Meet Environmentally Focused Challenges by Extending Life of Network
Everyone is Going Green these days, but what does that look like for your bottom line? Most companies have taken first steps by implementing environmentally-conscious initiatives such as solar power, zero waste facilities, and conserving water, so what's next?
What is Driving e-Waste?
Technology accounts for 40 million tons of waste1 each year. Computers, monitors, and network switches containing lead, zinc, nickel, flame retardants, barium, and chromium are dumped into landfills, allowing these toxic materials to seep into groundwater. Even when responsibly recycled much of this waste ends up in developing countries where regulations are loose and there is little to stop the release of chemicals into local drinking water.
The technology equipment we rely on to move business forward has become a disposable product in the minds of many; an idea that is supported by premature End of Life Dates established by OEMs and the availability of replacements.
Pushing consumers into a false sense of urgency by "artificially reducing lifespan" is not a new idea. In 1924, a group of manufacturers that included Osram, Phillips, Tungsram, and General Electric insured that light bulbs would not exceed a life span of 1,000 hours, forcing customers to stock up2. While this cartel was dissolved in 1939 when overseas manufacturers began offering low-cost bulbs, the idea behind it continues to permeate business.
As noted by Syed Faraz Ahmed in an article for The Atlantic, in our current environmental climate, "planned obsolescence has broader and more serious consequences." He goes on to call "electronic waste a global ecological issue" as it continues to impact air, water, and soil pollution, information security, and human exploitation2. Premature network refreshes are costly, both to the bottom line and to social and environmental economies.
The Cost of Planned Obsolescence
The impact of a network refresh, whether planned and unplanned, is both financial and environmental. Producing a computer and monitor requires a minimum of 1.5 tons of water, 48 pounds of chemicals, and 530 pounds of fossil fuels. Disposing of network equipment, even responsibly, still contributes to expanding landfills and air and water pollution.
On the business side, companies must contend with sourcing new equipment, removing existing hardware from daily use, spinning up new equipment and deciding what to do with the old hardware.
Most companies opt to recycle equipment at a cost of $0.20 to $0.40 per a pound, not only are there tax offsets but it gets the hardware out of the building. However, as many companies are discovering, wiping and disposal services are not always reliable. In 2016, Morgan Stanley decommissioned two data centers and outsourced data wiping. Four years later they learned that, in violation of customer privacy, data remained on "wiped" drives3.
Data breaches are costly mistakes that damage a business' reputation and finances; costing companies with 500-1000 employees an average of $2.65 million and those with more than 25,000 employees $5.11 million4. By comparison, extending the life of current equipment or responsibility recycling creates 296 jobs for every 10,000 tons of equipment5.
Selling used hardware is a good way to offset the financial cost of a network refresh but it takes time and effort to ensure that the equipment is ready for sale and that it is going to a reputable buyer.
On-site storage keeps equipment out of landfills and prevents it from falling into the wrong hands but comes with increased security requirements, and facility and inventory maintenance costs.
Mandating Green Business Practices
Efforts are already underway to do more than just incentivize environmentally conscientious actions. Executive orders issued by President Biden are meant to "take aggressive action to tackle climate change.6" With combating climate change at the center of the new administration's agenda, businesses can expect to see more regulations and green reporting requirements, plus, increased incentives for environmentally responsible practices.
Even Wall Street is going green as investors demand greater transparency when it comes to environmental impact reporting and are focusing analyses on the ESG (environmental, social, and governance) aspects of a business. Jon Hale, head of sustainability research at Morningstar, reports that "It's not just investors that are demanding (ESG regulations); all other stakeholders… are expecting a higher standard from companies.7" One Financial Times article went so far as to call ESG a "tool of risk management as well as activism.8"
In response to these demands, the SEC's Investor Advisory Committee recommended ESG-related topics be added to periodic disclosures through SEC filings9. SEC Commissioner Allison Herren Lee wrote that the SEC should "get investors the standardized, consistent, reliable, and comparable ESG disclosures they need to protect their investments and allocate capital toward a sustainable economy.7"
As a result of all of this increased attention to ESG, businesses can expect to see new requirements around disclosing climate-related financial risks and greenhouse-gas emissions in operations and supply-chains, including e-waste.
Green Asset Management
In contrast to most environmentally-focused endeavors, extending the life of network hardware saves the business money. Installing solar panels, water conserving fixtures, and energy-efficient HVAC systems all require a new financial investment that will pay-off over time.
However, extending the life of network hardware through independent maintenance is at least 60% less expensive than replacing hardware. If downtime during new hardware installation and equipment disposal costs are included, that number skyrockets.
Maintaining network gear for an additional 3 to 5 years beyond the OEM end of support date has a dramatic impact on the environmental and sustainability focus of a business by limiting technology waste, reducing costs, providing time to plan for proper equipment disposal/storage, and lessening or delaying the environmental impact of equipment production and disposal.
Independent network maintenance, provided by highly-certified engineers enables businesses to refresh network equipment based hardware performance and the needs of the company, not the planned obsolescence issued by an OEM.
- Populations Reference Bureau (PRB), "The Human and Environmental Effects of E-Waste. , https://www.prb.org/e-waste/" Accessed February 3, 2021.
- The Atlantic, "The Global Cost of Electronic Waste., https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/09/the-global-cost-of-electronic-waste/502019/" Accessed February 3, 2021.
- LinkedIn, Old Data. New Liability., https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/old-data-new-liability-michael-harstrick/" Accessed February 3, 2021.
- IBM, "How Much Would a Data Breach Cost Your Business?., https://www.ibm.com/security/data-breach" Accessed February 3, 2021.
- University of Western Sydney & MethodScience, Australia, Handbook of Research on Green ICT: Technology , Business, and Social Perspectives (New York: IGI Global, 2011), accessed at https://books.google.com/books?id=2wEEoX62-usC&ppis=_e&lpg=PA252&dq=reusing%20or%20recycling%20computers%20can%20create%20296%20more%20jobs%20per%20year%20for%20every%2010%2C000%20tons%20of%20computer%20waste%20processed.&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false, on February 3, 2021.
- The White House, "Fact Sheet: President Bien Takes Executive Actions to Tackle the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, Create Jobs, and Restore Scientific Integrity Across Federal Government., https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/01/27/fact-sheet-president-biden-takes-executive-actions-to-tackle-the-climate-crisis-at-home-and-abroad-create-jobs-and-restore-scientific-integrity-across-federal-government/" Accessed February 3, 2021.
- The Wall Street Journal, "Companies Brace Themselves for New ESG Regulations Under Biden., https://www.wsj.com/articles/companies-brace-themselves-for-new-esg-regulations-under-biden-11610719200" Accessed February 3, 2021.
- Financial Times, "Wall Street's New Mantra: Green is Good., https://www.ft.com/content/e5b57ece-0c31-4f42-9229-c8981bc9fd34" Accessed February 3, 2021.
- Weaver, "As Investors Focus on ESG, SEC Committee Recommends Guidelines., https://weaver.com/blog/investors-focus-esg-sec-committee-recommends-guidelines" Accessed February 3, 2021.