How can leaders ensure the tech sector is more sustainable?

30 Apr 2021

Gary Tierney. Image: HP Ireland

HP Ireland’s Gary Tierney discusses how tech companies need to work together to ensure they tackle the climate crisis and make the world more sustainable.

With new devices and endless data constantly being produced in the tech sector, there is a lot of work to be done when it comes to sustainability.

Earlier this year, we spoke to digital expert Gerry McGovern about the impact of e-waste and digital pollution. “Digital is not green,” he said. “Digital is electrical, meaning that everything we do in digital consumes energy and creates pollution.”

However, there have also been moves in the right direction when it comes to offsetting the damage from emissions in the tech sector.

For example, in Ireland, Microsoft partnered with SSE Airtricity to install solar panels on the roofs of schools. Amazon announced a new 115MW windfarm project in Co Galway last year, which will begin operating in 2022. And data centre group Host in Ireland recently launched a pollinator plan to address Ireland’s biodiversity plight and help save the bees.

On a broader scale, many tech companies such as Facebook and Google have made net-zero emission pledges. Another tech giant focusing on this goal is HP, which plans to achieve net-zero emissions across its value chain by 2040 and carbon neutrality for its supplies business by 2030.

However, Gary Tierney, managing director of HP Ireland, said that while the tech industry has come a long way, there still is plenty of work still to do.

“More and more tech users are making purchasing decisions based on their principles, just as much as the actual product or service on offer, so it is important that tech companies implement sustainable business practices across all levels of their business,” he said.

Reducing waste

“To start, businesses need to find a way to use less, waste less and recycle more,” Tierney added. “A vital part of this is reimagining product design – developing energy-efficient products and setting default design choices to renewable materials so that when a product reaches the end of its useful life, it can be broken down and recycled.”

The European Commission has already taken a number of steps to tackle this issue. Its Circular Economy Action Plan, published last year, highlighted reducing e-waste as a priority for EU countries.

In December, it proposed that all batteries placed on the EU market should be sustainable, high-performing and safe throughout their life cycle.

‘Corporations have contributed significantly to the climate crisis, so they must also contribute to its end’

“Another key element is the creation of new business models and the reform of supply chains. By switching to contractual ‘as-a-service’ models rather than transactional models, tech companies can work more closely with customers to ensure that products are kept out of landfills,” said Tierney.

He added that in line with this model, HP has repaired and reused more than 4.6m hardware units and recycled 528,300 tonnes of hardware and printing supplies.

“Coming from a print background, I’m proud to see HP making bold steps in transitioning our supplies to be carbon neutral, by launching a cartridge renewal pilot programme that focuses on reducing raw materials and creating less waste when managing and delivering print supplies,” he said.

The HP Instant Ink with Planet Partners programme will launch next month in Germany with plans to move to the wider European market over the next two years.

“By leveraging our existing cartridge collection programme to replenish cartridges for Instant Ink delivery, our supplies can have a renewed life cycle, which will reduce the amount of virgin plastic used.”

Working in silos won’t work

Aside from individual actions that companies can take, Tierney also highlighted the importance of collaboration across the sector.

“Corporations have contributed significantly to the climate crisis, so they must also contribute to its end. But working in silos won’t achieve the impact needed to create real and lasting change. By working together, we can all focus on the areas where we can have the biggest impact,” he said.

“For example, as a printing company, we have focused our efforts on finding new ways to reduce our impact on the world’s forests and address consumer concerns on the amount of paper used in printing.

“To accelerate this, we’ve worked closely with organisations such as WWF, Arbor Day Foundation and Conservation International on collaborative efforts to fight climate change. This includes an investment with WWF to protect 200,000 acres of endangered forests.”

Tierney said these steps are vital towards creating a more sustainable world. “We recognise this is a challenge that no single company, sector or country can meet on its own,” he said. “It is imperative that business leaders in the technology sector and beyond come together to fight climate change, protecting our planet and our future.”

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic