The circular economy — an opportunity for more sustainable IT products

Our current, linear way of producing and consuming products is ruining fragile ecosystems, causing the loss of valuable natural resources. The circular economy brings more sustainable solutions where products are in use longer and materials are reused to manufacture new products.

Today’s dominating economic model is linear: We take virgin natural resources and make products from them which we then discard once we’re done using them — often after a relatively short time. Sometimes the short lifespan is due to planned obsolescence where products break easily and are difficult to repair and upgrade.

The linear model leads to a number of problems:

  • Virgin materials are extracted at a faster rate than they can be replenished.
  • Once discarded, products are treated as waste and are often incinerated or placed in landfill, leading to the loss of valuable and scarce natural resources.
  • Unsafe ways of handling waste also lead to hazardous substances leaching into soil, water and air.
  • Both the manufacturing and transportation of products lead to pollution and extensive energy use that can be avoided in the circular economy.

Reserves of some natural resources are already running low and the problem will increase as the world population grows and economic prosperity reaches more people.

Resources are re-used in the circular economy

In a circular economy, resources are handled in a more responsible way. The goal is to extend product lifetime and recirculate all materials without producing any waste.

Product reuse is more resource efficient than recycling since most materials lose value every time they are recycled. Therefore, extending product lifetime is the best way of lowering its environmental impact. In a circular economy, products are built to last. They are durable and can be upgraded and repaired. Parts can be replaced — for example batteries, since functioning products often are discarded just because of worn-out batteries.

Once products have reached the end of their usable life they turn into valuable resources, used to manufacture new products. The need for extracting virgin materials is therefore minimized in the circular economy. Product and material life is considered already in the design phase — components are made easy to separate and contain no hazardous substances which make them unsuitable to recycle and use in new products.

The circular economy means new ways of doing business.

Innovation and new business models

The circular economy also opens up opportunities for new and innovative business models and concepts. New ways of accessing products lower the environmental impact. For example, people can share products and own them together to get access to products that they don’t need daily. Renting and leasing products create more flexibility and make it more likely that one product has multiple owners during its lifetime. Companies increasingly offer products-as-a-service solutions where access to functions, maintenance, repair and upgrades are included in a service that the customer purchases. When products live longer, more people are engaged in repair and maintenance businesses.

What you can do

Use the products you buy for a longer time period – even adding another year gives substantial sustainability benefits.

Choose products that are designed for repairing, upgrading and upcycling.

Don’t just look at the sales price — a more expensive product may be cheaper to maintain, which saves money in the long term.

View the contents of products as valuable resources in the circular economy, never to be discarded.

How TCO Certified contributes to the circular economy

TCO Certified drives the development of products that are durable, repairable, upgradeable and recyclable, making them more attractive for reuse or secondary markets.

  • Criteria cover all phases of the product life cycle: material sourcing and manufacturing; use and re-use; recovery and recycling.
  • IT products are often replaced because the battery has lost its ability to hold a charge. TCO Certified includes criteria for battery life and replaceability.
  • The brand owner must provide software which deletes data from the device securely and free of charge, so that the product can be recirculated without risk of data leakage.
  • Certified products must have at least one year’s warranty and spare parts must be available for at least three years after the product model is no longer manufactured.
  • To promote the circular economy, products must be repairable and upgradeable so that they remain functional for a long time.
  • By reducing the number of hazardous substances, materials can be safely recycled and reused for a long time to come, and maintain compliance with increasingly stricter legislation.
  • Products must include an USB Type-C port. By using a standardized connector, fewer cables need to be manufactured and re-use of cables can increase.
  • Mobile products must be durable and endure high and low temperatures.
  • The brand owner is responsible for offering take-back options at end of life.

TCO Certified is the world’s most comprehensive sustainability certification for IT products, helping you make responsible product choices that drive the industry in a sustainable direction. Using TCO Certified also supports your organization in taking the next step in social and environmental responsibility.

Other sustainability issues connected to IT products
Conflict minerals used in IT products drive wars and human rights abuses
Social and environmental challenges in the IT product supply chain
Hazardous substances in IT products — a human health and environmental risk
A growing, toxic waste stream where valuable finite resources are lost
Sources of information