Sustainability on the Agenda for 2021

Updated: Nov 4

Author: Phil Clark, Founder of Embedded IT.


At Embedded, we try to predict the requirements technology buyers will have in the future. Clearly, everyone is focussed on COVID at the moment, with financial security of the supply base and cost savings methods most likely at the top on the agenda. However, as we appear to be “normalising” the pandemic, people’s attentions are shifting to other matters.


We believe Climate Change and Sustainability are going to be top of the agenda in 2021… or we certainly think that they should be.


Technology is a mixture of good news and bad news when it comes to Sustainability. Technology is a powerful enabler in reducing carbon footprint – for example, the technology enablement of billions of home workers since COVID broke out, or digitisation reducing the use of paper in the office. However, technology is a massive consumer of energy, a creator of plastics, a user of rare materials, and, perhaps more importantly, a driver of consumerist behaviours that has lead to limited re-use and re-cycling, and significant waste production.


As a technology buyer, it is very difficult to establish a sustainable approach to technology procurement. Many manufacturers are pretty far from transparent on their manufacturing processes, and there is no consistent method of measuring the environmental lifecycle impact of a piece of equipment. Similarly, some of the public cloud / hyperscaler services are enormous consumers of energy. Despite this, their costs are so competitive that it makes for a difficult argument to not use them on the grounds of environmental impact.


Generally speaking however, if you were to look at the supply chain, said manufacturers and/or cloud providers are just the first wrung on the complex supply chain ladder. Most companies buy from highly skilled and knowledgeable technology resellers or service providers. These companies should be advising their clients based on not only the most technically, operationally and commercially beneficial technology service but also the best environmental one too. Putting the onus on this “Channel” layer to assess the environmental options for technology consumption should help drive the right behaviours down the supply chain to, ultimately, the core vendor.


"We simply cannot consume our way to a more sustainable world."

So, how do you find an IT Channel partner who is aware of the environmental and sustainability impact of their proposed solutions? A large amount is probably down to the awareness and culture of the company. If a company is run with sustainability in mind, it is highly likely that the advice, guidance, or services they offer will be designed not just to enhance the technology within their end clients, but also to support a more sustainable world.


This prompts the question - what should I look for from a supplier in terms of their environmental impact? The obvious starting point is to establish whether they conform to any environmental standards as part of their business, such as ISO14001. However, very very few IT suppliers are certified to this standard – in a recent piece of research performed by Embedded we found less than 1% of UK IT companies mention “ISO14001” on their website. Because these sorts of accreditations are costly and time consuming, many IT companies elect to avoid them and focus on more profitable enterprises.


The other issue with major accreditation projects is their “one-size fits all” approach to a business. Although they are both a holistic and worthwhile process to follow, their breadth tend to ask questions that in some cases are irrelevant to the business they are dealing with. For instance, any normal IT Supplier in the Channel does not perform their own manufacturing, so their carbon footprint is fairly minimal in that context.


Working with environmental consultant Green Element, Embedded have developed a process to assess an IT suppliers approach to sustainability. Known as the Embedded Sustainability Index, or ESI, a supplier is interviewed by an independent environmental consultant and (with associated evidence) given a score showing their sustainability awareness. They are also given a report to suggest areas where they could improve. The score and report are tailored to a suppliers business model, so Consultants are asked different questions to those who perform IT installation, or hosted cloud services for instance.


The report can then be shared with prospective buyers, or form part of the suppliers marketing approach, to reassure buyers that they are concerned for the environment. It costs £500 for the supplier, only takes about a day’s effort, but is a great start point for proving sustainability of the IT Supply Chain.


What can you do?


If you are a supplier wanting to become more sustainable, or a Buyer wishing to understand which suppliers are environmentally aware, please don't hesitate to get in touch and a member of the Embedded IT team can guide you through the process.


You can read read up about our Sustainability Index here.

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