Climate change was the topic on everyone's lips last year and as we entered 2020 with Australia facing the worst forest fires on record, it's likely that it will continue to dominate the headlines this year.
There has been a noticeable upswing in the public's awareness of the effects their consumption is having on the environment. Single-use plastic has quickly become the enemy of the people and many coffee shops now offer a discount to customers who provide their own reusable cups.
The channel has not been blind to this attitude shift; it is now common to find reusable cups or flasks being handed out at vendor events and this week saw Computacenter install 6,500 solar panels at its operations site in Hatfield.
IT asset disposal (ITAD) specialists and channel companies that are part of the circular economy have long been banging the drum about the financial benefits to be reaped from having it as a core part of their business models and many have noticed that it is now customers bringing it into the conversation first and demanding that any solution offered be sustainable.
But in order to talk the talk, you must walk the walk and be able to show customers that sustainability is a part of your internal business culture too.
In the spirit of ‘New year, new you' we have gathered advice from specialists in the circular economy to guide those thinking of implementing a sustainable culture in their organisation this year.
What should I look at first?
Steve Haskew, strategic commercial manager at Portsmouth-based IT refurbishing firm Circular Computing, advises any business mulling over a sustainable culture to "take stock".
"What does sustainability mean to you as an individual? And what do you think it means to your organisation?" he said.
"It means a lot of things to lots of different people, for example, is it about how often people drive to the office or how often they fly if the company is trying to reduce carbon emissions? Are they trying to reduce waste? Are they trying to be more ethical and have more equal employment?
"Sustainability is a really noisy space right now and there's a lot of confusion as to what are the first steps a company can take to become sustainable."
He cited his own organisation's experience in deciding to become carbon neutral and how they implemented it, which involved investing in renewable energy programmes and reforestation initiatives.
"From a top-down perspective, it's important to realise that the move to sustainability is a complicated one, but the little steps will create big steps in time," he said.
OK, I've done that. What else should I look at?
Steve Talbot, MD of ITAD Restore Technology, said the next step is to look at how best to maximise the efficiency of daily operations.
"We've been making maximum use of our vehicles; we use them night and day. We send our engineers, they decommission and then when we bring the new stuff, we're ready to take away the old stuff in the same vehicle," he said.
"Within the group, we're also looking at larger vehicles, but the jury's out on that one at the moment. We intend to have big electric vehicles on the road within two years."
Talbot added that companies should put pressure on suppliers and vendors to reduce the amount of virgin plastics and unnecessary accessories that accompany kit, and insist on sustainable packaging.
‘It's too expensive'
For many channel firms, the time, energy and money required to invest in changing the company culture to a sustainable one may be considered too much, including time taken away from their day-to-day business.
Jonathan Sansom, chief exec at Greensafe IT, refuted this, saying this is a "miscomprehension" and that implementing an eco-friendly culture doesn't have to cost the earth.
"The channel is environmentally aware, but not environmentally adept. The struggle is in how to go about implementing improvements and positive change," he stated.
"In terms of financial investment, changes can easily be made with very little outlay. Choosing the right projects suitable to your business, rather than following the crowd, will essentially result in cost-saving and a more efficient process.
"Businesses should be looking to market their efforts to their staff and customer base. This is always well received by both parties and will further motivate and engage. Our customers currently engage with us on programmes, which has resulted in additional business and stronger relationships.
"Although everyone is aware of sustainability and the environment issues affecting day-to-day life, they are not using this as a reason for change within their working environment or haven't endeavoured to build it into their sales and business strategies."
Adapt or die
As customers become more conscious of the impact both their business operations and personal behaviour have on climate change, this leads them to pursue more environmentally friendly avenues in their business.
All our contributors agree that though many individuals in the channel are environmentally aware, they are not transferring this knowledge to their company culture.
Circular Computing's Haskew said that some organisations are "more mature" than others in this regard.
"I think that environmentally they might be switched on, but in terms of the economic benefits and the social benefits within sustainability, they probably need an education - it's a fairly long road," he said.
"I think some organisations are more mature than others and it takes strong leaders to identify that the way things were, and the way things are going to be, are changing."
Companies that commit to the UN Sustainability Goals will attract those customers who see them as being in tune with their own mission, he added.
"Organisations will only want to work with partners that align with their own vision and passion. If they don't then they'll miss out on opportunity, which is revenue margin," he stated.
"It does come from the top table and the board needs to invest in sustainability so that they don't lose business. Investors in the stock market, investors in the channel will soon be demanding - if they're not already - points of reference within their sustainability mandate so they are sure that their investments are leading towards a better tomorrow."
Computacenter's group finance director Tony Conophy agreed with this sentiment, saying that the decision to install solar panels on the firm's roof came as part of its ESG policy and that an increasing number of stakeholders were enquiring about its environmental efforts.
"We felt that we could do more than we've been doing," he explained.
"About a year and a half ago we looked at solar implementations for our large operation centre - the way it's laid out is suitable for panels. We did a feasibility study, which took a while, and we wanted to put up more but were restricted because it would generate too much power for the local power station.
"It's not a particularly good financial payback but, ultimately, it's the right thing to do for the business as a whole and for our stakeholders."
He added that the VAR would also like to install solar panels on its German warehouse, but that is subject to landlord approval.
Tips to get the ball rolling
For those considering a change for the better this year, there are a number of easy ways to implement a sustainable culture in their organisations. Greensafe IT is carbon neutral and donates its old furniture and IT kit to schools and charities, while Restore's Talbot said it's the "common sense" stuff such as turning off monitors and lights when not in use that is the simplest way to affect day-to-day change.
Computacenter has created a climate committee comprising managers and staff who will implement policies that they believe can be easily done in the next couple of years.
Circular Computing - which is also carbon neutral - operates in a cloud environment, which reduces the need to print on paper, as well as allowing employees to work remotely which reduces the carbon emissions they would otherwise have caused by travelling into the office.
"To take action, you need to get buy-in from the board and staff," advised Haskew."You have to communicate that through the organisation and keep on it.
"It's only by collaboration will we see the standard change. It's easy to carry on as we are, but to do that is pushing us over the edge into a dark hole."
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