpoints which do - a staggering number when you consider the Windows estate in use worldwide.

This has added impetus given the UK’s Climate Change Act 2008 includes an amendment to the Companies Act 2006 requiring all London Stock Exchange listed companies, large unquoted firms and limited liability partnerships to report their greenhouse gas emissions. Public sector organisations are required to do the same.

Sadly, inertia exists. Many IT departments simply do not know enough about sustainable ICT purchasing or think that it requires more money to achieve, such that research reveals that over a third simply take no action. This is not only a dreadful for the environment but presents a significant missed opportunity for organisations to play a more effective role to address the climate emergency.

Is there a better way to reduce IT consumption and handle e-waste?

So for IT departments to address these issues, a range of options should be considered:

1. Shift away from Windows installed on individual devices and migrate to the cloud for VDI or Desktop as a Service solutions. This is ‘greener’ than running ‘on-prem’ datacentres. Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Citrix and VMware are all providers. For example, Citrix Cloud Services operate in 100% renewable energy data centres, such that an organisation using its latest Azure service benefits from achieving zero Scope 2 and Scope 3 emissions.

2. Adopt a displacement strategy where endpoint hardware is concerned. By running applications, storage and compute in the cloud, the requirement to have the latest desktop is removed with only a lightweight local OS needed for connection – we sell a system. Customers can double the lifespan of endpoints from 3 or 4 years and extend them to 6 and, in some cases, 8 years by doing this.

In addition, depending on the solution, a lighter endpoint OS draws between 22% and 49% less power compared to Windows equivalents as less CPU, memory and battery power is used; clearly better for the environment, too.

By increasing an existing device’s useful lifespan, you don’t incur any more emissions from either a manufacturing or shipping perspective. This is key given 83% of a device’s carbon footprint is created during manufacture.

This is now a tried and tested approach which cuts out this arms race of continually getting rid of and buying technology which is so environmentally disastrous.

There’re considerable financial returns to be gained as well: the sixth largest car insurer in the UK, Markerstudy, saved £1 million using a displacement strategy to avoid buying new desktop computers to support its M&A growth strategy. Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust achieved the same and saved £500,000 not buying new thin client hardware when it expanded its VDI environment.

3. Start using approved and accredited IT Asset Disposal organisations to recycle hardware properly. This is a big hole in most organisations’ IT strategies. For example, in 2021, only 17.4% of e-waste was recycled responsibly (Source: IISD). Also check the ITAD has the right up-to-date certifications. They should be ADISA certified to standard 8.0 – it’s incredibly strict – along with and ISO 14001 and ISO 27001.

4. Avoid obvious ‘red flags.’ Any firm claiming to collect and recycle IT for free is either going bust or not meeting the above standards.

5. View IT as a product not waste. Many organisations don’t. If it is seen as product, it can be collected, ethically refurbished and recycled, and put back into the circular economy. Organisations like Sunscreen IT, an ethical ITAD, do this.

6. Encourage hybrid working to reduce staff having to commute which most people do by car. Cloud workspaces mean staff can work easily from anywhere. Research by IT carbon footprint consultancy, PX3, shows that in the UK alone, working from home just two days a week collectively avoids 6.4 million tons CO2e GHG emissions every year.

7. Recognise that whilst businesses have a responsibility to properly consume and dispose of corporate owned IT, so do individuals. Most people have an old laptop or two and various phones sitting in draws and cupboards at home. Enlisting the support of the corporate ITAD is an obvious way to recycle these devices, too.

Which leads me back to the beginning theme of this article and Adidas. The knee jerk position in many IT departments is to throw away and buy new – just like a pair of trainers. It’s not necessary. We all have to work much harder to consume IT in a more responsible way. The solutions and tools are there to help. Ultimately, we just have to get on and use them.