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Stricter EU Ecodesign Standards: A Solution for Wasted Hardware?

Astrid Wynne, Sustainability Communications Manager Mar 07, 2019

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, around 20 to 50 million metric tonnes of electronic waste are generated worldwide every year, and data centre equipment will be a considerable part of this. This is significant since servers are made up of environmentally costly materials like steel, plastic and aluminium, three of the top five worst offenders when it comes to industrial greenhouse gas emissions at the manufacturing stage. Although some materials within a server can be melted down or recycled, other products are unable to be broken down as they would negatively impact the environment. Refurbishing servers is a better way to reduce the amount of equipment being sent to landfill because it keeps servers in use for longer and contributes to the circular economy.

The EU has created a new regulation to come into effect in March 2021. With more focus on the sustainability of electronic hardware than ever before, this legislation will encourage more reuse of IT equipment and ensure that companies improve the energy efficiency of their products. Here at Techbuyer, we are passionate about making data centre equipment greener, and so we found many points of interest.

The ecodesign requirements within this legislation will minimise the environmental impact of servers and data storage and save an estimated 6.1TWh of energy if the requirements are met by 2030. This is the same as decreasing EU energy consumption by 5%. We find this encouraging since it means that politicians are looking at the energy cost of upgrades and refreshes, as well as the equivalent of the monthly electric bill.

Strides are being made to encourage reuse as far as possible by making firmware upgrades more readily available. Firmware is permanent software programmed into hardware devices that enable them to communicate with other devices. Since servers are long-lasting, reliable machines, updates are essential to get full usage out of them over time and allow them to communicate effectively within new technology environments. The legislation mandates that firmware updates should be publicly available from two years after servers are first placed on the market. What’s more, these firmware updates must be available for up to eight years after the last product has been put on the market, providing the secondary market with prolonged access to products. Historically, firmware has been difficult to access by any other organisation but the manufacturers, which has potentially resulted in more servers going to landfill than was necessary.

The scale of this is significant when you consider the huge turnover of IT hardware within data centres. 11.45 million servers were shipped worldwide in 2017 alone according to statista.com; that’s a massive quantity considering that our recent three tonne order only held 128 blade servers and ten enclosures. Tech Target estimates the average lifespan on these machines to be just 2-4 years, despite them being useful for longer. This has a real implication in terms of the amount of materials being wasted and the associated impact on the environment.

Accurate visibility is difficult on the size of the secondary market, however refurbished products are estimated to make up around 10% of the EU’s data centre equipment. This is a low percentage considering the many advantages of reusing technology in terms of cost and environmental benefit. An increasing number of organisations are coming around to this way of thinking. Techbuyer is proof of the high demand for refurbished products; our business grows around 20% every year and now spans six countries. Our secure data erasure procedures and rigorous testing processes ensure that our products are of the highest quality, and we are so confident with our refurbished equipment that we provide a three year warranty as standard with every product.

At Techbuyer we are moving the tech industry forward. With our sustainable approach and dedication to minimising material waste, we have shown our good practice prior to the introduction of firmware update regulations. The 2021 EU legislation will encourage more companies to invest in the circular economy, and work towards the goal of creating sustainable, long-lasting data centre equipment.

© Techbuyer 2019