Why did Circularity First choose to base its European branch in Aalborg?
Denmark’s bold approach to sustainability matches the people-and planet-driven principles of Circularity First. Aalborg (in North Jutland, North West Denmark) was the obvious choice for our business; it’s a hub of green innovation partnerships and somewhere technology industries can challenge the norms around IT.
Learning more about Green Hub Denmark and the synergy between the university and the city’s businesses showed that this is a place that’s serious about sustainability, and somewhere our organisation can have a positive impact.
How advanced is the approach to sustainable IT in Denmark compared with the UK?
Denmark is demonstrably committed to investing in making environmental health a priority for its citizens, with one of the world’s most ambitious targets for reducing GHG emissions by 70% by 2030.
However, given that the region in general is self-consciously sustainable, when we talk to businesses here about IT, we encounter the same attitudes that privilege new technology and the same resistance to remanufactured products. Even at large sustainability events designed to inspire and celebrate innovation, there is an element of greenwashing that stands in contrast to the scale of the crisis.
Where do you see opportunities in the region?
The good news is that the aim, the willingness, and the investment behind achieving a net zero target is here, so we are optimistic about growing current and future partnerships.
We see an opportunity to help businesses understand the impact their use of technology has on their overall carbon footprint, and on finite resources. There are solutions to tackle this that align with a more circular approach and these actions can be taken now.
Education around IT sustainability needs to centred in all industries. Sharing our research findings and data with CIOs on the benefits of circular IT provides reassurance there is no risk in opting for authorised remanufactured technology over new, and shows there is a significant carbon and material benefit.
We usually find sharing this knowledge triggers a desire to change ingrained behaviours. Buying cycles are extended, policies are rewritten, and IT is viewed through a different lens. Changing behaviour drives progression – it’s a combination of sharing best practice, sharing tangible examples of success, and backing it all up with data. That neatly summarises our approach here at Circularity First.
What is the role of the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) and the carbon tax over there?
Source: World Bank Carbon Pricing Dashboard.
To drive robust climate action, the CSRD requires large and listed EU companies to disclose information on the impact of their business activities on people and planet. Sustainability reporting will be brought in line with the same standards as financial reporting.
The Danish government plans to introduce a corporate carbon tax from 2025, progressively increasing by 2030. As the highest carbon tax in Europe this is speeding up a lot of processes within industries – just as intended.
How is Circularity First connected with Invest in Aalborg?
Invest in Aalborg supports organisations to thrive in the city’s business community. Circularity First were welcomed with advice and networking opportunities. A city demonstrably committed to investing heavily in sustainability speaks to our core outlook, and we are excited to continue developing our partnerships here.
That said, money currently being invested is typically going towards developing technology that supports new ways of doing things – a carbon-heavy process which in itself depends on extracting the same finite raw materials we need to preserve. We hope to steer the discourse towards looking at ways of investing in sustainability through the principles of the circular economy (using what we already have).
What was your main takeaway from the LOOP Forum in Copenhagen?
LOOP was a good opportunity to meet and talk with delegates looking to make their businesses more sustainable. We learned about technology innovation happening right now, and our founder Anthony Levy shared his vision of businesses trying a more circular approach to IT and disrupting the linearity we have now.
Innovation, as exciting as it is, creates a tension between driving new technology that promises to outlast and outperform existing models, and the stress the increased manufacturing puts on our planet’s resources. Paradoxically, materials required by the global energy transition are already being mined at an unsustainable rate and thrown back into the ground before they have been used to their maximum utility.
An architect at the event spoke of his frustration when people demand sustainable housing with new materials rather than meeting the cost of making existing materials fit for reuse. With more resources being exploited to build a nominally sustainable house, is it truly sustainable? The same logic applies to technology.
Where are we seeing the biggest opportunities in the market?
When we look at our industry, we usually see manufacturers approaching sustainability with a focus on the energy consumption of the new devices they make. We know the difference in using non-new technology is massive, but it rarely comes into the equation. Having conversations in the Aalborg region with the public sector about this is an eye opener.
We use real-life examples to show the impact of changing the way we buy. For example, a typical 200-person office might rely on: 6 network switches, 3 x routers, 20 x access points and 200 IP phones to keep the team connected. Our data shows that by simply choosing remanufactured technology instead of brand new, the carbon saving is 57%. It’s about shifting mindsets and showing the impact of making decisions through a sustainability lens.
I feel our industry is moving too slowly. From the biggest manufacturers to the partners, global resellers, and the smallest brokers, we’re stuck in the old rationale that we must move a product from A to B. With technology evolving so fast, we know when we’re reselling a new piece of hardware that in three years we must call the customer again, because they need the newer model of the product we sold them.
This would be good business sense if the raw materials in the products we move from A to B were not finite, and if processing them didn’t create carbon emissions. Demand for technology in all aspects of our lives drives our ability to keep selling new products. The industry is so wedded to a linear approach it’s hard to reimagine an alternative strategy that’s profitable and sustainable. Addressing that is the biggest opportunity in this market.
How is Circularity First Group helping organisations to solve these challenges?
We work with businesses at every stage of their sustainability journey, covering the entire lifecycle of IT, from sourcing hard to find products, to building sustainable infrastructures that perform in critical environments, and responsibly disposing of end-of-life equipment.
Beyond the need to do better for our planet, there’s a commercial incentive to being more mindful of how we use IT, which contributes between 5% and 20% of a company’s Scope 3 footprint. Of this, 60% of that carbon comes from manufacture. If we work on assumptions of carbon tax now, we can bring the potential future taxation down significantly by reducing the impact of IT on a business’s overall emissions.
There is a genuine interest, from companies large and small, to gain a better understanding of how to be more sustainable in their use of IT. We now need to bring businesses out of their comfort zones and be bold enough to challenge their thinking. While re-using IT might not look as dazzling as inventing shiny new technology, the impact is massive.
How can organisations get started with Sustainable IT?
The most significant impact business owners can make is shifting their mindset and challenging the assumptions that keep us rolling budgets and buying brand new IT for the sake of it. Businesses needn’t aim for the stars with the latest net zero technology. They can have an impact now by maximising their existing IT or opting for remanufactured over new.
By partnering with likeminded industries like ours, business owners and sustainability leads can get straightforward advice from experts who understand how to get the best out of IT without adding to the burden on the planet.
Circularity First give peace of mind by sharing research-based knowledge of the positive impact made when a business decides to #ActOnIT.
Offering sustainable IT advisory, solutions and services, businesses in the Group use principles of the circular economy, to design, build, and manage IT infrastructure in a way that's better for people, planet and profit.