First published by Future of Sourcing

IT products come with many social and environmental challenges. Conflict minerals, supply chain working conditions, hazardous substances, e-waste as well as the “take, make, use dispose” model of the linear economy demonstrate that the challenges and risks connected to our digital devices run wide and deep. Purchasers and users of technology are at the forefront of asking for better product options.

There are two important sourcing aspects to consider: getting your sustainability priorities clear for vendors and making more informed product choices. TCO Certified is the independent sustainability certification for IT products and a leading decision support tool, providing robust sustainability criteria and independent verification of IT products for almost 30 years. Here, TCO Development, the organization behind TCO Certified, shares a behind-the-scenes look at how it’s done.

Purchasers hold the key to driving sustainability

More than ever, sustainability is an integrated part of core business, which puts procurement at the forefront of delivering on targets for environmental, social and financial responsibility connected to products used in the organization.

When it comes to IT hardware, the risks are significant. Buyers need to know that products are made responsibly with respect for human rights and worker safety in manufacturing. They also need more transparency around product content and how to reduce the environmental impact of computers and servers, for example. The challenge for purchasers is the complexity of both the IT supply chain and the products themselves, making these risks almost impossible to assess without specialist expertise.

This is where external tools such as TCO Certified come in. Using TCO Certified helps purchasers achieve three main goals. Firstly, it’s a clear signal to industry that sustainability matters. The primary driver of IT industry action on sustainability is demand from IT buyers.

Secondly, the right combination of environmental and supply chain responsibility criteria provides purchasers with a way to cover sustainability aspects even in the manufacturing phase.

Thirdly, and most importantly, it reduces risk of greenwash and reliance on unproven manufacturer claims. When an ecolabel or certification requires independent verification, this delivers vital proof to purchasers that the products they buy, and the factories where they’re made, have been independently assessed and are included in a system of continued monitoring.

Increased interest from notebook PC purchasers

TCO Certified has more than 3,500 certified products from over 25 brands and covers office IT products as well as data center hardware categories.

Now, purchasers around the globe are starting to ask for more sustainable products. The fastest growing product category in TCO Certified is notebooks. In 2020 there was a 50% increase in new certified models compared to 2019, resulting in plenty of choice for purchasers. This demand is a direct effect of purchasers raising their voices and asking for IT products that take issues like climate, hazardous content and factory working conditions into account.

Declarations are not enough; independent verification makes the difference

With many labels, declarations and certifications on the market, it can be difficult to identify those that really make a difference. A good strategy is to avoid using declarations and look for certification that verifies compliance with criteria.

Just checking the box is not enough. Real change happens when factories are visited, products are tested and materials analyzed. This should be done by an external independent party.

The system of mandatory independent verification behind TCO Certified is the most robust on the market for IT products. Each year independent verifiers spend around 20,000 hours on assessments, product testing and factory social audits directly connected to certified models.

For products certified according to TCO Certified, a social factory audit typically takes two to five days to complete, depending on the factory’s size. Included in social factory audits are employee statements, observations and document reviews that verify factories are working in a structured way to comply with criteria for socially responsible manufacturing.

If non-conformities are detected, an independent closure audit will later be conducted to verify that the non-conformities from the original audit have been corrected. A closure audit should confirm closure of the non-conformity within 12 months of the initial audit.

TCO Certified criteria are updated every three years to ensure we meet the most pressing sustainability challenges on the market. By using TCO Certified as a purchaser, you enjoy the full benefit of the work we do in a free-to-use, global tool.

If you want more sustainable IT, don’t think utopia, but do something

The most important takeaway for IT purchasers is that we are a long way from fully sustainable IT products. Achieving a lifecycle that is truly regenerative and causes no negative impacts requires a long-term commitment to continuou