A number of the leading companies in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector are going to great lengths to implement circular economy strategies into their operations. This industry has a large environmental footprint, using large amounts of complex raw materials and producing considerable quantities of waste at their product’s end-of-life. Globally, around 45 million metric tons of e-waste is produced every year. Many companies in this sector are attempting to reduce these impacts through recycling and take-back programs. For instance, Dell is already using plastics and carbon fiber source materials taken from e-waste in some of its new products. Similarly, Intel’s Design for the Environment program ensures that product end-of-life is taken into consideration from the outset. Companies in this sector have massive environmental impacts, but these actions show that they are taking innovative steps to operate with circular economy principles in mind.
However, some argue that the way in which companies in this sector do business is harming the potential for progress towards a more circular economy. Their focus on convincing consumers to update their technology every few years leads to massive amounts of e-waste. Furthermore, the constantly changing technology and focus on smaller and smaller products makes it extremely difficult to create effective take-back and recycling programs.
Attempts to implement circular economy principles into operations, in any sector, will inevitably expose contradictions such as these. Businesses need to make money. However, organizations like Dell and Intel continue to seek out increased revenue whilst at the same time taking steps to operate more sustainably. It is exactly these kinds of companies, with heavy impacts but a large capacity for innovation, which will be the proving grounds for circular economy principles in action.