Technology renewal

5 mins read

Today, there is a growing consensus that the economic model of production and the management of resources, goods and services, which puts short-term consumption ahead of a more sustainable approach, is fast coming to an end and is seen, by many, as no longer fit for purpose.

Globally, there is an argument that we need an economic system that rather than colliding with sustainable development looks to address the issue head on.

More people believe that we should be looking at the longer term in which all elements within the manufacturing process play a continuous role and can be reused across the different stages of production.

At the heart of this new model is the concept of the circular economy - a system in which the use of resources is not only reduced but in which they are then reused and recycled.

The aim of the circular economy is to minimise production to a bare minimum and, when it’s necessary to use a product, go for the reuse of the elements that cannot be returned to the environment.

The circular economy promotes the use of as many biodegradable materials as possible in the manufacture of products and where that is not possible, especially when it comes to electronics, hardware and batteries, the aim is to facilitate what is described as a ‘simple uncoupling’.

“It’s about giving these products a new lease of life by reintroducing them into the production cycle and when that is not possible, they should be recycled but in a way that is respectful to the environment,” explains Mateo Dugand, IT Efficiency & Sustainability EMEA lead at HPE.

He suggests that sustainability actually makes for a smarter business as well as being one that is also good for the environment.

“Sustainability is smart business,” he believes, “and HPE has been leading the way among a growing number of companies committed to looking at the lifecycle of the solutions we build. We build efficiency into our products which, in turn, are made with materials that have a low impact on the environment.

“Today, for companies like HPE, it’s not only about how we use a device but what we do with it when we no longer need it.”

But for those companies, like HPE, that are taking a stand – typically multinational consumer facing brands with a lot to lose in reputational terms – there are simply too many companies that just pay lip service to current environmental legislation.

Speaking at the recent RINA Electrical and Electronic Equipment and the Environment conference in London, Dr Kevin Bradley, Secretary General of BSEF, The International Bromine Council, said that what’s needed is pragmatic solutions and a better approach to sorting out the waste at source.

He warned that, “No one is collecting enough and they don’t know what to do with it. There are a lot of grey areas, and material is exported, with companies washing their hands of their responsibilities.”

Scott Butler, WEEE Fund Project Manager with the not-for-profit Joint Trade Associations (JTAC), a collection of electronics industry trade bodies including TechUK, argued that it was vital that the sector adopted new innovation and technologies.

In response, the WEEE Fund has been developed by a group of major producers as a reaction to UK WEEE regulations.

“In short,” Butler explained, “if producers don’t meet the WEEE collection targets, they can pay a fee into this fund, based on the average cost of collection plus some escalators – so it’s designed to encourage collection.”

The funds that are collected are then invested in new schemes and research projects, many of which wouldn’t otherwise go beyond the drawing board.

The Fund, which so far has raised over £8m, provides financial support to research projects – with the evaluation panel looking for innovation.

Technology Renewal Centre
Unlike other economic models in which the economic aspect tends to take priority over social or environmental issues, the circular economy puts them centre-stage.

Companies that have implemented this approach have demonstrated that reusing resources is much more cost effective than creating them from scratch, so they are not only benefitting economically, but are also contributing in terms of social and environmental impact.
Achieving more with less is at the heart of HPE’s Technology Renewal Centre, located just outside Glasgow in Erskine.

There is a twin facility in Andover, Massachusetts, and both are the largest such facilities in the world.

“Within the circular concept we look to close the loop and instead of creating waste look to refurbish as much as we can,” explains Dugand, “both at this facility and at our other one in the US.”

The main challenge with ‘circularity’ is that it requires many different stakeholders throughout the lifecycle of a product. HPE is, however, well positioned because it engages with an extensive supply chain.

“And this is not a new project for HPE,” says Dugand. “We are not jumping on some new ‘trendy’ wave as we started a ‘design for the environment programme’ as far back as 1992.”

Above: HPE's Technology Renewal Centre in Glasgow

According to Dugand there are three pillars that are essential when it comes to designing for the circular economy.

“Design for energy efficiency; design using the least amount of materials and, thirdly, design for recyclability or reusability – and that’s key. Devices should be designed to be easy to repair, update, dismantle and reuse,” he argues.

“An EU report found that 80 percent of a product’s environmental impact was influenced at the design stage. All companies must be looking to address this, as it can create a huge environmental footprint.”

So what of the centre in Glasgow?

“Here the aim is not to simply tear down technology and recycle it, but rather to test and then refurbish it for reuse, as part of the company’s circular economy efforts,” explains Dugand.

In the facility hard drives are wiped, keyboards are cleaned and servers reconfigured.

“A lot of this refurbished equipment is then sold to a wholesaler looking to resell it as ‘certified pre-owned’ or turn it into short-term rentals,” explains Dugand.

“All this refurbished equipment has basically meant that HPE has helped to create a new market for second hand devices. We can sell, lease or rent and can provide a new warranty, giving all this equipment a new lease of life.”

Dugand continues, “There is huge demand for second hand equipment. A lot of companies simply don’t need the latest and greatest technology for their businesses and so they can save by buying second hand rather than new.”

The facility, which is around 15,000 sq feet in size takes laptops, monitors and PCs from all types of manufacturers.

According to the company around 200 workers process upwards of 100,000 workplace and data centre assets each month, and of that only 11 per cent ends up being consigned to recycling.

A partner in Germany granulates plastics and smelts gold and copper to leave just 0.4 per cent of unrecyclable residue.

When it comes to recycling there are a number of parameters that have to be taken into account, from the type of model to be recycled to the actual state of the equipment.

As Dugand explains, “Rates will vary from product to product, but the circular economy is about keeping equipment in the economy for as long as possible by giving it another life.”

With 50 million tonnes of e-waste being produced on an annual basis and with the prospect of that growing to 120 million tonnes by 2050, if left unchecked, the work at the company’s facilities in Scotland and the US have a crucial role to play.

“It does require a collective effort,” says Dugand, “which involves senior management down to every employee and that also includes our extensive supply chain.

“It has required a huge effort to bring everyone on board and to ensure that all stakeholders understand the role that they are expected to play

“Environmental savings bring with them financial benefits and we’ve created something that is sustainable as we look to reduce the environmental impact of our business.

“We will continually look at new ways in which we can leverage sustainability,” concludes Dugand.