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University of Leeds BA Students and Techbuyer: Finding Sustainable Changes
At Techbuyer, we’re no stranger to student projects. Whether it’s hosting a summer placement at our UK site, or working in collaboration with South Bank University on a KTP energy efficiency project, we have witnessed first-hand the enthusiasm and knowledge that undergraduates and postgraduates bring to the table. With this in mind, we returned to the University of Leeds to begin a project with 18 BA Environment and Business second year students.
The project brief
As part of their ‘Tools and Techniques for Sustainable Business’ module, the Environment and Business students were required to examine, understand and analyse the inner workings of a company, and suggest ways of making key processes more sustainable. Since late 2019, Astrid Wynne, Sustainability Manager at Techbuyer and I have given a presentation on campus, met with the student groups and answered questions, and have also given a tour of our Harrogate site. Following this, the BA students worked together to share ideas and suggest practical solutions. I travelled back to campus last week to see the final part of the project; the group presentation.
Presenting findings and assessing areas for change
Ahead of the day, the other student groups in the module were asked what issues they think Techbuyer may be facing in terms of sustainability. These answers appeared one by one in a mind map at the start of the presentation, covering a range of topics including transport, mileage, waste, and plastic. Using these themes and their research about Techbuyer as a basis, the BA student group narrowed their project’s focus down to three main areas: Techbuyer’s product chain, warehouses and employees.
First up was packaging, and how to eradicate single use plastic and non-recyclables. When visiting the Techbuyer site in February, the students witnessed first-hand how fragile data centre equipment can be, and the necessity of bubble wrap and cardboard to ensure that components arrive in perfect condition. Following this, one student suggested looking into PET plastic. This is a cheaper, more durable and more sustainable version of plastic, which we recently began trialling as a replacement for polystyrene foam. The group also agreed that trying out emerging packaging solutions, which our warehouse staff are currently doing, is best practice.
In terms of warehouse processes, the students praised the automatic lighting and recycling measures that are already in place. They also spoke about how our key business – refurbishing and data erasing components – prevents e-waste and encourages reuse. However, one issue that we face is the heat produced during this process. One idea the undergraduates had was to re-circle the heat from the hard drive testing area around the rest of the warehouse in the winter. In terms of energy usage, a lifecycle analysis was recommended in order to monitor exact energy usage, or an eco-efficiency model which could help set and achieve a target such as reducing 5% of energy usage in a year. These are great suggestions which we’ll be feeding back to the wider team.
Inspiring individual change
My favourite part of the presentation was when the students assessed how we could inspire behavioural change amongst employees. Although sustainability is now an issue on most peoples’ radars thanks in part to extensive media coverage, recent extreme weather conditions and the sustainability of our core business, changing individual actions is still a challenge for today’s businesses. One element the students looked at was our existing cycle-to-work scheme. To make it more popular, they suggested offering incentives such as gift cards to those who cycle the furthest each month. Incentives like these are a great way to ensure we are reducing miles and environmental impact wherever possible, especially as our team continues to grow.
Taking this further, one student commented that we could even create a points-based system whereby we measure the amount of petrol saved and then award a Sustainable Employee of the Month or Quarter to whoever cycles the furthest. Not only would this be applicable for all our sites across the world, but it also ties in with our work towards Goal 3 - 'Good Health and Wellbeing' - for the Sustainable Development Goals.
The creativity of the students really showed when they shared their poster designs, which aim to encourage recycling and reduce the purchase of single use plastics. These would fit in really well in our offices, plus I have to admit that writing about a poster with a turtle saying “Whoa dude, recycle” is the highlight of my week.
Feedback from the students (and from Techbuyer)
At the end of the presentation, I asked everyone if they had ever studied sustainability in the IT industry before this project, and they all said no. This is something you genuinely couldn’t tell due to the detail of their findings. I also asked what their biggest challenge has been. One aspect the students shared was that Techbuyer has already trialled several changes, including implementing different forms of packaging and working towards alternative delivery options. As a company that prevents e-waste by refurbishing IT equipment, and supports the growth of the secondary market, it’s good to hear that we are along the right lines.
Astrid and I have really enjoyed working with our two groups of undergraduates. It was a pleasure to see the project from start to finish and we wish them all the best for the future. On a personal level, as a recent University of Leeds graduate it has been great to get back on campus (and even grab a copy of the student newspaper that I used to write for). Whilst I don’t have all the answers to the questions asked about life after university, working for a company that sees the value and potential of recent graduates was definitely the best decision I could have made.
Techbuyer is a global specialist in buying, selling and refurbishing data centre equipment. Our secure data erasure and testing process ensures that the product life of redundant hardware is extended, and that quality technology is reused. Refurbished equipment provides performance as good as new, great cost savings and all whilst reducing e-waste and encouraging reuse. Find out more here.