Technology, our saviour or our demise?

- September 30, 2021

In the countdown to the UN Climate Change Conference, CEO of 3stepIT and BNP Paribas 3 Step IT, Carmen Ene, shares her thoughts in the first of a series of blogs on the task ahead for global leaders.


The 26th UN Climate Change Conference, set to take place in November, represents a defining moment for our planet. Global leaders will convene in Glasgow to decide whether it is possible to achieve the COP26 goals of securing global net zero by mid-century and keeping global warming to below 1.5 degrees, and importantly, how we’re going to do it.
 
Much of the discussion will be dedicated to greening the COVID-19 recovery. A recovery that would not be possible without the pivotal role played by technology in keeping people and businesses connected. No one could argue that technology hasn’t been crucial in global resilience during the pandemic and that digital solutions will also ultimately provide the answer to climate change. 
 
But this technology comes with a hefty environmental price tag. Its manufacture is a heavy drain on natural resources. According to researchers, producing just one computer takes at least 1.5 tons of water, 22 kilograms of chemicals, and 240 kilograms of fossil fuels. In fact, digital technologies accounts for 3.7% of total global greenhouse emissions and this is predicted to double by 2025. These levels are similar to the airline industry but get nowhere near the attention. And that’s all before 53.6 million metric tonnes of electronic waste hits landfill every year as we dump tech that still holds great value after just one cycle of use.
 
So, how do we let technology advance and proliferate, while achieving net zero at the same time? Will technology be our saviour or our demise?
 
I don’t think it has to be a choice. I passionately believe that managing technology sustainably is a key part of achieving the COP26 goal of securing global net zero by mid-century and keeping 1.5 degrees in reach.
 
To date, the global public policy debate has focussed largely on the role of the manufacturer, in extending product life and facilitating collection. This is valid and important, but it hasn’t been able to address the scale of the problem. It is time for the corporate contribution and responsibility for this issue to be raised up the agenda. 
 
We so often see corporate innovation leading global change across industry, society and community. Given the huge volume of IT used by businesses, the issue of e-waste can be no different. Governments must begin to support and encourage businesses to consume technology in a better, greener way, so they can lead from the front in eliminating e-waste and reducing the carbon impact of technology.
 
Last year through our Technology Lifecycle Management service, 3stepIT prevented over half a million devices from being dumped or destroyed, by collecting them from our customers and refurbishing them for resale. Giving a device a second life after its first use reduces the need to manufacture another from scratch, reducing its carbon footprint by spreading it across multiple users and eliminating e-waste. This is a scalable solution and could have a significant impact in our fight against climate change.
 
With collection, recycling and reuse rates still at such low levels, there is a huge opportunity for businesses to be encouraged to support a new model of technology consumption that fuels a vibrant secondary market and provides those who need it with access to affordable technology.
 
I urge COP26 leaders to consider the unrivalled benefits technology can deliver, hand in hand with its environmental toll and to ensure the business community plays a part in the solution that is commensurate with its impact.

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