3 ways the sustainability game has changed for the UK IT channel

CRN's Doug Woodburn looks at how the channel has upped its game on sustainability over the last 12 months

Doug Woodburn
clock • 5 min read

Industry action on sustainability is set to snowball in 2022.

That's the impression I got during the conversations I had when preparing for the relaunch of Tech Impact, CRN's sustainability and social impact campaign which will culminate in a 70-minute awards show in September.

Is the industry really any further forward than it was 12 months ago?

I would argue, yes, in three important ways.

1. A new buyer and investor landscape

It's becoming increasingly obvious that any tech supplier without a carbon reduction plan will find themselves marginalised from many public sector and even commercial tenders.

New rules introduced in September - known as PPN 06/21 - compel all companies bidding for government contracts worth more than £5m a year to commit to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 (this is on top of the 10 per cent weighting given to ‘social value' in government contracts introduced last January).

But there are signs that PPN 06/21 could soon become just the thin edge of the wedge. Investors, too, are demanding action, while the new Streamlined Energy & Carbon Reporting rules that recently came in for larger UK firms has also helped focus minds.

The green "tidal wave", as Jigsaw24 and Tech Impact judge Roger Whittle put it (see below), is "gaining momentum" and moving "mainstream".

2. Race to zero heating up

ESG and sustainability is consequently shooting up the boardroom agenda of companies across the sector, from publicly listed distributors, resellers and IT services giants to small MSPs.

QBS and boxxe are among those shooting for B Corp status, Softcat and NTT Ltd have both set themselves the target of reaching net zero across their entire supply chains by 2040, while Westcoast has committed to hitting net zero on scope 1 and 2 by 2035. Countless firms - large and small (including office-less reseller Highgate - see interview below - and DataSolutions) - have become or are working towards carbon neutrality. Last Autumn, CRN broke the news that Computacenter is to introduce an internal travel tax for employees.

In fact, 65 per cent of channel respondents in a recent CRN survey worked for firms that harbour "firm plans" to reduce their carbon emissions, with 37 per cent claiming their firm has set a carbon neutral/net zero goal. Some 60 per cent have a wider ESG strategy.

Despite concerns that IT giants are among the worst offenders when it comes to greenwash, vendor action and rhetoric is also ramping up, with SAP, for example, bringing forward its carbon net zero value chain goal from 2050 to 2030 in January, and Google, Microsoft and AWS (see here, here and here).

3. Industry moving together

Last year, we made the mistake of naively talking up the opportunity around "sustainability for competitive advantage".

No one we spoke to saw sustainability that way, with Logitech's head of sustainability Robert O'Mahony - for instance - among those to slap down the idea that the vendor is competing on the basis of sustainability (see below).

This is a topic that is prompting vendors, distributors and resellers to put aside their rivalries and share ideas not only with suppliers and customers but also rivals.

It is in this spirit that we will endeavour to share some of the best innovations and ideas that come out of the CRN Tech Impact entry process (and not just the winning ones) this year.

CRN Tech Impact 2022

Despite the progress, the IT channel is really only in the foothills when it comes to conquering the enormous challenge that lies ahead.

Just 17 per cent of the 53.6 million tonnes of global electronic waste was recycled in 2019, according to the UN, while the world is running out of some of the rare earth metals used in consumer electronics.

Scope 3 is viewed by many as the channel's biggest conundrum, with vendors coming in for criticism for a lack of carbon labelling (see interview with Westcoast MD Alex Tatham, below), and couriers for not electrifying their vehicle fleets quickly enough.

And cloud wastage is a hot topic for others (including Sapphire Systems CTO Chris Gabriel, below).

All this points to several potential areas the CRN editorial team will get stuck into in 2022 as we relaunch Tech Impact.

For last year's 70-minute show, which was hosted by former Tomorrow's World presenter Philippa Forrester, we dropped in on three of the UK's leading tech solution providers to see how they were tackling sustainability, grilled leading vendors on their sustainability plans and showed some mini-documentaries on Microsoft's underwater datacentre, and the 'Mount Recylemore' e-waste sculpture that loomed over the G7 summit.

What themes and topics should we covering in our 70-minute show this year?

If you have an interesting story to tell around either environmental sustainability or social impact, please get in touch with [email protected]

Better still, get involved in the awards - which are free to enter and attend - here.

Finally, here is a list of some of the most widely viewed Tech Impact stories from last year. We look forward to ramping up our coverage again in 2022.

Revealed: The state of sustainability in the UK IT channel

Computacenter to introduce travel tax for employees

'A strong move from Google' - partners praise decision to reveal cloud emissions data

3 ways UK channel partners should be tackling sustainability, according to a Nordic leader

What next for giant e-waste sculpture that loomed over G7 summit?

'Hiring scientists wasn't on my roadmap': Andy Gomarsall on N2S expansion as he joins CRN Tech Impact judging panel

Softcat aims for carbon net zero supply chain by 2040

We want to be a net zero carbon, IT channel leader: Jigsaw24 CEO

boxxe ties sustainability to staff bonuses as it eyes B Corp status

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