Sustainability Before It Was Cool

Jamie Bridgeman Was Raving (About Circular IT) In The 90's

Circularity First’s Brand Activation Manager had an instinctive relationship with circular technology long before the movement became visible in the mainstream. His mission now is to help others have the lightbulb moments his career has given him.
Jamie Bridgeman eats, sleeps, and repeats sustainable tech. An average day might be spent designing a greener webpage for Circularity First before developing his own low carbon app when he clocks off.

Jamie remembers first being excited by IT at school where, deciding he didn’t have the bandwidth for the stuffy formality of classroom learning, he resolved to get his hands on the sole computer housed in the corner of the school office and teach himself to code.

Leaving education – a setting that for Jamie seemed to crack down on creativity rather than nurture it – he'd secured his first temp job at Cotswolds-based Sonix Communications. It introduced him to a world of technology that would inspire a 30-year career path in problem solving and establish a remarkable toolkit for sustainable IT.

Getting hands on with technology from day one

Although he was excited to be bursting into the pivotal 90s tech bubble, Jamie’s debut task at Sonix was anything but flashy – on his first day he was charged with making good a defected batch of plastic modem moulds.

Whether it was about conserving materials, saving money, or simply a test of the new boy’s character, this hands-on initiation of ‘scrubbing off the knobbly bits’ was Jamie’s formative insight into the relationship between good commercial sense and sustainability. Even if he didn’t know it at the time, working for a small company that refused to bin a bad batch put him on intimate terms with the principles of extending technology life cycles.

Recognised for his hard work, Sonix offered Jamie a job picking from trays of resistors and transistors for the team to build and test. Observing start-to-finish operations (he affectionately recalls the company’s T-Card system) from component level to building, soak testing, chipping, and returns, opened another door into the tech world.

Learning from watching colleagues and, as he remembers it, ‘smelling the solder’ sparked Jamie’s ambition to find ever more efficient ways of working with tech. He developed an intuitive sustainability mindset that informed his work before he knew it responded to the systemic changes needed in IT. As he saw it, ‘being a kid from a certain background, you’re never wasteful’.

Our refurbished kit had a lower failure rate than brand new

Jamie’s first foray into repurposing equipment involved recovering products from customers and assessing their commercial value before stripping them down to spare parts. Recycling became the last resort and anything that couldn’t be reused would be recycled ethically through WEEE. This highlighted the complexities of electronics disposal and the argument for circularity (eWaste is the world’s fastest growing waste stream and devastating the planet).

10 years ago, Jamie joined Tomax, one business of the Circularity First Group. Heading technical operations, he developed new processes based on efficiency and output. Working closely with software and hardware gave insight into the compatibility matrixes that compel organisations to upgrade their IT equipment long before it has reached the end of its lifecycle. This was the first of several lightbulb moments that, for Jamie, illuminated the obstacles to green IT.

With many customer repairs coming in undiagnosed, Jamie created basic benchmark testing procedures and began reporting back to the vendor about how to improve their testing. Sharing this knowledge gave measurable results: vendors adapted their practices and Tomax received fewer returns.

Jamie estimates that of all the kit that initially failed, around 70% could be fixed in-house using (what were at the time) experimental methodologies. Bringing those stripped spare parts back into play, he found that a simple modification might keep a piece of equipment in use for longer.

Perhaps most remarkably, when measured against the new kit Tomax sold, the refurbished products had a lower return rate on the customer’s side. This was commercial success and sustainability in action, and showed that extending the life of products made sense all round.

Jamie brings refreshing simplicity to his memory of this time: ‘We could handle loads of product every day and it was good fun’. Can we trim this down a bit?

‘Better than new’

Confident about the benefits of circular technology, Jamie states that in all his years of working with vendor-backed, remanufactured products that have been through rigorous retesting, he has found them to be ‘as good as, if not better than new’.

But he’s clear that change is not rolling out fast enough across industries due to regulatory obstacles or lack of education:

‘Organisations need to trust remanufactured technology as a no-brainer solution to stretched budgets, lagging supply chains, and the climate crisis. More people need to catch on that this technology is available, inexpensive, and does exactly the same job as new.’

Circularity First unified Jamie’s insights and experiences with its core mission of keeping technology in use for longer and pushing products to fulfil their potential lifespan.

Acting On IT

Jamie recalls critical moments in his understanding of linear IT models. The first was realising how much technology is out there, the physical weight of it, and that a huge proportion is brand new and used only for three years despite having plenty of life left. Learning about embodied carbon and understanding the composition of products and their unsustainable dependence on rare earth materials was further clarifying.

Meeting Gerry McGovern and reading his book World Wide Waste: How Digital Is Killing The Planet was another career defining juncture. McGovern shines a light on the physicality of digital media, the connection between cloud technology and the hardware that sustains it. He pulls no punches about the demands on the planet of carbon heavy data centres working to store media that 90% of its target audience will never see. 

Jamie consciously applies the book’s advice to Circularity First’s digital output – compressing images, scrapping imagery altogether when a line of text will suffice, and publishing video that’s only suited to the device it’s likely to be viewed on:

‘It’s the balance between getting people’s attention and questioning the norms to make content that’s fit for purpose and doesn’t add to the problem. Many companies mindlessly follow marketing patterns because of how it is always done, but it needn’t be this way. It’s a consumption problem. Each time I build a webpage, I ask ‘what is this adding?’.’

Jamie is hopeful that attitudes are changing alongside formal obligations. Sustainability roles are rapidly developing and being put on the frontline of holding organisations to account for their Scope 3 emissions. Circularity First has data that helps organisations measure this.

Passing IT On

Reflecting Circularity First’s commitment to live its values, Jamie talks to anyone who’ll listen about sustainable IT, and applies its principles to exciting projects outside of work. The early days of the coronavirus pandemic inspired him to reflect on how he could channel his love of tech into helping communities stay connected and, just weeks into lockdown he set up his own grassroots internet radio station Incapable Staircase (with like minded station co-founder) with a mission of building connections through music and ideas.

The station, which champions sustainability with its clean, efficient web design built with Oxygen, low carbon app, and reduced social media output, has since grown to host over 60 DJs and has already made its mark on the small festival circuit. It also supports local community projects and charities, such as Caring in Bristol.

It’s this restless creativity that makes Jamie so loved by his colleagues, who welcome his optimism for finding an answer and passing it on. His solutions-focused approach prepares him well for the rapid changes and challenges the IT industry will inevitably face in the coming years. As someone driven by sharing knowledge for the benefit of people and the planet, he is ideally placed to amplify the message of Circularity First.
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