Martin Townsend, Director for BSI Centre of Excellence for Sustainability, gives his opinion on change, how the industry needs to be mindful of its impact, as well as sharing examples of best practice.
As the technology sector continues to evolve at pace, it is becoming equally as challenging to ensure that the sector improves in sustainability. Here, Martin reflects on what needs to happen both from a design philosophy perspective, as well as the skills and culture required to drive change.
A focus on talent development
BSI has seen increased automation in the technology sector more than any other. Such changes mean that in turn, we need to move towards knowledge-intensive jobs, rather than physical labour.
Passion for what we do and believing is essential, but it will only take us so far without industry leadership. New jobs will require creative ability and draw on artificial intelligence, ensuring that leaders look for ways to upskill the existing workforce.
At a corporate level, we try to maintain equilibrium to create a stable work environment. In contrast, if we look at nature, it spends more time out of balance and in several possible alternative states, creating a truly subtle dance between resilience and sustainability. We have much to learn from nature on how agile we need to be in business.
Important in becoming a more agile business, we need to ensure that influential leaders do not lose creative and forward-thinking employees to new industry players as some industries are struggling to attract younger workers. In fact, research by YouGov found that nearly three-quarters (72%) of businesses are at risk of losing young workers as a result of not-good-enough workplace experiences and technology.
Prepared for disruption
Our future change won’t be linear; the right combination for future disruption is likely to be a combination of longstanding and new products and services. As well as a big step change, we need incremental changes that will always have a significant impact on any organisation. In this, seeing the bigger picture and adjusting a business accordingly is essential.
A collaborative approach
Change by nature is uncertain, so it is critical that leaders collaborate with their employees, and other industry players for mutual learning and to redefine our various industries. We may see some sectors or individual companies’ contract, but it shouldn’t reduce ambition for growth, because working with others in a collaborative way is important.
If we look to the design of the technology, the various forms of electric and electronic equipment form an important discussion on the circular economy agenda due to electronic waste, also called e-waste, being revealed as the fastest growing waste stream in the world.
Electronic waste refers to discarded electronic devices that are no longer wanted, not functional or obsolete. Products can include smaller electronic products such as mobile phones and laptops, to larger items such as computers and beyond. The fast pace in which technology advances today, as well as growing consumer demand, means that many devices reach the end of their useful life after only a few years of use.
A circular economy favours activities that preserve value in the form of energy and materials, where products are designed so that they can be repaired or remanufactured.
Ensuring that an approach is taken which considers:
- How to design to retain the product in use longer
- How can I design to ensure the product can be easily refurbished?
- How do I design to allow the product to be remanufactured?
- At a component level, how do I design to allow the components to be recycled easily?
In this, there are several design factors which are important to consider:
- Material selection
- Design for disassembly
- Design out waste (now and in the future)
- Design for adaptability
Circularity is a trend that will continue to gather momentum from a sustainability perspective, with more and more companies adopting its principles every day. Although this is a positive change, it is common for circularity to be confused with recycling.
Recycling begins at the end of a product’s lifecycle. However, the circular economy goes back to the beginning to prevent waste and pollution at the start. While recycling is a necessary component, we need to ensure that products and materials are designed from the outset so that we move from a linear model of take, make, use and dispose, to one of circularity in which materials are maintained in a closed-loop.
For example, some computer manufacturers are adopting a circular process whereby every laptop goes through a 360 step, five+ hour journey that returns a used product to at least its original performance, with a warranty that is equivalent to new.
Refurbished vs. remanufactured
While terms such as refurbished, remanufactured, and re-conditioned are commonly interchanged, there are notable differences between these sustainable approaches to re-commerce.
Using a combination of parts (reused, new, repaired), remanufacturing sees the rebuilding of a product. It takes place to restore a product to a like-new quality in both its performance and appearance.
Refurbished products, however, are put through a thorough refurbishment process, with parts and components used to rebuild or repair, to return the product to a satisfactory working condition. While refurbished products don’t come with an as-good-as-new guarantee, you can expect that a refurbished product has been tested to ensure that it will perform well and often comes with a warranty.
Despite there being a multitude of sustainability reasons to purchase a remanufactured goods, the challenge for organisations comes in removing the perception of risk and offering an assurance of consistent quality and reliability. To help the consumer navigate this space, BSI developed the Kitemark for remanufactured and reconditioned products to assure the quality of refurbishment processes.
There is a need from consumers and businesses alike for more sustainable goods and the Kitemark for remanufactured and reconditioned products is helping to make this a reality in the economy.
The Kitemark for remanufactured and reconditioned product was created specifically to support the transition to a circular economy and provide the technology industry with the assurance it needs to demonstrate the quality of its remanufacturing or reconditioning processes. The Kitemark plays an especially important role for consumers to overcome fears of uncertainty over product quality and reliability.
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About the author
Martin joined BSI as Global Head for Sustainability and Circular Economy in November 2019 and also sits on several advisory boards for public and private sector organisations to support them in their success. In 2022, Martin became the Director for the BSI Centre of Excellence for Sustainability.
In this role, Martin will be leading the way in combining BSI’s neutrality, deep expertise, and ability to bring the right people and data together to drive real change for businesses of all sizes and across all sectors.