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How can companiesreduce theenvironmental impactof their materialassets ?

As 80% of the footprint of any equipment is attributed to its manufacturing, lifetime extension is a major challenge when it comes to reducing its impact on the environment. Second hand market for professionals, repaired or recycled parts, socially responsible purchases… What are the most effective ways for companies to reduce the impact of their equipment and assets? Florent Curel, manager of the Sustainability Club at Hop (Stop Planned Obsolescence) helps us answer this question.

Eighteen months for a smartphone, three years for a computer[1], about ten years for office furniture… For companies and private individuals alike, the average life cycle of any equipment is well below its full potential. How can we account for such a reduced use? Why are companies drawn to replace their equipment so prematurely?

[1] 2023 CSR White Paper on Responsible Digital Electronics, Codéo

Three Types of Obsolescence: Technical, Aesthetic and Software

“Product obsolescence isn’t always linked to technical factors,” explains Florent Curel. “Technical obsolescence, also known as functional or structural obsolescence, is admittedly very common. It actually lies at the heart of an ethical and regulatory battle in France and in the European Union. Often involved in case of a product failure, it is generally explained by a ‘technically’ limited life cycle. For instance, it can occur when a component has failed and the replacement part is either unavailable, deliberately too expensive (it happens!), or not made available within an acceptable deadline. As a result, it deters companies from seeking repairs.”

But we’re also faced with two other types of wear: one linked to trends and marketing, with the launch of more powerful, effective and advanced equipment – this is what we call aesthetic, cultural or psychological obsolescence; and one linked to the malfunction of software or its format or upgrade incompatibility. This is called software obsolescence, and it slows down or reduces the original equipment performance. “These three categories are to blame for the reduction of the time of use of a product, whether it be for private individuals or companies. And if the anti-obsolescence movement is well under way for private individuals, we’re witnessing a growing interest amongst professionals. With their economic, social and environmental role, companies can also commit to enhancing the time of use of their products and equipment.”

A Growing Appeal for Refurbished Electronics

But how can we actually act on it? And where do we even start? “Many solutions are already available,” explains Florent Curel. “When considering digital equipment, small everyday electronic appliances and office furniture, companies committed to reducing their environmental impact can act on several levels. They can buy new sustainable equipment that is eco-designed and meets rigorous social and environmental criteria, for example, products with a good repairability index – which will be replaced by a sustainability index in 2024. They can also extend the use of products by favoring repairs instead of systematically replacing them when they fail. Finally, they can buy refurbished equipment to offer them a second life, but they can also donate or sell the equipment they no longer need to refurbishers or social and solidarity economy structures. This solution also allows companies to generate additional income or strengthen their CSR strategy.

We’re witnessing a growing appeal for purchasing reused digital material from companies. “19% of surveyed companies who already use refurbished digital devices now allocate it more than 50% of their budget” according to the Baromètre 2023 Keeep-Sirmiett-INR-HOP[2]. And 34% of surveyed professionals that are yet to have invested in this type of equipment declare they plan to do so in the next 12 months.

[2] Keep 2023 Survey: Refurbished digital products in professional organizations

Circular Economy: a European Movement

“A few obstacles are yet to be lifted, including the restricted selection of products (an issue for 65% of the respondents) or concerns regarding their reliability (almost 60% of the respondents noted their apprehension), but it’s clearly a very promising niche,” enthusiastically reports Florent Curel. In the span of a few years, suppliers have coordinated to offer reliable and competitive products at the European level.

The Right to Repair Europe coalition represents over 100 organizations from 21 European countries, takes action to make repairs more affordable, accessible and mainstream – an objective aligned with the ones of the European Green Deal and the Circular Economy Action Plan. “In France, the movement is led in part by HOP and many other players: professional unions for refurbishing (SIRRMIET, Rcube), associations (Zero Waste, Amis de la Terre…) but also committed companies, including the ones linked to the Sustainability Club organized by HOP,” says Florent Curel. To sum it up, the movement is taking shape and is backed by regulation.

Several major legislative measures are being taken at the European level. One of them is the Eco-design for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR), an initiative to “make sustainable products the norm” which aims to strengthen and extend the preexisting eco-design norms to all products (except food and medical products). This regulation would also include the introduction of a new “digital product passport” that gathers information about the sustainability, repairability and availability of spare parts as well as their recyclability and energy consumption; it also contains requirements regarding the sustainability, expandability and repairability of products with minimum thresholds to meet in order to access the European market. A very important text against waste was also adopted in France in 2020: the AGEC law (anti-waste for a circular economy).

It extends the notion of sustainability so that it includes repairability indexes – in effect since 2021 – and sustainability indexes as of 2024, establishing a healthy competition between manufacturers in order to improve product design. “The repairability index is the first of its kind in Europe,” says Florent Curel. “It’s about the most ambitious measure at play on the continent at the moment, and it’s inspiring others: Belgium and Spain, as well as the European Union, are planning to implement it soon.”

New, Responsible and Sustainable Digital Technology

A Few Initiatives at the French and European Level

Fairphone: Extended warranty, software support, regular security and maintenance updates, guaranteed availability of spare parts… This Dutch smartphone manufacturer is contributing to making the electronics industry fairer and more sustainable by offering competitive, guaranteed and eco-designed products for companies.

Why’open computing: This Swiss assembler fights against planned obsolescence and the scarcity of resources by offering easily dismountable and repairable computers that are more sustainable!  They also share repair guides in French and German on www.ifixit.com, the main platform dedicated to repairs.

Refurbishing for Professionals

Back Market Pro: The marketplace dedicated to refurbished products also provides an offering for professionals only!

Keep: This French platform distributes refurbished digital equipment with warranty and customer service included. It meets the needs of companies and public structures concerned with the ecological issues linked to digital technology.

Atoutek: This French company of computer refurbishing handles the end-of-cycle of computer assets for companies by offering them complete solutions: from on-site collection to refurbishing and reusing of material according to the recycling obligations in effect.

Rent Your IT Infrastructure Management

Rzilient offers to reduce their clients’ IT budget by half and to handle their IT infrastructure for them in order to save time and improve their efficiency and flexibility as well as their carbon footprint.

Commown: This “cooperative for sober and committed electronics” selects more sustainable and repairable devices and markets them based on a rental model complete with services (maintenance, repairs, etc.) without an option to purchase but with a degressive rate to encourage companies to keep their equipment as long as possible.

Fun Fact

The refurbished electronics market covers smartphones, tablets, landlines, desktop and laptop computers, printers, screens, scanners, routers but also barcode readers and payment terminals.

Furnish Your Offices with Sustainable or Refurbished Equipment

When it comes to office equipment, offers of reconditioned items for professionals have also grown, contributing to the creation of a new sector of sustainable furniture. With 250,000 tons of professional furniture sold each year and from 100,000 to 200,000 tons[3] that prematurely end up in waste disposal sites, there’s room for a step in the direction of refurbished furniture. The relevance and reliability of this offering lies on the guarantee that the furniture that is being offered has been inspected and restored by industry actors. It’s also possible to rent desks for companies who don’t want to commit to a purchase.

[3]  Valdelia, eco-organism for reusing and recycling office furniture.

Economic, Ecological and Operational Profits

Beyond the obvious monetary benefits for companies (Adopte un bureau advertises an average of 50% of savings between new and refurbished digital products), integrating committed suppliers into their purchasing policy is mainly a way to reduce their carbon footprint. How so? By avoiding purchasing new material: remember, 80% of the impact stems from manufacturing[4].

Working to promote circular economy is a source of motivation for more than 85% of companies[5]. For 60% of them, it’s also a way to elevate their image for clients and collaborators who are more and more concerned with the CSR policy of companies. Choosing sustainability is also falling in line with the sustainable development goals of the UN and following the European CSRD (Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive).

As of 2024, this directive will strengthen the sustainability reporting requirements with the implementation of standardized indicators in three major areas (Environmental, Social and Governance, or ESG criteria) and a carbon footprint (see the affected companies).

“2023 is without a doubt the year that many companies started acting for change,” concludes Florent Curel. “And at Hop, we’re convinced that sustainably using and reusing office equipment will allow them to act efficiently.”

Key Number

49% of companies[6] that have already used refurbished products continue to dedicate more than 10% of their budget to buying second hand digital equipment.

Key Date

Auguts 17, 2015: creation of the planned obsolescence offense

“Planned obsolescence, defined as the use of techniques, including software, by which the entity responsible for marketing a product deliberately aims to reduce its life cycle, is forbidden.”

Energetic transition for green growth law (August 17, 2015), reinforced by REEN law in 2021 (reducing the environmental footprint of digital devices)

Useful Links

Choosing the right small electric appliance product + A few tips to make your small electric appliances last longer

[4] Sustainable Production and Consumption

Volume 26, April 2021, Pages 1031-1045

[5] 2023 CSR White Paper on Responsible Digital Electronics, Codéo

[6]  Keep 2023 Survey: Refurbished digital products in professional organizations