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Breaking the (life) cycle: How businesses and consumers can save money and reduce waste

It’s a cycle you’re all too familiar with: You spend lots of money on an electronic device. A few years go by and your device works without issue. The warranty period ends, and suddenly your device stops working. You discover that out of warranty, repairing the device would cost more than replacing it. And even if you were savvy enough to fix it yourself, spare parts are impossible to come by. Left with no alternatives, you end up discarding the broken device and buying a new one.

Does it feel like this has been happening to you more and more? If so, you’re not imagining it – the BBC reports that between 2004 and 2012, the proportion of major household appliances that died within five years rose from 3.5% to 8.3%.

While this trend is certainly irritating from a financial standpoint, the result is even more detrimental for the environment. All over the world, discarded electronics are filling landfills. United Nations University and the International Telecommunications Union reported that globally, over 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste were generated in 2016, and this number is expected to rise above 50 million tonnes as soon as next year. Moreover, as manufacturers ramp up their outputs to produce replacements, factories release an ever-growing amount of greenhouse gases into the environment. As the effects of climate change reveal themselves across the globe, it has become clear that the electronics manufacturing cycle is no longer sustainable.

In response to consumer frustrations and pressing environmental consequences, lawmakers in Europe and parts of the United States have begun advocating for “right to repair” laws, which would force manufacturers to create products that last longer and are easier to repair. These laws would also loosen OEMs’ control over the repair process and their monopoly on replacement parts.

For now, these proposed laws mostly refer to domestic appliances and electronics. And while the right to repair of consumer goods could help to significantly reduce global e-waste, we must also consider what’s happening at the enterprise level.

IT manufacturers typically declare equipment obsolete after three to five years, forcing a regular upgrade cycle. Terrified by the threat of network downtime and data loss (which can translate into massive hits to revenue), companies all over the world feel obligated to abide by these OEM-defined lifecycles. As a result, staggering amounts of expensive professional-grade IT equipment are constantly being discarded, exacerbating the global e-waste problem and costing businesses significant amounts of money.

Lawmakers have yet to address the right to repair at the enterprise level. However, businesses may already have more options than they realize when it comes to the support of their IT equipment. Even if OEMs will stop servicing the equipment they manufacture after it reaches its designated end-of-life date, third-party maintenance (TPM) providers can continue to support equipment long after the manufacturer refuses to. This can extend the lifecycles of certain IT assets years beyond those determined by the OEM.

If the thought of abandoning OEM maintenance contracts sounds daunting, help is available to ease the transition. The most capable TPM providers can help to identify which equipment is safe to use beyond its end-of-life date by providing a comprehensive analysis of hardware assets and detecting potential risks.

Regardless of whether you’re more concerned about the environment or your budget, the benefits of TPM implementation are clear. Longer IT lifecycles mean less e-waste and fewer manufacturing-related greenhouse gases. From a business perspective, companies can save up to 50% on IT maintenance contracts while also gaining flexibility in their IT strategies. Plus, according to industry advocacy groups like Free ICT Europe, a secondary IT market drives innovation and economic growth. The advocate warns that if we allow OEMs complete control over maintenance, “Europe will be characterised by an ICT environment devoid of innovation and effective competition that excludes local companies from providing local services. This will have broad and long term detrimental consequences for the EU from an economic, social and environmental standpoint.”

Right to repair laws may still be in their infancy, but they are gaining traction. The TPM market is maturing, and its implementation is now considered a mainstream IT strategy. Technology users at both the consumer and corporate levels have shown a desire to break free from the constraints of manufacturers and use their devices longer. In doing so, they will not only save money, but also save the environment. A change is on the horizon, and little by little, the future is starting to look brighter.

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