Guest Article: Businesses can reduce their environmental footprint while increasing profits

By Jason Kehr
Valley City Electronic Recycling

A recent economic speaking engagement led by Patagonia’s Vincent Stanley sparked thoughts about how the iconic brand’s “Don’t Buy This Jacket” advertising campaign applies to companies in today’s technological society.

In November 2011, Patagonia took out a full-page ad in the New York Times on the Friday after Thanksgiving – otherwise known as Black Friday. The ad stated, “Don’t Buy This Jacket,” with a picture of a grey Patagonia R2® Jacket, one of the company’s best sellers. It also included what it took to make the jacket, including 135 liters of water, enough to meet the daily needs of 45 people. While the jacket is made with 60 percent recycled polyester, it “comes with an environmental cost higher than its price,” the ad stated. The goal of Patagonia’s “buy less” advertising strategy was to encourage people to think about how their purchases impact the environment, objectively assess their immediate need for products and pledge to reduce, repair, reuse and recycle whenever possible.

Companies that practice the 4Rs – reduce, repair, reuse and recycle — have a tremendous opportunity to decrease their environmental footprint, while at the same time, increase their profits. This doesn’t just apply to manufacturers of wearable goods, but also to companies of all sizes in various markets.  

While technology is extremely useful and often necessary for daily business efficiency, companies often purchase more electronic products and services than they need. A couple ways to help mitigate this is to extend refresh cycles on devices or limit the amount of devices employees may use onsite. Companies that adhere to these two practices alone can help reduce the amount of precious metals used to produce new electronics each year.

Ultimately, the best thing you can do for the environment is reduce the amount of electronic purchases. If that’s too overwhelming for your company, tech repairs are the next best thing to support the reduction process. In most cases, companies will scrap electronics that malfunction and purchase new equipment rather than exploring the repair route. Yet, repairing malfunctioned electronics are often cost effective and can be done in a timely manner.

When companies have exhausted all repair options, they can evaluate the equipment’s reusable value. Today’s society is host to a robust used electronics market with an extensive array of equipment based on make, model, generation, specs, etc. When repurposed equipment is brought back into a working environment, not only does it extend its useful life, but it avoids the pitfalls of the final option: recycling.

The final R – recycling – gets the most attention of the 4Rs, and is a viable option when an electronic device has truly reached its useful end-of-life stage. Breaking down equipment to its commodity level is certainly a better and more sustainable option than having it go to the landfill. But keep in mind, recycling tech devices should be the last resort as reduction, repair and reuse are all better options for the environment.

Just like Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy This Jacket” advertising campaign, companies large and small can evoke positive change in the environment by committing to the 4Rs with their technology usage. Additionally, companies will have all the computing power they need and a stronger bottom line when implementing a technology strategy of buying less new equipment, repairing current equipment and utilizing the used equipment market.

At Valley City Electronic Recycling, we help companies throughout Michigan with each facet of the 4Rs. As community members, we implore you to practice the 4Rs to make this world a more sustainable place to live.

Will you take the 4Rs challenge?

Jason Kehr is president of Valley City Electronic Recycling, a certified B Corp and licensed large quantity universal waste handler headquartered in metro Grand Rapids dedicated to safe, secure and sustainable domestic recycling of electronics, medical and industrial equipment that works with communities, businesses and nonprofit organizations throughout Michigan.

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