Speaker Interview: Steve Haskew, strategic and commercial manager, Circular Computing

Speaker Interview: Steve Haskew, strategic and commercial manager, Circular Computing

August 27, 2019
Nick Bradley

Some large purchasers of IT simply overbuy, according to performance-testing evidence from Cranfield University. This raises questions about traditional hardware replacement cycles and highlights how purchasing remanufactured IT can potentially save significant costs, demonstrate social responsibility and keep equipment in the loop for longer. E-Waste World Conference & Expo speaker Steve Haskew from Circular Computing reveals more

“It’s hard to imagine it, but before the internet and mobile phones, life actually did still exist,” laughs sustainable IT champion Steve Haskew.

That’s when it all started for the strategic and commercial manager of global success story Circular Computing – at a time when mainframe computer technology was transferring to the desktop PC environment. “I was studying for my MBA at the time and one of my study groups worked for a global pharmaceutical company that was faced with the problem of entire floors of valuable real-estate space filled up with their redundant IT,” he recalls.

“Back then, the monitors featured cathode-ray tubes and green-screen technology – there was no aftermarket per se, but there was a need to dispose of them responsibly, especially considering the cadmium content – a carcinogen. I worked out the reverse logistics [for them] and was then able to use this as the basis of my MBA studies.”

Haskew, in short, created one of the world’s first IT asset disposal businesses. Long before anyone could even Google ‘ITAD’…

Game-changing technology changing the game
Technology changed exponentially in the ensuing 25 years and at an increasingly faster rate, seemingly year on year, while the amount of technology consumed rocketed, individually and as a collective. Back in Haskew’s student days, though, he probably marvelled at the Nokia 2110 and the capability to send a simple SMS. Computers were only just becoming sufficiently affordable for the average family to own. Now we have smartphones acting as standalone computers, ultra-fast 5G, wireless charging, camera quality that consigns digital SLRs to dusty drawers, extraordinary processing power and game-changing software that keeps us connected and communicating, wherever we are, any time of day and night.

Subsequently, as technology prices plummeted, we simply bought more and more of it, more often. Some phone stores even threw in a free laptop when you bought a smartphone on a contract. And now, in 2019, we have something in the region of 27 billion IoT devices active worldwide – a figure that is expected to surge to 75 billion by 2025. That’s one hell of a big bucket-load of electronic waste.

Abuse and mismanagement of natural resources to make technology will result in a supply/demand imbalance, meaning future generations will be fighting for the same resources, hence a circular system is the only way to manage going forward. That will ultimately eliminate e-waste

“We’re a circular economy participant,” Haskew explains. “I believe this is the future of zeroing out e-waste. Additionally, abuse and mismanagement of natural resources to make technology will result in a supply/demand imbalance, meaning future generations will be fighting for the same resources, hence a circular system is the only way to manage going forward. That will ultimately eliminate e-waste.”

The art of circularity
For Circular Computing and Haskew, being ‘circular’ means keeping IT in the loop by remanufacturing IT equipment, namely laptops. This is reportedly the first time ever that second-user computers have been remanufactured. Up until now, they’ve only ever been refurbed, otherwise known as repaired, without performing or even looking anything like new. Warranties are non-existent.

Circular Computing’s business model, though, is to completely re-build used laptops to meet original factory performance and aesthetic – and they come with a three-year warranty, replete with new battery as well as other vital components. They’re as good as new. In fact, Circular Computing’s laptops may well be better than new since all known failure modes for the original product or certain components have been addressed during the remanufacturing process.

Buying remanufactured Circular Computing laptops is obviously attractive for purchasers as they cost around 40% less than their equivalent new ‘top-brand’ laptop (HP, Dell, etc) and they’re better for the environment as they can potentially go through three loop cycles and another nine years of useful life, which subsequently keeps them out of landfill or from the hands of a 12-year-old child in Agbogbloshie. As companies look to meet their CSR ambitions, procuring remanufactured IT is an increasingly attractive, sustainable and ethical path to take.

The notion is catching on. Haskew and his team are currently working with the United Nations and the European Union, with towns and cities looking to adopt the circular economy – helping them define ‘circular’ with their IT procurement as well as manage risk as they transform to sustainable public procurement. “Public office consumes and disposes of 35% of all IT and holds significant responsibility in looking at smarter IT strategies,” he reports. “Re-use is possible but only when behavior towards technology changes. With 160 million laptops made annually and 160,000 disposed of daily in the EU, re-use within large organizations is a must if we are to reduce CO2 from production, eliminate e-waste and preserve natural resources. With the global population growing at an alarming rate, the middle class swelling and disposable income available for technology consumption increasing, a circular economy is one way we achieve this.”

With 160 million laptops made annually and 160,000 disposed of daily in the EU, re-use within large organizations is a must if we are to reduce CO2 from production, eliminate e-waste and preserve natural resources

Back to the drawing board
Haskew additionally feels that product design is critical to ensure a disassembly and re-use model can be adopted to help steer us all away from the present linear economy. “This will of course be disruptive to those tech giants and their supply chains who rely on obsolescence to fuel their futures and pay their tax dollars,” he acknowledges. “It is a generational play. Sustainability needs to be at the heart of society. The behavior toward consumerism also has a role to play.”

But of course, we already have mountains and mountains of e-waste with much more looming on the horizon, in the form of lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles, millions and millions of solar panels coming to the end of their useful life and newer electronics such as wearables and e-scooters entering the fray. “The e-waste problem is different to, say, the plastic pollution crisis, but no less urgent to fix,” Haskew notes, contrasting the current media focus on single-use plastics. “Any waste is bad news. If we are to follow nature – and we will not win if we fight her – then we must generate zero waste. Only humans generate waste.”

Any waste is bad news. If we are to follow nature – and we will not win if we fight her – then we must generate zero waste. Only humans generate waste

Ironically, it’s only we humans who can stem the tide.

But where do the solutions lie? “Innovation and science,” Haskew responds. “More effort and capital should be pumped into reverse logistics, recycling and urban mining. There needs to be an incentive to keep technology out of the waste stream. If it’s true that the material worth of e-waste is US$62.5 billion a year, then we need to find a way of unlocking this – find ways for smarter and more circular designs. I suspect if there was an economic procurement model where the responsibility for collection and re-use fell on the OEMS, then this could greatly reduce the impact of e-waste. But it will require a paradigm shift in OEM thinking and consumer habits – both commercial and retail.

“The question of ‘when is e-waste actually e-waste?’ also needs answering,” Haskew suggests. “The argument that ‘it’s waste if you don’t want it’ does not resonate as true. It’s not waste – it’s just something that you as a user have determined to be surplus to requirements and look to dispose of. Because it is surplus to requirements, it has little financial or emotional value to you and therefore the duty of care is non-existent.”

The argument that ‘it’s waste if you don’t want it’ does not resonate as true. It’s not waste – it’s just something that you as a user have determined to be surplus to requirements and look to dispose of

Could legislation therefore have a more prominent role to play? “It is too easy to move e-waste illegally, and cross border,” he says. “Once it is no longer your problem to own, then your conscience manages the position. We need strict legislation that prevents bad behavior.”

Paradigm shift needed
As with many debates, especially environmental ones, people are all-too eager to point the finger elsewhere – to blame Nestlé for whales washing-up on beaches with bellies full of plastic, but some responsibility, ultimately, belongs at home. We buy plastic and we dispose of that plastic. We also upgrade our smartphones when there may well be nothing wrong with our older models, the offer of a free upgrade too attractive to turn down. “That’s IT!” Haskew retorts. “But it’s not free. Apart from the fact that we have effectively paid for the ‘free’ phone within the contract fee, it’s a huge cost to the planet and this fuels linear behavior, which forms a habit that needs to be changed. IT is the one industry that has been fueled this way and controlled by regular change. Without this, the large tech providers are underwater. Smartphones are even more intensive than laptops, for instance, kicking out more than a tonne of C02 in production, using resources that are dwindling and adding to the e-waste problem. It is this behavior and our relationship to tech that needs to change.”

Some of us pass on our old phones when we get our hands on the latest, greatest version, whereas others hold onto them, stockpiling them for several model generations – perhaps they think they’re too valuable to not hold onto or worth more as a collection. Perhaps people simply don’t know what to do with them, where to take them. Changing that mindset among consumers is a challenge in itself.

“We’ve been trying to influence through thought leadership, knowledge transfer and teaching the values of sustainable procurement,” Haskew concludes. “Is there a sustainable solution? In fact, do you even know what sustainability means to you? Am I being asked to compromise in my purchasing? Can I afford to do it? Can I afford not to do it? The world is going through a gear-change. That’s why we involve ourselves in amazing events such as E-Waste World Conference & Expo – it helps transfer knowledge towards re-use, understanding risk, and why it is important.”

Steve Haskew will be delivering a presentation entitled ‘Zeroing out e-waste by adopting re-use‘ at E-Waste World Conference & Expo (synopsis below). The conference will take place from Thursday 14 November to Friday 15 November at the Kap Europa, Frankfurt Messe, Germany. To register for this highly focused, solutions-driven event, please click here. For sponsorship and exhibition opportunities, please email peter@trans-globalevents.com

 

If zeroing out e-waste is the first part of the sustainability loop – and process is the next step – then reuse is the defining part that closes the loop. Materials reuse has to an acceptable part of a procurement strategy. Is it possible to change buyer behavior toward reuse and how does re-manufacturing help achieve this?

 

 

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