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May 26, 2024

Advancing sustainability through IT

Understanding and implementing sustainability projects within an IT framework involves the physical and the virtual worlds, writes Tomi Kallio, Chief Information Security Officer at Normet.

Working with the physical 

The world of Information Technology, at first glance, perhaps doesn’t seem like the most obvious place to hold a discussion about sustainability related to underground industries. But in fact, the IT sector has a significant and practical role to play in the conversation. At Normet, we are pushing forward with sustainable and more environmentally friendly solutions in all parts of our business. 

When it comes to IT, we can see two distinct areas within which we can consider sustainability. First, we have the physical world of the hardware we use – laptops, mobile phones, monitors, tablets, and other IT devices. It is common for companies to continually invest in purchasing new equipment as older models become more inefficient.  

The lifespan of a laptop, for example, might only be three years, and rarely more than five. The amount of waste from devices that are assumed obsolete is significant. Electronic waste is the most rapidly growing waste problem in the world – about 50 million tons of it are generated every year. This is equivalent to throwing out 1,000 laptops every second. Electronic waste contains, among other things, various toxic substances including mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, selenium, chromium, and flame retardants. 

Repurposing and reusing 

There are many factors that contribute to the carbon footprint of an IT device over its lifetime. This includes the manufacturing process, packaging, shipping, and end-of-life disposal. At Normet, we use practical solutions that can measurably reduce the carbon footprint.  

Repurposing IT equipment and participating in the circular economy is our approach. At Normet, last year 83 per cent of used laptop or desktop computers in our Finnish offices were refurbished for reuse, equivalent to avoiding over 1,093 kg of CO2 emissions. CO2 avoidance is calculated by measuring the median CO2 emissions for each product group based on manufacturer data for the most popular devices. Now, we are planning expansions of IT device recycling and refurbishing projects globally in cooperation with local partners with the primary aim of improving resale of devices to new customers and recycling rates. 

Global and local efforts 

Some of the key local elements are to reduce emissions resulting from transporting used devices for repair, refurbishment or recycling and to find partners that meet, or exceed, the highest operating standards. We want to ensure that our customers and recycling partners handle devices responsibly and, in this way, help maintain a sustainable value chain. 

Rapid repurposing is important. Normet aims to do its part and maximise the lifecycle of any device by leasing IT devices for a maximum of 3 years. After this time, most devices still have remarketing value. Taking appropriate care of devices while in use to make sure that they can still be used after the lease, and servicing devices while they are in use, are also important factors in reselling.  

Another example of repurposing would be when used working laptops are given a new life in training, software testing and so on. Of course, from a security point of view, it is vital that data is completely removed from used devices to continue their life cycle.  

Software sustainability 

The second area of sustainability is the virtual world. This is less obviously visible but no less important. We are constantly developing new software to improve the efficiency and therefore sustainability of our customers’ operations. We can also note the research into sustainable software which optimises code to require less processing power. Over hundreds or thousands of devices this has the potential to significantly reduce power and equipment needs. 

This ties in to the global trend towards digitalisation. By default, our equipment is connected to the digital world, gathering data to improve the service model. Underground mining and tunnelling operations take place in surprisingly well-connected environments which makes it easier to research better ways to gather and analyse information. Connectivity also has a strong safety element and helps to safeguard personnel and machinery. 

Although the effects of sustainability in the virtual environment are less easy to quantify than those in the physical world, at Normet we are sure that our efforts in both fields and those of other industry stakeholders will make a real difference in the future. 

About the author


Tomi Kallio

Tomi Kallio

Chief Information Security Officer at Normet

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