Burning Green – 3.5 million PCs Show Heavy e-Waste in Corporate IT

Burning Green – 3.5 million PCs Show Heavy e-Waste in Corporate IT
March 3, 2022

Almost since the moment the world shut down at the start of the pandemic, we’ve heard what a blessing remote and hybrid work is for environmental sustainability. With fewer of us driving and flying for work, it can feel like hybrid work is the sustainable solution we’ve dreamed of for so long.

Yet at the same time, attention is also being cast on big tech companies like Facebook and Google for their role in producing (and curbing) e-Waste. 2030 is the marker that’s continually referenced for companies and governments to commit themselves to a net-Zero target and embrace the ethos of digital sobriety.

We’re moving forward into a world of hybrid work, and we hope (and need) it to be sustainable. But you might be wondering —

What about your IT department?

Surely there’s something IT can do to both save money and lighten the indelible carbon footprint we leave behind each time we logon to work?

To help IT leaders discover how they can make remote and hybrid work more sustainable, my team and I set out on a fact-finding mission by analyzing around 3.5M anonymous customer devices (this sample size was taken from the first 2 – 3 weeks with Nexthink).

Here’s what we uncovered:

What percentage of old hardware (+3 years old) is salvageable?

First, it’s worth mentioning that your inventory is unique to your company, but that being said, we think there’s a huge cost savings opportunity here for any IT department – so maybe don’t throw away those old laptops and desktops just yet.

Quantifying e-Waste in Corporate IT – Read the report here

We found that just 2% of the devices we analyzed needed to be replaced with newer models. And 20% of devices returned a strong enough Digital Employee Experience Score that they could be left alone. A strong DEX Score means that the devices returned high employee satisfaction ratings, a fast startup time, high CPU power, and a host of other strong performance metrics. Initially, the remaining 80% of old devices appeared to malfunction for various reasons, but upon closer review we found this subgroup could be fixed with a simple RAM upgrade and some configuration changes.

How much can sustainable hybrid work solutions save a company?

Brace yourself.

Let’s imagine that instead of investing time into revitalizing older hardware, you decided to charge ahead and make a wholesale upgrade.

Most corporate IT departments support thousands of devices so let’s say you want to replace 40,000 PCs. If you were to upgrade these devices with one of the newest HP models (around $2,000 per device) versus an upgrade cost of say, $200 (factoring in RAM upgrades or configuration changes), that investment would ultimately cost you $80 million versus just $8 million.

That’s a potential savings opportunity of up to $72 million for your organization.

We recognize that sometimes it’s necessary to upgrade your employees’ devices, but there’s clearly a cost savings opportunity here.

In addition, the industry you work in also plays a huge factor in all of this. We dug a little further and found that certain work industries, like the Consumer Goods sector had devices with a high hardware savings potential while others, like the Financial sector, had the worst.

Is there a single IT issue that contributes to an enormous amount of energy (and productivity) loss?

First, let’s take our research findings out of the picture for a moment. There are in fact, thousands of small micro-actions IT teams can make starting today which will save their companies millions of tons in CO2 emissions and make hybrid work more sustainable.

For example, Rainer Karcher (Global Director, IT Sustainability) at Siemens has carved out several simple but effective eco-friendly measures with his team and the employees they support.

We took inspiration from Rainer’s work and wanted to see if we could identify a lone variable that heavily impacts productivity loss and energy emissions. It turns out that of the 3.5 million devices we analyzed, 34% averaged a painfully slow startup time (+5 minutes). Not only is this an annoying way to begin your workday, this wait time equates to about 450 tons of CO2 emissions per year. But we found that what prevented those devices from starting up faster could be fixed with some simple IT repairs.

How does employee software and internet consumption impact the environment?

Employees today use dozens of standard and non-standard applications and plug-ins—that’s a fact of modern work. But what you don’t hear much about in the news is how employee usage impacts the environment.

From our sample we found that collectively, gaming, personal communication, and media streaming apps generate about ~33 tons of CO2 emissions per year. To put that into perspective, it would take 300 trees an entire year to absorb those emissions from the atmosphere.

And as you might guess, certain industries account for higher e-Waste consumption than others. For example, devices from the Nonprofit & government industry recorded the highest usage of Gaming applications by employees. How an employee uses their work device directly impacts how sustainable a corporation can be.

Personally, I think focusing on whether employees should or shouldn’t be gaming on their work devices or listening to say, Spotify, misses the point. The lines between work and home life are blurring, but what’s salient here is that IT can inform and educate employees on how much their computing habits impact the environment.

And any C-Suite leader that takes their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) or ESG (Environmental Social Governance) initiatives seriously should want this type of data. It’s only a matter of time before we see companies enact full-fledged Green IT training programs for employees. In the early 00s, cyber security wasn’t taken very seriously at work, and now it’s embedded into every company’s onboarding program. I think the same will happen for employees and Green IT projects, and I hope research like above will help support those efforts.

Bharadwaj Rao is a Principal Solutions Manager at Nexthink. He has nearly 20 years of expertise working in Digital Experience Management, End Use Computing, Business Development, Infrastructure Monitoring & ITSM.Learn More

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