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Speaking with CPOs about their sustainability accomplishments, I often wonder is it procurement’s responsibility to think about the environmental impact caused by their products at post-consumption level, namely when it goes to waste? And why?
Consider an example from the world of consumer electronics. In a recent article, the New York Times quotes Demos, a New York-based public policy organisation that specialises in economic fairness and sustainability. According to the company’s research, Americans own a combined three billion electronic products, with a turnover rate of more than 400 million units each year. These devices include televisions, mobile phones, computers, printers, cameras, audio and video players, among other items. However, less than 14% of these electronics products are being recycled, while the rest goes to land-fills and incinerators. Even those gadgets that do make it into the recycling funnel, they are likely to end up in developing countries where they are being handled unsafely and, as such, posing health and environmental risks.
Electronic waste is becoming a fast-growing global waste problem, further compounded by the ever increasing rate at which today’s technology accelerates. Consumers, especially the early adapters, will naturally want to upgrade to the next best model of their gadget. But where to put all this waste that, if not properly disposed, can cause major environmental problems?
One company that has taken a serious look at how electronic waste could be minimised is Best Buy, the largest consumer electronics retailer in the US. For the past two years, Best Buy has been allowing consumers to drop off their old electronics at its stores where they are being recycled. However, in its most recent bold green move, the company introduced the Buy Back plan. This plan allows customers to trade in their old laptops, notebooks, tablets or smartphones for a percentage of the device’s original value. For instance, a shopper pays an upfront fee, US$59.99 for a laptop, and then receives 10% to 50% back of the product’s value it is returned within two years, provided it is in working condition. Those consumers who participate in the programme will have an economic incentive to return their electronic devices to the store where they can either be refurbished, resold or recycled.
This idea is destined to be successful, especially among the early adopters among us. In fact, while Best Buy is currently restricting the idea to three categories (computing solutions, smart phones and televisions), it may expand to different products depending on demand.
What if procurement organisations leased electronics such as laptops, printers and fax machines from their suppliers without ever having to buy them? Instead, they had the option to upgrade them to the next generation whenever they wanted to. Here are three benefits: