How to become more sustainable with the latest tech

One of the biggest topics of the last decade, sustainability has become the beacon of hope to protect the planet. And it’s a topic we can’t ignore. Read any newspaper or scroll through your social feeds and that we must act now in a more sustainable way.

While there’s still mountains of work to be done, the momentum for change has been incredibly positive. From supermarkets taking action on plastic packaging to the zero waste movement that can be practised from your kitchen, changes implemented by individuals and organisations across the globe has without a doubt had an impact on the way we think, shop and live.

So what does that mean for the world of technology? You’d be forgiven for thinking that the words ‘sustainable’ and ‘tech’ don’t usually go hand in hand. E-waste is, after all, one of the planet’s biggest contributing waste streams.

Not only that, but the materials that go into tech products are part of the problem. Take the smartphone industry; dozens of metals, minerals and compounds go into making handsets which have to be extracted from the earth (including 16 of 17 rare metals at risk of becoming scarce). And with demand for mobile phones bigger than ever, it’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

But with a challenge comes an opportunity, and there’s already some brilliant progress happening - great news for those of us wanting to be more sustainable with our tech. Firstly, refurbished is having its moment. While consumers would previously turn their noses up at the idea of a second-hand device, there’s been a huge surge in demand for refurbished tech (for example, refurbished smartphone sales in the US sky-rocketed by 28% in the last 12 months while brand new sales fell by 21%).

We need only do a quick Google search to find Amazon’s refurbished tech arm Amazon Renewed, ‘as good as new’ cameras in GoPro’s refurbished shop and ‘better than new’ refurbished laptops with eBay. And with 12-month warranties and rigorous quality checks, getting a refurbished device through a trusted retailer means getting a product that’s far from the idea of a cracked second-hand device. Plus, the lower price tag is incredibly tempting.

From a sustainability point of view, the act of refurbishing avoids old devices ending up in drawers or in trash heaps. Not only that, but their materials aren’t wasted. This is a fundamental principle of the Ellen Macarthur Foundation which believes that designing out waste and pollution goes hand in hand with keeping materials in use.

The second major step in tackling the problem of e-waste is a change in attitudes from owning a product to subscribing for one. Subscriptions are nothing new - they’re the reason Netflix pipped Blockbuster to the movie post and how iTunes boasts 62% of the music industry’s sales. And for the world of mobile phones, it takes away the job of working out what to do with your old phone once you reach the end of your contract.

A subscription for a smartphone might sound like a foreign concept, but it’s already gaining momentum. At the forefront of this movement is London-based tech startup Raylo, a pending B Corp which offers a subscription service for the latest iPhone. As customers aren’t paying to own the phone at the end of their contract, the monthly price is significantly lower than average.

Raylo will then refurbish and repurpose their customers’ used mobile phones while supplying them with a brand new iPhone at the end of the customers’ term. And while they offer brand new iPhones, interest in refurbished has peaked so much that they now offer refurbished iPhones, too. So, not only are Raylo combating wastage with their subscription service, their refurbished arm takes ‘reuse’ to a whole new level.

Studies show that extending a phone’s lifespan from one to four years can decrease its environmental impact by about 40%. So the next time it comes to refreshing your device - whether a smartphone, laptop, tablet or other - consider the more environmentally-friendly options that are at your fingertips. It would seem it is possible to be sustainable with your tech after all.

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