Digital carbon footprint: how to reduce it?
The digital industry is facing a major challenge today. As the use of computer technology and electronic devices continues to increase, the carbon footprint must decrease. Faced with this new environmental issue, the IT field must reinvent itself so that technology and ecology can work together.
Life cycle of IT equipment and carbon footprint
Digitalisation has revolutionised the world of work with many benefits, including helping to combat global warming and reduce CO2 emissions. Nevertheless, the production, transport, use and end-of-life of digital devices cause significant CO2 emissions. These emissions are referred to as the digital carbon footprint. They refer to all forms of pollution caused by new technologies: greenhouse gas emissions, chemical pollution, erosion of biodiversity, production of electronic waste. Most of this digital pollution is generated during the production phase of computer hardware. According to the French National Agency for the Environment and Energy Management (ADEME), a government body whose main aim is to help companies, local authorities and private individuals make the transition to energy efficiency, it takes 50 to 350 times the weight of materials to produce electrical equipment with a high electronic component, i.e. 800 kg for a laptop computer. The life cycle of IT equipment therefore has a significant ecological impact at all levels.
Extraction of raw materials
Electronic components require a large amount of energy and scarce materials for their manufacture. First of all, in terms of raw materials, computer equipment requires, in addition to plastic, metals such as copper, aluminium, lead, zinc, nickel, mercury, cobalt, etc. Some of these metals are rare and their extraction is complex and polluting. Some of these metals are rare and their extraction is complex and polluting. Indeed, the separation of rare earths (metals) from the ore is a very energy-intensive process, requiring large quantities of chemicals. In the Baotou region of China, the extraction of these metals results in significant toxic emissions into the air, water and soil.
Manufacture of electronic equipment
After extraction, the raw materials are transported to the factories in different ways. The manufacture of the components is usually done in developing countries, where all electricity comes from coal, a mineral with a high environmental impact. In addition, manufacturing requires the use of fossil fuels and large quantities of water and materials. Indeed, to produce a 2 gram printed circuit board, it takes 1.6 kg of oil equivalent, 32 litres of water and 700 g of gas. This is a part that can be found in any computer.
Routing and use
The newly assembled electronic devices are then transported, mostly by plane, to their point of sale, often thousands of kilometres away. The transport phase also contributes to the carbon footprint. In total, this phase emits 73% of the greenhouse gases produced by an electronic device throughout its life.
After being transported, electronic devices consume a significant proportion of the world’s electricity to operate: 5.5% according to Green IT, the group of experts behind the digital sobriety and responsible digital initiatives. This electricity consumption accounts for more than half of digital emissions.
End of life of electronic devices
The life cycle of electronic devices ends with the waste disposal or recycling. Most electronic waste is destined for recycling because it contains reusable resources. As the reserves of some raw materials are running out, recycling allows some of them to be reused to produce new equipment. In fact, recycling is a good solution to reduce the environmental impact of a product even if it also requires energy.
However, the major problem with this last step is that not all equipment can be recycled. Every year, 60 million tonnes of digital devices are thrown away and only 5% of their components and materials are reused or reconditioned. Devices from Europe are piling up in landfills. For example, every year 40,000 tonnes of e-waste ends up in the Agbogbloshie landfill in Ghana, Africa.
All stages of the hardware life cycle result in significant environmental impacts such as: CO2 emissions, depletion of natural resources and environmental pollution. It is difficult to solve all the problems of the life cycle of electronic devices. However, there are solutions to reduce the environmental footprint of one’s IT equipment.
How to better control your carbon footprint?
Since the industrial revolution, our societies have operated on the model of the linear economy, which consists of “extract, manufacture, consume, throw away”. This model no longer allows for a reasonable future. The virtual economy, which emerged in the 1970s, is an economic concept that is part of the sustainable development framework. The objective is to build an economic growth that is not based on the depletion of natural resources, but on a rational use of materials and energy. The circular economy therefore favours the use of renewable energy and recycling.
By being part of a sustainable development approach and aiming to maximise the reuse of products and raw materials, leasing has become a lever of the circular economy. Thus, for companies wishing to reduce the carbon footprint of their equipment and avoid heavy investments in equipment that will have to be renewed rapidly due to technological developments, IT leasing offers a concrete and effective solution.
IT leasing consists of making available to companies the IT equipment necessary for the proper functioning of their information systems. This rental allows us to offer
adapted to their needs. Over-consumption is therefore reduced.
The second advantage of leasing solutions comes from the IT equipment provided. By opting for IT leasing, companies prefer good quality equipment that is maintained by the service provider. Breakdowns and malfunctions are thus avoided and updates are made regularly. This results in real energy savings. In fact, a poorly maintained computer causes excessive energy consumption. By choosing to lease IT equipment, companies can reduce their carbon footprint as well as their bills.
In the case of IT outsourcing, the leased equipment remains the property of the financial partner throughout its life cycle. The finance partner takes care of the end-of-life takeover of the leased assets and ensures optimal use of the equipment by leasing it to one or more other users or by reselling it on the second-hand market. The financing partner will only retire the assets if no second life is possible. In this case, the financial partner will ensure an environmentally friendly and responsible recycling.
With IT leasing, the company ensures that the ecological footprint of its equipment is reduced by only paying rent for the period during which its assets generate value. Its financing is thus optimised, it gains in productivity while accelerating its ecological transition. Its ecological footprint is thus smaller than when it was purchased.
Le leasing neutre en carbone
Some providers offer companies the opportunity to lease their IT equipment in a fully carbon-neutral way. By offsetting the CO2 emissions released during the production, transport, use and end-of-life of the leased IT assets, the company makes a positive contribution to the environmental balance sheet through climate-neutral IT financing. To do this, the company makes offset payments to internationally recognised climate protection projects and receives a certificate as proof of the CO2 emissions saved. Carbon offsetting enables companies to operate in a more environmentally friendly way and to contribute to the mitigation of climate change. CO2 emissions from IT equipment cannot be prevented. However, it is possible to offset them elsewhere through a virtuous project that has been proven to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Sustainability and climate protection are now a necessity for companies. Aware of the environmental impact of their IT equipment, they are increasingly relying on environmentally and climate-friendly solutions to stand out. FinGo Solutions sees itself as a player in these economic and societal changes by helping its clients find financing solutions that promote usage.
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