“We have a site in Erskine, Scotland, which refurbishes used technology like laptops, printers and servers. We upcycle not just our own products, but our competitor’s products as well.”
There are about 50 million tons of electronic-waste, or e-waste, generated on an annual basis globally. Substances that go into electronic products have impacts on soil, water and ultimately, human health. The rapid pace of innovation in electronic products and growing impacts of a “take, make, dispose” production and consumption cycle are increasing the need for a circular economy. More and more people are starting to recognise that the world needs to think about how we responsibly design, manufacture, retire products at the end of use, and recycle at the end of their life. US-headquartered Hewlett Packard Enterprise is one company that is building these considerations into the product lifecycle as it provides IT infrastructure and solutions to its customers.
Every year, the company publishes its Living Progress Report, which shows its progress towards environmental, social, and governance goals. The company gave an update of its sustainability goals at a recent Hewlett Packard Enterprise event in London.
Bio Market Insights’ Liz Gyekye caught up with Christopher Wellise, chief sustainability officer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, at the sidelines of the event.
Liz Gyekye (LG): Talk to me a bit about your Living Progress plan and how it is helping to boost your sustainable materials?
CW: Our approach has to be the full lifecycle approach. This includes the materials that go into our products, the design of our products and designing for disassembly and recyclability. We use the GreenScreen methodology to assess materials at the very initial stages of product design to see if the alternative materials we use are suitable for our products. We need to make sure that they are performing at the level necessary to meet the needs of the end user. However, we are always looking for ways to design better or use safer, alternative materials that have the same level of performance as traditional materials, where possible.
LG: Do you feel that the sustainability agenda is moving forward?
CW: We are at a really interesting inflection point where investors, consumers and governments are taking more notice of this agenda. They are embedding sustainability-related indicators into their purchasing decisions, which is key. We have already heard from UK technology representatives. They are working with other organisations and asking questions like ‘how do you embed those sustainability-related practices into purchasing decisions?’. This is really the driver.
LG: What sort of materials do you use for your products?
CW: We have a lot of metal in our products, but not a lot of plastics. We are a B2B enterprise company. So, things like designing for recyclability is key for us. Some of our servers are 99-plus percent recyclable. We really start looking at these things from the design phase and recycling is the last resort when it comes to enterprise IT. We want to extend the life of our products, which is much more important than recycling.
LG: How do you deal with the electrical equipment waste of your products, especially in light of some of these products ending up in developing countries?
CW: We have a site in Renfrewshire, Scotland, which refurbishes used technology like laptops, printers and servers. We upcycle not just our own products, but our competitors’ products as well. These are state-of-the-art facilities and are probably the best in the world. Four million units pass through two facilities. Around 90% of these products that come through the door are refurbished, reconfigured and sold to new customers that want a refurbished product that has been warranted. For example, there are lot of start-ups that want to use refurbished products rather than new ones.
This is one of the most impactful things we are doing – we are designing for reuse and putting this into action at end-of-life.
LG: What are the new trends that are driving your business?
CW: The biggest innovation is the shift to everything-as-a-service business model. In the future, it is going to be about access to technology and not ownership. Our CEO, Antonio Neri, said everything HPE offers will be as a service by 2023. We will be matching what customers need from a technology standpoint and match the level of resource they need to match their technology needs. We also want to shift to an OPEX model versus a CAPEX model, where we have the responsibility and the ability to make sure the technology is processed in a responsible way or potentially refurbished and sold to a new customer at its end of life.
LG: What are your biggest challenges?
CW: In any organisation, you are going to have competition for resources. However, we have a real commitment to have a purpose-driven company. This is really creating the tailwinds to continue to develop sustainable innovation for the future.
LG: What advice would you give to somebody starting out in this space?
CW: Never give up and don’t take no for an answer. Stay stubborn! Also, you need to make sure that you are not making decisions on emotion, but on data. When you are able to couple this with business value, then you have the secret sauce.
LG: What’s your favourite sustainability product?
CW: Personally, I would say Interface’s carpets. They recycle everything from a fibre level and then create new innovations. They are further along the circular economy journey than any other company that I know of.