The e-waste crunch: why Australian organisations need to move away from a discard mentality
In today’s workforce the use of technology and mobile devices has become essential to managing mobile workers and increasing productivity. However, the increased use of mobile devices is also leading to higher levels of e-waste, which has a direct impact on the environment.
Globally, it’s estimated that 44 million tons of electronic goods are wasted each year — a number that only continues to rise. And in Australia, e-waste is the fastest-growing component of the municipal solid waste stream. While much is said about how we as individuals and consumers can recycle more effectively, attention also needs to focus on the management and disposal of enterprise-level technology devices.
Despite there being significant information around the functional operating lifespan of mobile devices and the benefits of extended usage, many businesses are prematurely disposing of devices. Organisations are focusing on new upgrades and fresh hardware, as opposed to maintaining, updating, diagnosing and fixing the devices they already have. So, why are companies not prioritising the reusability of their mobile devices, and how is this impacting their business and its ability to achieve sustainability goals in the long run?
Does digital transformation overshadow sustainability intentions?
For companies looking to advance their operations through digital transformation projects, it is important to consider how moving to new technologies will impact current or legacy systems or devices. After all, organisations that publicly commit to strong action around sustainability might find they are not living up to their ambitions if they routinely discard electronic devices prematurely.
SOTI’s latest research report, Reduce, Reuse, Rethink: From Discard Mentality to Tech Sustainability, highlights the premature disposal of devices in enterprise settings. In this report, it was found that 62% of Australian organisations agree the management and replacement of workplace technology and mobile devices is an important environmental issue for their business. However, in the same focus group over half (52%) said that increasing the lifespan of the hardware used within the organisation was not a priority. This has highlighted a clear gap between Australian organisations’ sustainability ambitions and what they are actually prioritising when it comes to reducing e-waste. So, while there does seem to be at least some acknowledgement of this sustainability issue, many organisations aren’t currently willing to commit to action in this area.
Balancing productivity with sustainability
It’s very common for mobile devices to be discarded as a preventive, precautionary measure or because the latest and greatest version is now available. Somewhere along the line, a mindset shift took place. Before, the focus was on having smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices last longer. Now, the focus is on how to get the newest device as quickly as possible.
All of this raises a few questions:
- Does having the latest device, at the expense of older devices which still perform as expected, help with end-user productivity and bottom line performance? Maybe.
- Does having the latest hardware devices help with organisational prestige and perception? According to the report, 63% of Australian respondents say it does make their company more attractive to workers.
- Is constantly replacing and discarding mobile devices good for the environment and helping with green IT initiatives? Absolutely not.
The challenge is how to balance productivity with sustainability without defaulting to a discard mentality.
Actionable steps to better maintain workplace devices
To reduce e-waste and improve mobile device recycling habits in the enterprise, it’s critical to first move away from preconceived notions regarding device lifecycle and deployments.
One option organisations can explore are OpEx models, where organisations rent devices and return them in exchange for newer ones. The business no longer mindlessly disposes of used mobile devices, which allows the organisation to develop more sustainable habits for their business and the environment.
Other actionable steps could include adopting an enterprise mobility management (EMM) solution as part of an equation that serves to prolong digital lifecycles, with the help of digital solutions. Instead of investing in new hardware prematurely, invest in an outsourced solution that encourages the monitoring, diagnosis and repair of existing devices to extend their functional lifespan.
Battery life doesn’t equate to device life
While the financial resources for the replacement of devices are considerable, for many companies very little budget is dedicated to extending the lifespan of devices. For example, organisations commonly tend to relate the end of a battery’s life to the end life of the device. In many cases, the batteries of rugged devices such as handhelds, scanners and barcode readers are changeable and the hardware can live on. Almost all (91%) of the devices used by Australian organisations have replaceable batteries, yet only 35% of IT leaders’ annual budget is earmarked for battery replacement.
Many organisations today default to the mindset that device battery failure automatically means the device itself needs to be replaced or the batteries in all devices are on the verge of failure and, as such, should be discarded. This should not be the case.
Battery failure is a common issue among enterprise IT and mobile device users. Nearly 80% of businesses experience mid-shift battery failure, and when it does happen, workers lose an average of 50 minutes of productivity. Keeping batteries healthy and devices online is a top priority, but it shouldn’t be done at the expense of the environment.
An eco-friendly mindset is to look into all deployed and in-use batteries and replace and discard only those which need to be replaced and discarded. Shifting from blanket generalisations to accessing specific, pinpoint data can help organisations reduce, reuse and rethink how they manage e-waste and mobile device recycling.
Reassess current strategies to benefit the environment
By reassessing the extent of your digital footprint and how expensive it is to retain current strategies, better environmental outcomes can be achieved. Enterprise devices aren’t just mobiles, laptops and tablets — they are now also new innovations such as wearables, and old stalwarts like printers and a whole host of rugged handheld devices in between. Every time these operational devices are replaced, time and money are spent integrating and training staff to get up to speed while the old devices are discarded into landfill.
It’s time for Australian organisations to find out which devices need replacing and which devices simply need better care to move into the next stage of their operational lives. With a renewed understanding around device lifecycles, a greater focus on fit-for-purpose devices and a better implementation of measures to extend device performance, enterprises can reduce their e-waste footprints and benefit the environment.
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