TCO Development is the company responsible for the globally recognised TCO Certified brand, which provides sustainability accreditations to IT products in offices and datacentres, as well as providing environmental criteria for companies to adhere to in the manufacturing of IT, as well as independent verification of compliance to these criteria.
Soren Enholm, chief executive of TCO Development, explains the function of TCO Certified and the balancing act that multinational organisations face in implementing circular business models against their profits.
This article appears in the CRN Sustainability Report, which is accessible here to CRN Essential subscribers.
What is TCO Certified?
Our mission is to make IT hardware more sustainable than what it is today. The certification is called TCO Certified and it's a global certification. We released the first version in 1992, so we have been around for quite a while.
The focus so far has been on office IT products - like PCs, displays, tablets, the projectors. Now are also starting to focus on the IT hardware that is put in datacentres and we plan to launch certification for that this year.
The idea with the certification is to be a driver for the industry. We release a new generation of the certification every three years to have up-to-date relevant criteria. In this complex market, it's not enough just to ask for certain characteristics, you also have to verify it. Really the main part of what we do is run a system of verification to make sure that the products that are certified really meet the criteria we've set out.
How does the IT sector compare with other industries when it comes to sustainability?
This market has been evolving so quickly for many years; new technologies, new functions, new performance and new product categories. The focus has been very much on this evolution and not very much on sustainability.
The functions haven't changed that much in the last few years, but maybe have become more defined; it has become almost partly a fashion market, which is really bad for sustainability. You don't need a new PC or a new coffee machine just because you're tired of the colour of it!
You've been with TCO Development for a little over a decade now. Have you noticed a change in attitude in that time in the IT industry regarding environmentalism and sustainability?
I have seen a change in attitude. Sustainability is a big concern, especially in Europe, which is an important market for these global companies.
One big challenge is that that the whole structure of these huge companies with thousands of employees is to design new products and sell them, and they want to sell as many as possible. So from a circularity point of view - and what we try to do from a circularity perspective - is to push for longer life length of the product.
Then the industry has to do their part - there are lots of different actors involved in making circularity happen - but what we can do with the certification is to push for longer life products, meaning that it should be possible to repair the product if they break or to upgrade them if you need new functions or better performance.
A lot of vendors are quite loud and proud of their circular economy input. In your view, are they right to be so proud of these efforts?
I think all of us have a big mountain to climb - it's not just them. I would say that the whole of society is still mainly in a linear economy. I wouldn't say that the big IT companies are in the front regarding circularity, they are where the rest of society is. Should they be proud? I wouldn't be!
What is the biggest challenge facing IT vendors and their partners when it comes to sustainability?
If you look at the supply chains of the large vendors, they are huge. There are maybe 20 leads from retraction of materials to the finished product, and there are hundreds of different companies - thousands, even - involved in these supply chains.
When we change from a linear to a circular economy, this will affect the market structure of not only the brand, but the whole supply chain. As buyers of these products, we also have to change our behaviour [to promote the circular economy].
Are vendors shooting themselves in the foot by making the circular economy a bigger part of their operations, and potentially risking sales of more expensive brand new products?
This is an extremely important choice for the vendors. One way is to explore new business models and go the more circular path and the other way is to continue with what they have been doing before.
When performance or function is not that important, then you go the fashion way and you design the product and try to sell them with new colours and new shapes. That would be a disaster if we see more of that. I really hope that they will take the path of exploring new business models but I think we haven't seen the real choices yet.
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