IT

An ever-growing part of our products consists of IT equipment. Every organisation needs mobile phones, laptops, tablets and often servers. IT equipment is often seen as a promising product group from a circular procurement perspective because the potential impact is high. This primarily concerns hardware as software is not a physical product, which makes it difficult to apply circular principles.

However, IT has complex value chains because hardware contains so many different components and materials. This makes it difficult to close the chain. It is also important to emphasize international social conditions in this product group. Perform a market consultation to validate realistic ambitions for your project.

Aspects of circular IT

With regard to the application of circular principles in IT, the following six aspects are relevant:

  • Energy performance
  • Reduction of material usage
  • Circular design principles
  • Toxicity
  • Transparency of (the origin of) materials, and the use of data and software
  • Life cycle extension

Determining the actual needs

It is always important to have a clear understanding of your needs, and this is especially true for IT equipment. What you don't need to replace, you don't need to buy. The many years of focussing on energy saving and increasing functionality has resulted in an increasingly faster succession of new models. As a result, value retention and life cycle extension have been neglected. Due to the increasing visibility of the use of critical metals, these aspects are back in the spotlight.

There is a tension between energy reduction (more energy-efficient equipment) on the one hand, and on the other hand life cycle extension (and reduced use of raw materials). This tension, and the question on which aspect you want to focus in your tender, is an important factor in determining your actual needs. In many cases the energy consumption is already relatively low, and any improvements in that respect will be negligible compared to the environmental impact of resource extraction and production of new equipment. Start timely discussions with the IT department to consider these issues and agree on common ambitions.

Long and complex value chain

The value chains for IT products are long, international and therefore complex. For instance, a regular mobile phone or laptop contains dozens of metals, and a production chain that covers just as many countries. Suppliers of components for IT equipment often do not know how the supply chain works and they can tell you little about the origins of the materials used in their products. The lack of transparency and cooperation in this chain often makes it difficult to achieve high value by closing cycles.

What is more, your organisation often procures IT hardware through a retailer, who in turn buys it from a manufacturer. The retailer's influence on the manufacturer is limited, and as a result the retailer's influence on the value chain is negligible. The suppliers in this sector are very large players, and consequently a request from a single Dutch organisation does not carry enough weight to convince the supplier to create a different kind of product. In this phase of the transition you should focus mainly on demanding transparency in the chain. This creates a better understanding for all parties, and might bring future use of circular models a step closer.

Processing of IT waste

A lot of IT equipment is discarded. The most sustainable way of dealing with this, is to prevent or postpone buying something new: first explore if there are ways to extend the service life. If this is no longer an option, make sure devices are disposed in a responsible manner and avoid exporting waste equipment to countries without adequate waste processing. The WEEE directive provides clear guidelines on this issue. Examples of parties with extensive experience in this field are Weee Nederland and Recover-E.

International cooperation

IT suppliers are large multinationals with an enormous impact on the world market. Even an IT tender for the entire Dutch Central Government is a rather small project in an international context. That is why currently international cooperation between various contracting authorities is being established in order to set up an international framework for circularity in this product group. This framework can subsequently be used to challenge the large, dominant market players to take steps to embrace the circular economy.

Options for customised electronics

Apart from the standard products such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops, some organisations need customized electronics. These products are developed especially for a particular client, which provides opportunities to challenge suppliers to apply circular principles. Examples include smart meters from Alliander, Stedin en Delta, and ProRail's ‘countdown’ devices that count down the remaining time before departure for the benefit of the train driver.

Tips

  • IT equipment is a difficult product group for circular procurement due to its long and complex value chain.
  • Environmental gains in IT procurement can be achieved by focussing on value chain transparency because this will – in the long term – create opportunities for circular models.
  • The disposal of IT equipment also offers opportunities to apply circular principles: is there value in the current deployment of equipment, and – for processing at material level – where and how are the materials processed?

Inspiring examples

Background information

Suggestions and/or additions?