By 2030, 80% of hardware vendors’ product portfolio will be linked to circular initiatives, up from 20% in 2023, according to Gartner. In fact, re-manufacturing and reusing end-of-life devices instead of having them end up in a landfill has become top of mind for most businesses around the world.
Annette Zimmermann, vice-president analyst at Gartner, talks about how generative artificial intelligence (AI) can improve IT sustainability, and what hardware vendors can do to further reduce the environmental impact of end user devices.
Gartner is predicting that 80% of hardware vendors’ product portfolio will be linked to circular initiatives by 2030, up from 20% in 2023. What is working today, and what needs to be put in place to reach the 80% estimate?
The hardware industry has been transitioning toward a more circular economy to address the ecological footprint of their products.
Each vendor has a different focus when it comes to making their product more sustainable. For example, some are highly focused on packing and have achieved 100% recycled material. Other vendors focus on the product itself and increase the portion of certified recycled materials in their devices.
In addition, vendors have adopted a circular supply chain which consists of collecting, reusing/extending lifetimes, repairing, remanufacturing, refurbishing and recycling.
But more can be done. For example, vendors can accelerate the transition to a circular supply chain by setting relevant KPIs, such as specific recycled material targets in new products.
Or, they can promote renewable energy generation and storage (such as biobatteries) to reduce the environmental and social impact of raw material extraction and processing.
Furthermore, manufacturing real circular products requires a system shift rather than marginal product enhancements. To truly migrate toward a circular economy in IT, hardware vendors should transition from an ecoefficient to an ecoeffective product approach.
The concept of ecoeffectiveness embraces the optimisation of an inherently new and circular system. This is about retaining and extending the product value as long as possible.
Several hardware vendors are already doing it. Nevertheless, more vendors should prioritize designing products that include recycled components and renewable materials and are easy to disassemble and repair to increase device lifetimes.
This approach will undoubtedly help increase the percentage of hardware vendors’ product portfolio that are linked to circular initiatives.
Can generative artificial intelligence (AI) help to enhance the circular economy in IT?
Generative AI is already impacting the electronics industry across several areas. For example, in material science, it can be used to design more sustainable materials. Another example includes materials informatics.
They consist of the application of AI, digital twins and data analytics which improve the efficiency of materials development by using informatics that ultimately lower the impact on the environment.
The faster discovery of new materials that have specific properties can play an important role in several areas, including new methods in recycling and repurposing of existing product materials and a sustainable production process of electronics.
We estimate that, by 2025, more than 30% of new drugs and materials will be systematically discovered using generative AI techniques, up from zero today.
Are new legislations, such as “right to repair” initiatives and the EU Digital Product Passport (DPP) enough to reduce e-waste?
These legislations are a good start, but there is more that needs to be done. Our research estimates that IT assets account for 7% of global e-waste. It is understandable that movements such as the right to repair, which is a broad international effort that allows end users, business users and consumers to freely repair their devices in case of mechanical or technical failure, have emerged.
Several device brands have also started to introduce repair programs. They have either introduced a repair program that enables users to source spare parts and guidelines, or created self-repair phone programs where users can find links for specific types of repair for each self-repair-supported smartphone model.
The Digital Product Passport (DPP), designed to provide consumers and recycling repair and remanufacturing companies with relevant information (such as environmental indicators and information about durability, reusability, upgradability and repairability), will soon impact consumer electronics makers in the EU.
Vendors must act now and assess the required criteria for the DPP, to ensure the capture of circularity data across the supply chain. But it is not enough. IT leaders must also continually rationalise, retain and restructure the use of devices from procurement though disposal in a way that equally serves the planet, engages employees, and supports the business.