It’s Easy to Be Green: Sustainability in the Electronic Office

As we approach Earth Day on April 22, talk of the environment, already typically a hot topic (no pun intended), moves even more front and center. First observed in 1970 and often called “the birth of the modern environmental movement,” Earth Day will turn 52 in 2022. Over the years, the talk leading up to Earth Day has become less about education and, lately, even awareness, and more about action. At this point, more people than ever have a sense of environmental awareness, and the need for global sustainability is certainly a common message. But what is sustainability, and how can we make it happen with our everyday activities?

Those in the office technology industry, whether dealers, service providers, or others, are in a great position to not only educate customers but enact change and carry out environmentally friendly practices. If you’ve been around this industry long enough, you’ve probably seen images of piles of electronic waste from North America that had been dumped in China or Ghana, showing workers picking through waste with no protection, performing procedures like using acid to extract precious metals from circuit boards.

While there has been some improvement over the years, with various countries and regions enacting legislation governing electronic waste, it remains a problem. According to the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Forum, in 2021 waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE) totaled an estimated 57.4 million metric tons — an amount that is growing 2% to 3% every year.

How do we, in the business of electronics and therefore, electronic waste, help control these skyrocketing statistics? A closed-loop system, in which no new materials go in and no waste comes out, is considered the ideal. That, however, is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. But the “three Rs” are generally considered to be a strong first step in achieving such a system.

Reduce, reuse, recycle — it’s a phrase few people haven’t heard. But there is a specific reason those words are used in that order. “Reduce” is the first line of attack: reduce the materials used in the manufacturing of electronics and components to minimize the impact on the environment during the product’s life and afterlife.  After that comes “reuse,” meaning exactly what the name implies – a device that is reused stays in active use, with none of its parts or components heading to landfills or factories to be repurposed. One way to ensure that is by repairing and replacing broken components in an otherwise functional device, such as a copier, scanner or MFP.

We’re going to stop midcycle and focus a little more on “reuse.” After all, if you’ve ever sold, leased, repaired, or used print hardware of any kind, you know that parts break down or wear out. While there is certainly a point of diminishing returns when it comes to print hardware, especially when it comes to the energy impact of old devices, for the most part there is little reason to replace a newer device that is still well within its useful life.

Circuit boards are one of the first things that come to mind when it comes to the environmental danger zone. Key to the operation of most electronic devices, circuit boards are a treasure trove of valuable and hazardous materials. Fortunately, they can be repaired, saving all of that e-waste for another day. Other parts, including electronic assemblies like fuser kits, power supplies, stapler assemblies and more, can also be repaired or replaced, allowing the MFP to stay in service.

What happens to parts that can’t be repaired? That brings us to the final “R”: recycle. This truly is the last resort. Recycling electronic components and devices recovers valuable materials like gold, silver and copper, but it can also create pollution. Improper recycling can release toxic chemicals that contaminate soil, water and air. So, it’s important to recycle properly.

It is important to look for a repair partner that adheres to environmental regulations. For example, a RoHS (Restriction on Hazardous Substances) compliant partner adheres to strict guidelines for limitations on banned substances like lead, mercury, and cadmium. Does the company have an environmental policy? Ask to take a look.

Office technology dealers have an important role to play in sustainability. By partnering with compliant recycling and refurbishment centers, working to reuse or repair parts whenever possible, and raising awareness of the importance of environmental responsibility among customers and employees alike, office technology dealers can make a significant impact on reducing the amount of electronic waste produced each year. Let’s work together to be green!

Emily Rodriguez has been with Hytec since 2007, and is currently Sales Manager, Dealer Division for all the dealers in the U.S.  She enjoys being a part of this industry and is passionate about creating strong partnerships and helping dealers thrive in these competitive times.