Greenwashing explained: how one company is fighting back

The climate crisis is very real and in many areas, getting worse. Evidence is all around, from extreme weather across the globe to more frequent forest fires in places such as Australia and the USA, to coastal erosion as sea levels rise.

We all want to do our bit to combat the climate crisis, but how do we know that the latest initiative we are signing up to, or the ‘sustainable’ product we have just bought, is not an example of corporate ‘greenwashing’?

Greenwashing is the practice of making false claims that your company or products are environmentally friendly. Purporting to be environmentally friendly despite evidence to the contrary has become a marketing technique in an age when the environment is on everyone’s mind. 

Not all companies greenwash, and some instances of greenwashing are far more egregious than others. But all make it that little bit harder for the average consumer to separate fact from fiction when it comes to a company’s green credentials. 

Though greenwashing is a modern buzzword, the practice has been around a lot longer than you may think. Perhaps the first instance of greenwashing (though it wasn’t called that at the time) was the ‘Keep America Beautiful’ campaign, launched in 1953. 

Ostensibly a campaign to discourage littering, Keep America Beautiful was actually launched by the biggest drinks companies in America. It was an attempt to stave off regulation of plastic drinks bottles, and shift the blame for the mountains of plastic waste generated every year onto the consumer, rather than the manufacturer. They were successful: the legislation did not pass, and 100.7 billion plastic bottles were produced in the USA in 2014 alone!

Today, greenwashing takes many forms, and companies big and small engage in it. 

Fossil fuel companies are perhaps the worst offenders. One major fossil fuel company’s high-profile marketing campaign sought to highlight its low carbon credentials and investment in renewable energy. However, though the company has invested $3.2 billion into clean energy research and development since 2016, it has pumped $84 billion into its existing oil and gas interests. Fossil fuel multinationals are some of the world’s biggest polluters, both directly and indirectly, and Climate Earth called this company’s greenwashing campaign a “great deception” in 2021. 

But it’s not just the biggest companies in the world that engage in such behaviours. The smallest start-ups can be guilty, even if their greenwashing activities are done with the best of intentions. Perhaps the most common example of this is in ‘carbon offsetting’ activities. These are particularly prevalent among brands that market themselves as being environmentally conscious. They may pledge to plant a tree for every one of their products sold, and even produce infographics or social media posts to show how many trees they have planted.

The problem with this is that, by convincing their customers that the carbon is to be ‘offset’, they are encouraging them to commit to a bigger carbon footprint by purchasing more and more. Even if the amount of carbon used to create (for example) a T-shirt was offset by the planting of one or more trees, there is still the carbon used in the packaging, transporting and delivering the T-shirt to its buyer. None of this can be standardised and reliably offset, as any one company’s customers could be spread all across the country or even the world. 

Which brings us to the tech industry, and our growing reliance on inter-connected devices to power modern infrastructure and our online society. Though many companies greenwash by claiming their battery-powered devices are great for the environment, or that devices are made with ‘sustainable’ materials, our modern consumption of IT and telecommunications devices creates huge amounts of waste. 

‘E-waste’, as it has been dubbed, is one of the most rapidly-growing problems that the world faces today. According to The World Counts, which keeps track of the issue, we generate around 50 million tonnes of e-waste every year. This is equivalent to throwing away 1,000 laptops every single second. The material value of this waste is worth at least £50 billion per annum.

With all the components that go into producing tech, this is a huge problem. E-waste contains extremely toxic chemicals, including lead, cadmium, dioxins, furans, arsenic, mercury, DDT, PCB, chromium, vinyl chloride, antimony and beryllium. All of these can cause health problems for people and great damage to the environment – a far cry from the sleek, clean aesthetics that the biggest tech companies present to the world.

As well as this, e-waste contains incredibly valuable elements trapped within it. Creating the super-fast connections that we have all come to rely on demands more and more precious and rare earth metals such as gold and platinum to conduct electricity and signals within tiny circuit boards and microchips. Some $20 billion in gold and silver is used each year to manufacture new electronic devices. In fact, there is more pure gold in a modern smartphone than in the equivalent weight of gold ore, making e-waste potentially the biggest source of the precious metal in the world today. 

Finally, not all e-waste is waste. In today’s world, people throw away devices that are perfectly usable, and could be wiped of private data, refurbished and sold on. Every device that is saved and recirculated means one less device that needs to be built from scratch – alongside the elimination of the carbon emissions associated with that process.  

Many companies are deeply engaged in a hugely destructive cycle of producing devices with built-in obsolescence. They hold back already-invented features so that they can be released 18 months down the line with the next ‘must-have’ device, all the while greenwashing their image as they produce all of this e-waste. However, there is one tech company that is fighting back.

n2s is a growing company that is creating a circular economy for the tech industry. At its HQ in Bury St Edmunds, and its centres in Mansfield and Reading, n2s devotes its energies to recovery, refurbishment and recycling of IT and telecoms equipment. Its goal is ‘zero to landfill’ for all equipment that is brought to the company.

At n2s, all devices that can be saved are saved, and then redeployed back into circulation. And for those devices that can’t be re-used, n2s removes and re-uses components before the device is recycled. N2S’s mission is to recover as much material as possible, using cable granulators and a sophisticated dismantling process that separates materials such as copper, aluminium and steel so they can be returned into the manufacturing cycle. For example, plastics from cables that have been separated from the metal inside go on to make products used in street furniture such as traffic cones and car park matting. 

Special attention is lavished on the printed circuit boards found in the tech, with n2s pioneering an ‘urban mining’ technique to extract the precious metals which can then be reused, reducing the need to mine for more raw materials.

Why is this important? By creating this infinity loop for the tech industry, n2s is redefining the technology lifecycle. By focusing on the problem, and not on how the problem can be dressed up and deflected, n2s is addressing one of the most serious issues that faces the planet today. 

And it doesn’t end there: n2s wants to challenge other companies to Be Infinitely Better. Rather than greenwashing the problem of e-waste, they want to help businesses to meet their sustainability goals by taking obsolete tech and turning it into something useful in the most environmentally friendly way possible.

n2s has industry-leading data destruction capabilities, meaning that sensitive data stored on devices can be erased to the highest possible standard. This gives peace of mind to all who partner with n2s, and means they can recycle and refurbish their old devices with the utmost confidence. 

Sustainability is not a marketing tool. It’s a commitment that we all need to make to ensure an infinitely better future for all. 

To find out more about n2s and its work to create an infinity loop for the tech industry, visit www.n2s.co.uk

#BeInfinitelyBetter

Suffolk IT asset disposal firm, N2S, based in Bury St. Edmunds, is spearheading the fight against one of the world’s fastest-growing climate change problems: e-waste.

The company’s mission to deliver 100% circular e-waste management aligns with the WEEE Forum’s International E-Waste Day± campaign for a global recognition of the crisis, on 14 October.

Every IT device – from mobile phones, tablets and laptops to PCs and telephone exchanges – has a carbon footprint, contributing to human-made global warming.

According to the International Energy Agency* the ICT industry generates more than 53 million tonnes of e-waste every year – two per cent of the world’s emissions. This is the equivalent of all the commercial aircraft ever built!

The material value of this is worth at least £50 billion per annum including an estimated £7 billion of precious metals such as gold and silver.

Currently, under 20 percent of e-waste is recycled and much ends up in poorer countries across the world where it is dumped in landfill sites and burned, exposing the environment and humans to toxic fumes which then find their way into the water supply and food chain, poisoning animals, people and destroying the planet.

This is an incredibly serious problem. If nothing is done, e-waste is expected to more than double by 2050 to 120 million tonnes.

With over 30 years’ experience in providing solutions to end-of-life IT equipment, N2S is stepping up to the plate, championing the urgent need for the technology industry – and end user organisations – to take more effective action in tackling the growing mountain of e-waste and its impact on climate change.

Chairman and former England rugby international, Andy Gomarsall MBE explains, “There needs to be a global change in the way that e-waste managed – and it needs to happen now!

“N2S is leading the charge to rapidly and significantly, reduce the environmental impact of enterprise and cloud computing. The race to achieving below net zero emissions demands a more sustainable and circular approach. Our vision is for companies and consumers to use technology from 100% recycled metals using the greenest methods, stopping the need for export and using harmful acids.”

N2S is rising to the challenge, redefining the lifecycle of technology, by creating a 100% circular operation where every part of the equipment is recovered, recycled, reformed or restored for re-use.

Each year, the company recycles around 250,000 IT devices in the UK alone – and none of the equipment processed goes to landfill.

Furthermore, through innovative solutions such as its revolutionary biotechnology process, developed in partnership with Coventry University, critical raw materials including gold, platinum, nickel and copper, found in printed circuit boards that are used in nearly all electronic equipment, is now being recovered, using bacteria to oxidise the metal content.

It is estimated there is up to £15 billion in gold and silver used each year in the manufacture of new electronic devices and scientists have warned some of these substances are in limited supply. N2S’s biotechnology process helps to negate the need to further mine for raw materials.

Gomarsall adds,

“Through our innovations and circular IT lifecycle management solutions, we are altering the face of technology recycling and offering a secure and sustainable way for enterprise and industry to realise their Net Zero goals. Our aim is to deliver a worldwide zero-to-landfill solution for e-waste and bring positive outcomes to climate change.

“It is vital that the world wakes up to the e-waste crisis and takes action now, before it’s too late.”

*International Energy Agency

±WEEE Forum International E-Waste Day

N2S took part in a Hackathon on 8th Oct 2019 to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals, organised by the Cambridge Norwich Tech Corridor.

N2S were one of 4 local companies taking part in the event which was part of the West Suffolk Business Festival and held at the brand new STEM academy in Bury St Edmunds. It was a brilliant day of ideas with N2S’s challenge around increasing the collection rates of e-waste (a crisis the UN refer to as a “tsunami of e-waste”) .

The biggest takeaway of the day was education, that too little is known about this “fastest growing waste stream” and that if more informed, the growing number of Sustainability Managers could support by becoming powerful influencers for spreading information.

https://www.linkedin.com/company/techcorridoruk/

If you would like to find out how N2S can help your business with evolving technology, contact our sales team on hello@n2s.co.uk or 01284 761111.

The 4th Industrial Revolution: What does it mean for your business?

What is the 4th Industrial Revolution?
With the advancement of technology gaining more and more momentum, it is no surprise that the third ‘digital’ revolution is already evolving into the 4th industrial revolution. This revolution explores new uses for the digitalization to continue and advance our use of technology, both at home and at work.

The 4th revolution takes the technology which is now commonplace in our lives, such as laptops, smartphones and tablets and evolves them with advancements such as AI and VR.

What are the challenges your business will face?

1. Upgrading equipment

As technology advances, it is inevitable that hardware will need replacing. Businesses can find themselves wanting to keep with the times but without the necessary equipment to do so. They can also lack the resource to advise on the best way to renew IT and install it.

2. Recycling old equipment

The introduction of new equipment brings with it the challenge of disposing of legacy equipment. By working with a recycling partner, you can ensure that not only is any redundant kit being disposed of ethically, it can also generate cash for the business through resale.

3. Data

New technology creates great innovations, but it can also bring uncertainty. 2018 was the year of “Data” with the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulations, many a data breach hitting the headlines and a far greater public interest in how their data is handled.

The use of data allows our technology to be more intuitive and more helpful in our every day lives, but also means we are sharing more and more data across our devices. Businesses now have a responsibility to dispose of data correctly and record how they do so.

With IT professionals having more challenges to face than ever, it looks as though 2019 will be a year for clear strategy to ensure that the power of the 4th Industrial Revolution is being harnessed whilst businesses remain compliant to ever increasing regulation.

If you would like to find out how N2S can help your business with evolving technology, contact our sales team on hello@n2s.co.uk or 01284 761111.