Impacting the Environment and Human Health Globally with IT Products

Posted: 04/22/2021 - 09:00
Impacting the Environment and Human Health Globally with IT Products

Impacting the Environment and Human Health Globally with IT Products

IT products are essential in most organizations, but they come with a complex supply chain that includes both social and environmental risks. If done right, purchasers can directly impact the environment and human health by procuring more sustainable IT products, and become the driving force for socially responsible manufacturing, safer alternatives to hazardous substances and circular procurement.

The Supply Chain for IT Products is Complex

Just like many other products, IT products have complex and global supply chains. Components used in the products are produced in factories all over the world, and the source materials come from a wide range of suppliers. Most brand owners use multiple factories to secure production.

When buying something produced locally, we are familiar with the legislation and cultural values, and know what to expect in terms of the manufacturing of that product. When a product is produced in a different part of the world it is less likely that we are familiar with the legislation and customs affecting manufacturing of that product. With the complexity of IT product supply chains and the problems that they cause we know that expertise, knowledge and experience are needed to understand and affect it.

By procuring more sustainable IT products, you can have a direct impact on these environmental and human health challenges.

Getting Socially Responsible Manufacturing Right

Social responsibility is a continuing challenge throughout the IT supply chain, from raw materials extraction to final assembly. Extensive working hours, worker health and safety, and forced labor are examples of industry-wide issues. Like many other products we purchase today, much of the manufacturing of IT products is carried out in low-cost, low-wage countries, where workers often are less protected and employment less regulated. The result can be poor working conditions throughout the supply chain, putting human health and worker lives at risk.

The most important thing you can do to impact this is to make sure that your supplier’s social responsibility claims are verified by an independent party. The easiest and most effective way of doing that is by using a trustworthy sustainability certification.

Safer Alternatives to Hazardous Substances

When hazardous substances are used in IT products they present a wide variety of human health and environmental risks. As a result, throughout the lifecycle, products may release dioxins, halogens and other toxicants, which can persist in the natural environment and the human body. The traditional way of working with hazardous substances and dangerous chemicals is to ban those that have proven hazards. The hazardous substances may then be replaced by substances with unknown risks, which means they could be even more harmful than those replaced.

At TCO Certified, we use a unique approach to tackle this challenge. Only flame retardants and plasticizers independently verified as safer alternatives are allowed, effectively banning all others. They are published on a public accepted substances list, driving a shift towards greater transparency and the use of safer alternatives. Criteria in TCO Certified also explicitly ban hazardous substances such as cadmium, mercury, lead and hexavalent chromium.

Let’s Get Circular and Look After our Finite Natural Resources

Our current, linear way of producing and consuming products is ruining fragile ecosystems. This is causing the loss of valuable natural resources. In a circular economy, resources are managed in a more responsible way. The solution is to extend product lifetime and recirculate all materials without producing waste.

As a purchaser the best thing you can do is to look for products that are durable, repairable, upgradeable and recyclable, making them more attractive for secondary markets. Ask for products that are designed to last and stay in our value chains for as long as possible.

When We Act Together, Change Happens

The complexity of the IT product supply chains makes follow-up and verification of social and environmental criteria for IT products a huge challenge for a purchaser. We need to act together to drive change. Trustworthy ecolabels help you make responsible choices that lead to social and environmental benefits.

What to consider when choosing to benefit from an ecolabel? First, an ecolabel should be designed to address a product’s sustainability impact from a lifecycle perspective. Second, to decide whether products actually meet set criteria, compliance needs to be verified by an independent organization. Third, choose a trustworthy ecolabel or sustainability certification that does the job for you. This will help to save resources, as you don’t have to set criteria or verify compliance yourself. The system of the certification with independent verification of all the criteria should take care of that for you.

From driving socially responsible manufacturing, to the TCO Certified Accepted Substance List and pushing for a more circular products lifecycle, we impact the environment and human health globally. With the support of purchasers using TCO Certified, we can develop meaningful criteria with real impacts. By asking for TCO Certified in your procurement, you stand with purchasers around the world that want to drive the IT industry in a more sustainable direction.


About The Author

Sören Enholm's picture

Sören Enholm is the CEO of TCO Development, the organization behind TCO Certified, the world-leading sustainability certification for IT products. IT buyers and manufacturers worldwide use TCO Certified to make more sustainable choices. The comprehensive criteria are designed to drive social and environmental responsibility throughout the product lifecycle. Sören has a lengthy background in the IT industry, having held positions at Sun Microsystems, Apple and Netscape. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Uppsala University, Sweden, and is a passionate advocate for IT’s role in a more sustainable world.