5 minutes with Steve Haskew, Circular Computing

We sat down with Steve Haskew, Head of Sustainability & Social Change at Circular Computing, to discover how he’s making the tech industry more sustainable

Steve Haskew is the Head of Sustainability and Social Change at Circular Computing. With rich experience spanning over 20 years, he has dedicated his career to collaborating with sustainable businesses, advocating for best practices, and actively addressing the technology industry's unsustainable practices.

Recognising that approximately 31% of global greenhouse gas emissions originate from the production of goods, Steve firmly believes that the future of achieving a decarbonised planet hinges on embracing the principles of the circular economy. Within the tech sector, he asserts that Circular Computing's remanufacturing model stands as the pinnacle of the hierarchy in promoting circular economy practices. For Steve, this paradigm shift goes beyond the mere purchase of carbon credits to appease a "carbon conscience"; it represents a fundamental change in how products are utilised and reused.

We sat down with Steve to find out more about Circular Computing. 

Hi Steve, tell us what led you to your current path?

I am Generation Boomer and have seen changes in the digital/tech space advance at an unbelievable rate. I saw a man land on the moon in 1969. I was one of the 4 billion people on earth in 1972 – this has doubled in 50 years! I remember life without the internet, Google, social media and mobile phones. I remember seeing my first Apple Computer. 

I did O’levels – GCSEs were not invented, and in later life, I went on to do an MBA at the Open University (OU). It was whilst studying with the OU that part of my study group was a top Pharma Co and top 3 consultancies. Their challenge was that the desktop PC (which was hard-wired to a mainframe computer in the basement), was leaving legacy systems and green screens redundant. Floors and floors of expensive real estate were being used to store what they deemed as “waste”.

I centred my MBA around how to fix this problem and designed what is now the ITAD (IT Asset Disposal) industry. The green screens for instance contained Cadmium (it being carcinogenic) and we needed innovation to separate the glass from the carcinogen, the glass could be repurposed into glass fibre and the carcinogen destroyed. This was in the early 1990s and is one example of designing a circular economy-based business. 

The following years saw the adoption of the PC with 71-million-unit sales in 1996 to 270 million within 10 years. Everything changed. We became monster consumers of technology, and the idea of “take, make, use and dispose” was never challenged. Resource preservation is now a central theme in Central Governments around the world, and where politics is not allowed to muddy the waters, is something we need to focus on ensuring the systems are in place for future generations. The alternative is to have nothing.

What does your role as Head of Sustainability include?

As the Director of Sustainability and Client Engagement at Circular Computing, my role encompasses consulting on sustainability strategies, ensuring our own processes are rooted in the circular economy and that we’re a net carbon-positive business, as well as helping us capitalise on the opportunities to strategically advance sustainability, the circular economy and social values. I focus on ensuring our upstream and downstream supply chains are aligned with us.

My work is essentially future-proofing our industry, focusing on reducing the impact ICT has on the environment. Alongside my immediate role, I’m a keynote speaker and advisor to government bodies, sitting on the British Standards Institute Committee responsible for defining and adopting the quality standard BS8887. 

I helped ensure that the standard for remanufacturing, ISO8887, has been adopted by the International Standards body, a primary pillar of the circular economy and compliant adoption of a reuse model, specifically in the field of IT hardware.

What is Circular Computing?

Circular Computing is the global leader in the remanufacturing of laptops and we’re on a mission to create a more ethical, sustainable and socially responsible way to buy enterprise-grade IT.

Our model works on the belief that the way organisations currently procure technology is not sustainable, works against their net carbon reduction strategies, and is economically inefficient.

We operate from a state-of-the-art remanufacturing facility, with our company having the world's first and only BSI Kitemark™ for remanufactured laptops. Companies or individuals wanting to purchase our remanufactured laptops will be sure that what they will purchase is 'equal to or better than new' laptops. Through our 360-point stage Circular Remanufacturing Process, we deliver HP, Dell and Lenovo laptops that look and perform like new, ensuring carbon-neutral processes and end-product.

This process delivers an innovative and real alternative to 'new', going above and beyond a cosmetically improved finish to emphasise performance and reliability.

Tell us all about sustainable technology.

Remanufacturing helps to return a product near the end of its first life cycle to working order 'as new' or to better performance levels instead of being thrown away and contributing to the enormous pile of e-waste. The process addresses the growing e-waste crisis and can help organisations save money and become more sustainable immediately.

You keep the cost of raw materials, energy and water to a minimum and save money by reducing the amount of waste you must dispose of. Not buying brand new can mean existing laptops can be preserved beyond their first iteration, whether used for parts, adequately recycled or remanufactured for a second lease of life, helping to slowly but surely break the cycle of unsustainable consumption and needless e-waste. 

For every remanufactured laptop, approximately 316kg (700lb) of CO2 emissions are prevented by not buying new ones. For just 1,000 laptops, that is the same as taking 80 cars off the road for a year. Over 190,000 litres (50,000 gallons) of water is saved from being used for extraction, refining and production of one new computer and its components. That is enough drinking water for over 700 years for the average American.

Can you share any e-waste statistics with us?

Currently, the amount of e-waste generated globally rises by 57 million tonnes a year with 347 million metric tonnes still in an unrecycled state on earth, and only 17.4% of e-waste is known to be collected and properly recycled. 160,000 laptops are disposed of every day in the EU alone, and for every new laptop having to be made in replacement, an average of 316kg of CO2 is created, 190,000 litres of water is used, and 1,200 kg of earth and rock is mined.

These bad habits have now placed the UK in 2nd place for producing the most e-waste as a country in 2022 (23.9kg per capita) and is on course to take the unwanted top spot by 2024. With the UK missing the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) collection target for the sixth year in a row last year, this is establishing an alarming trend that all industries, not just tech, should be concerned about.  

If everything stays the same and the tech and other industries don't have a handle on this issue, it is estimated that the annual amount of e-waste could more than double by 2050. This means it’s the fastest-growing waste stream in the world and we need to be doing something about it to avoid a global crisis.

Does the technology industry now have the tools to tackle the e-waste crisis?

The tech industry is more than capable of addressing the e-waste crisis with its own innovation such as remanufacturing now certified as being as good as or better than new. However, the large users of IT must first start tackling their unsustainable habits before we can really start to make progress in addressing the mountain of e-waste being faced.

The way many businesses currently procure their IT could always be more sustainable. While nobody can argue against the decision to buy new equipment regularly for its performance, reliability and because everybody likes shiny new things, doing so ignores the vicious cycle of take, make and replace that is slowly harming our planet. 

To address such a vicious cycle, we must develop a sustainable consumption and production model that bears in mind reuse, a goal that tech leaders should strive towards to tackle the e-waste crisis head-on.

It's important to note that the industry itself can't go it alone, and support from the government will be vital in fostering and driving change. For now, utilising remanufactured laptops will slowly but surely break the cycle of unsustainable consumption and needless e-waste, especially at an enterprise level. Such a process can help develop sustainable consumption, help hit net zero targets, cut costs and protect our natural environment for future generations. However, more organisations must take the first steps to make a real difference. We urge organisations of all sizes to join us on this journey to help grow the circular tech economy and start addressing e-waste.

What do the next 12 months hold for you?

We have just launched Remanufacturing as a Service (RaaS), where the client gives us access to their IT estate, and we are able to collect, remanufacture it and present it back to them for re-installation as if it were brand new – at a fraction of the price. 

We see customers looking to “sweat their assets”, and whilst a good strategy is not a resilient one – the asset will break at some point. RaaS provides certainty, against which a strategy can be adopted. This creates the ultimate circular ecosystem, one that creates resilience to supply chains, and one that puts the customer in control, extends the life of the asset professionally retaining total value. The clients can and do have a hybrid of buying remanufactured devices from our estate and remanufacturing their own.

The next 12 months, will be rolling this out, alongside increasing our commitments to the environment and society – e.g. to deliver further our reforestation commitment (over 300,000 trees planted to date, supporting vulnerable pockets of global society, and delivering a sustainable environment for them to build their own lives) and at the same time educating the market. Ultimately though, we want to increase our production output whilst driving down our own carbon footprint.

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