Circular economy: the future for sustainable IT companies

April 11, 2024 ∙ 3 min read

Circular Economy in IT became a hot topic in recent years when companies realized that their immense resource consumption, waste production, and CO2 emissions represented a trend that could no longer continue. There are more personal digital devices in the world than people, even though they are very unequally distributed worldwide.1 Having this large number in mind, IT companies tried to shift away from the linear economy they were using towards a circular economy. The European Parliament defines a “circular economy” as follows: The circular economy is a model of production and consumption that involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible. Let’s explore what a circular economy in IT looks like!1

What is circular economy?

While the idea of circular economy is nothing new, only recently have people started thinking of implementing it in IT. It is predicted that ten years from now, nearly a quarter of global emissions will be caused by digital devices through the mining of raw materials, transport, and production.3 Circular economy fights this trend when digital devices such as desktop PCs, laptops and mobile phones are reused, refurbished and eventually recycled. This lowers CO2 emissions and reduces the use of raw materials and the production of waste. In conclusion, “circularity is about ‘designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.’ In the context of digital devices, circularity aims to achieve the best use of devices by maximizing their lifetime. In doing so, it helps to decarbonize the environment.2

Circular economy in IT

Circular economy in IT can be the new approach that many companies are looking for to not only save costs, but also automate and support their IT department so it can focus on more important, business-related tasks at hand. It also helps that the idea supports sustainability and mitigates waste of hardware as all the devices that are not needed anymore, will be repurposed to further support similar companies.

Linear economy vs. circular economy

The model that has been predominant since the Industrial Revolution, however, is linear economy. It has a “take, make, use, dispose pattern”. The effects of linear economy in IT are especially alarming. “Toxic e-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world, at an annual rate of over 50 million metric tons. Other concerns include the depletion of natural resources and carbon emissions resulting from the manufacturing and use of computers and other devices. 3

In a circular economy, however, raw materials are taken out of the ground, products are designed, and they are produced or remanufactured, distributed, used, and then reused or repaired. At the end of their lifecycle, they are collected, and a much smaller portion of residual waste in comparison to the amount of waste in linear economy leaves the cycle. What can be recycled is recycled, and these raw materials are being reinserted at the beginning of the endless cycle.1

Way of using devices

The basic premise of the circular economy is to keep products and materials in use as long as possible, at their highest value, and then recover them for reuse in new products. For IT, this means extending the usable life of the products we already have and those we intend to buy in the future. Therefore, circular IT management should be considered in four main hierarchical priorities, beginning with more prolonged use.

  • Longer use – including service agreements, maintenance, product sharing
  • Refurbish – upgrading, selling to refurbisher, buying refurbished
  • Remanufacture – rebuild products, buying remanufactured
  • Recycle – through manufacturer take back, accredited recyclers.







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