Circular economy as the joker in the pack for sustainable data centres 

In the sustainability concepts of data centres hardware recycling and refurbished components are the joker in the pack that many companies don’t properly play. However, not only are they ecologically sustainable, but also economically. It’s all about extending the use of hardware, optimising raw material cycles and avoiding emissions – and saving money and creating additional ROI in the process. 

More and more companies are meeting their responsibility to protect our planet and develop sustainability strategies. They are also putting their data centres under the microscope here. Frequently, a better energy balance when running data centres is high up on the agenda. However, sustainability is a holistic matter, which encompasses ecological, social and financial targets, and that goes well beyond energy consumption as a result.

One very important building block for strategic sustainability is the circular economy. As a regenerative system, it ensures that existing products and materials are used for as long as possible and are also used again. This means fewer new products have to be made and fewer old products have to be scrapped and thrown away. Applying this principle to data centre hardware involves repairing equipment, preparing and reusing it and finally, properly recycling its components, constituents and raw materials.

But while we now extend the life cycle of packaging, glass and paper perfectly naturally through recycling, there is huge room for improvement with electronic equipment. About 55 million tonnes of electronic waste are generated worldwide every year, according to the current E-Waste Monitor from the United Nations. Within the next ten years this mountain is forecast to grow to 74 million tonnes a year. The largest proportion of this by a distance ends up in landfill or is incinerated. Highly-toxic substances can get into the air and groundwater as a result.

However, the raw material cycles of IT hardware can be optimised without any problems and used cost-effectively. The European market leader in third-party maintenance, Evernex, has found out that about 15 per cent of all equipment handed over to it as IT waste can be reused. This amounts to more than 50,000 components every year, which can be recycled into spare parts stocks and installed once again. Of the remaining 85%, 93% is recycled and turned into a secondary raw material. 

Combining ecological and financial sustainability

Reusing components, refurbishing hardware and recycling materials such as gold, tin, tungsten, tantalum or aluminium have many sustainable effects.

  1. The total quantity of electronic waste will be reduced.
  2. All the material that is thrown away contains fewer toxic substances that pollute the environment.
  3. Reusing refurbished hardware saves the CO² emissions of an entire generation of equipment. This relates to the emissions that would have been created through extracting raw materials during the manufacturing of the products and upstream products, as well as during their transport.
  4. Selling decommissioned hardware or its recycable raw materials is lucrative for companies, supports the ROI of the original investment and is financially sustainable as a result.
  5. Purchasing refurbished hardware is up to 50 per cent cheaper than buying comparable new ware.
  6. By using refurbished hardware companies will make themselves more independent of disrupted supply chains, which lead to unreliable supplies of new components and raised prices.

High standards for recycling and refurbishing

It’s undeniable that when recycling IT hardware the quality standard required is higher than for other equipment or raw materials. Refurbished hardware must be selected, prepared and tested so that future users don’t have to make any compromises in the performance and quality of their refurbished systems. Erasing the data in storage systems in compliance with the GDPR is also important. Companies should make sure they work with quality-controlled and experienced service providers, with appropriate certifications and complete documentation of the procedures. Then, they can skillfully play their sustainability joker in the pack and win for their company and the environment.

Author: Arnd Krämer, Managing Director Northern, Eastern & Central Europe,
Technogroup IT-Service GmbH & Evernex Deutschland GmbH

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