Five myths about workplace sustainability
Do you want to improve the sustainability of your IT, but don't know where to start? Maybe you have considered buying refurbished or remanufactured devices, but you fear a drop in performance, security — or even a backlash from your employees. What next?
Fortunately, the path to a sustainable IT is much smoother than you may think. You don’t need to choose between doing the right thing for the planet and ensuring business security and efficiency. Below, we will debunk five preconceived ideas about sustainable IT and end user devices.
Myth #1: The biggest share of an IT carbon footprint comes from the cloud.
Journalists have covered this issue extensively. The internet may be invisible, but it isn’t carbon neutral. As cloud giants keep building server farms to keep up with demand, the cloud’s carbon footprint is also rising. However, cloud is far from being the main source of corporate carbon emissions. Employee devices are the number one emitter and it’s not even close.
Count 400 kg of carbon emissions for an external computer screen, 300 kg for a laptop, and 50 kg for a smartphone. Add printers, headsets, keyboards, mouses, and you get to some very large numbers. Overall, more than 50% of the entire scope of carbon emissions of corporate IT come from workplace services — twice as much as data centers. If you zoom in, it’s the manufacturing, not the operation of those devices that has the largest impact.
When you embark on your workplace sustainability journey, remember that it’s not just about devices and energy consumption — there is also a social element.
Myth #2: There’s only one option to make sure your employees have functional devices: Replace them every few years.
Most organizations regularly replace all their devices to keep them up-to-date — usually every two, three, four or five years. Of course, a significant number of perfectly functional devices are unnecessarily replaced in this process. A much more efficient solution is to use automated workplace analytics to assess every device individually and decide the best moment to replace it.
These analytics measure hundreds of different metrics, such as how the battery, hard drive and memory are functioning, as well as the network response time, application crash rates, the prevalence of a blue screen of death. Based on these factors, each device receives a score that helps determine if it still works correctly — or whether it needs a quick fix, a more extensive refresh, or if it should be discarded and replaced.
Even if the device has reached its end-of-life, it doesn’t mean that it should be sent to a landfill. For example, Atos works with partners who will recycle or repurpose devices for charities or schools.
Myth #3: Remanufacturing and refurbishing are the same thing.
While these two terms are often used interchangeably, they have quite different meanings. A refurbished device is basically a second-hand product that has received a spa treatment. It has been cleaned, undergone a factory reset, memory erased, etc. Nonetheless, it is still a used device (which in most cases will still work perfectly fine).
Remanufacturing, on the other hand, is a true industrial process. The device is sent to a proper factory where it is fully dismantled and rebuilt to a brand-new status. Once it has gone through this care routine, it becomes virtually indistinguishable from a device bought off-the-shelf. It gives employees a new experience in terms of both features and performance.
It’s important to note that no approach is better than the other. While remanufacturing is slightly more carbon intensive than refurbishing, both approaches are much less polluting than buying a brand-new device. A refurbished device won’t look as new as a remanufactured one, but it will still do the job and work smoothly for a few years.
On the other hand, the cheapest devices also tend to be more difficult to remanufacture, because their lower quality makes them harder to disassemble and rebuild. Finally, remanufacturing takes more time, especially during periods of bottlenecks in global supply chains. Thus, for a company looking to replace a huge number of devices as fast as possible, remanufacturing may not be the best option. In the end, it all depends on the specific needs of each business. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution.
Myth #4: Second-hand devices are a boon for hackers.
It is true that second-hand devices have their own security challenges, because they will inevitably reach an age where the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) will no longer apply security patches for the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) or drivers. This, of course, poses a cybersecurity risk.
However, there are plenty of ways to work around this, because the security controls that you apply within the environment don’t necessarily have to be on the device itself. For instance, you might implement a zero-trust policy in your company, and still put a security control within your network so that when there is a vulnerability, the network controls the environment to ensure that the device is protected. There are also solutions like virtual patching, a software solution that can stop the security incident as soon as it detects an anomaly.
These risks cannot be ignored, but there are so many mitigation strategies that it shouldn’t stop your organization from adopting low-carbon solutions.
Myth #5: Sustainability is an all-or-nothing strategy.
A switch toward workplace sustainability does not need to happen all at once. It’s actually better to progress step by step. For example, you could start with a proof of concept targeting 5 or 10% of your workplace devices and/or a specific user profile. As with all changes in policy, it can make employees nervous, which is why it’s better to start by proving that it can work. It will provide everyone with a sense of security, reliability and performance.
Finally, when you choose to embark on the journey towards workplace sustainability, it’s important to remember that it’s not just about devices and energy consumption. There is also a social element, whether it means supporting people with disabilities, ensuring that devices are built by workers who receive decent pay and benefits, and that smartphones and computers that reach the end of their lifecycle can be given a second life in developing countries or put to some other social good.
These elements are critical contributors to making your workplace truly sustainable and should not be neglected. You can learn more about our blueprint for workplace sustainability here.