Hardware that lasts and sustainable hardware

When it comes to sustainability in IT, the issue of hardware is central. Raw material production and the manufacturing, transport, and discarding of hardware account for a large part of the environmental impact of IT. Considering the quantity of devices (phones, laptops, hard drives, CPUs, GPUs, etc.) that are ordered, used, and discarded in Sweden and the world on a daily basis, this isn’t very hard to imagine.

At the same time, hardware enables technology leaps and innovations through the increased computing power it provides, even in the area of sustainability.

In this section, we will therefore pool information that highlights the entire hardware life cycle to provide insights into how you can work more sustainably with your hardware. 

Good questions to ask oneself

  • Do you have policies for employees to use their own devices?
  • Do you have a policy for hardware procurement that considers sustainability?
  • Do you have maintenance policies for your hardware? (e.g. updates, defragmentation)

The expert's insights into electronics and circular economy

The impact of electronics on the environment is greater than most people realize. Despite this, electronic waste is the fastest-growing waste stream globally. Approximately 80% of the carbon dioxide emissions from electronics such as phones and computers come from production. Therefore, we must increasingly focus on how we manage our electronics in a circular manner: from procurement, to use, to disposal. By reusing a laptop, we can
save 280 kg of CO2e compared to producing a brand new one. The equivalent figures for a phone and computer screen are 55 and 520 kg of CO2e, respectively.

We need to adopt a more circular approach to electronics, particularly when it comes to hardware. However, it is important to acknowledge that all extraction processes have social and environmental implications.

In addition to carbon emissions, the electronics industry also generates significant amounts of waste. For instance, the production of a laptop alone requires approximately 1200 kg of waste, according to Avfall Sverige. When considering the social issues, the extraction of materials and production can be problematic, particularly in conflict-affected areas where minerals are sourced. One issue is that the proceeds from these extractions often finance armed conflicts. Furthermore, there are instances where extraction occurs under conditions involving forced labor, forced displacement, and other human rights violations, as reported by the Geological Survey of Sweden.

Presentation of Sebastian Holmström

Sebastian is the Sustainability Manager at Inrego, a company that annually reuses hundreds of thousands of IT products by purchasing, refurbishing, and reselling them. Inrego's work aims to establish a circular economy instead of the current linear model, in order to stay within our planetary boundaries and pave the way for smarter IT consumption worldwide.

Sebastian is an expert in the Swedish delegation for the circular economy, where he also serves as the chairman of a reuse expert group. He has also been recognized as one of Sweden's most intriguing young sustainability talents
below 33 years old.

Checklist - 4 things to begin with

  1. Purchase circular electronics
    Purchasing refurbished products is an option. Buying products that have been refurbished is the most
    environmentally friendly choice, as it allows for the reuse of products.
  2. Utilize your IT product for an extended duration
    The circular economy is centered around the reuse of products and materials. The optimal approach is to utilize products that have already been created.
  3. Reuse
    When you are finished with your computer, make it available to others! Extend the lifespan of your used equipment by selling it to a reuser who can ensure it has an extended life. Inrego, for example, can reuse 95 percent of laptops for a second time.
  4. Recycle
    Recycling is the final resort in the circular economy; ensure that all other possibilities for product extension have been explored first.


Personal reflection by Sebastian

I have long been interested in the concept of circular economy and how we can achieve more with less. How can we, with the same amount of natural resources, create greater value for our customers both in terms of functionality and economics? In today's linear economy, we extract natural resources and use them quickly before discarding them. We simply need to rethink our approach!

That's where my interest stems from - reimagining how we live today and creating the circular solutions of the future. This has led me to work on circular economy initiatives within non-profit organizations, municipalities, and now at Inrego. Within the realm of electronics, there is tremendous potential for circular economy practices. Electronics have the advantage of often being repairable and retaining high value, making it economically feasible to repair them - something that is not the case for all products. Some products incur higher costs in logistics and labor to repair than the cost of a new product.

By creating circular solutions that are simpler and more cost-effective for our customers, we can rapidly accelerate the transition. This needs to happen quickly, and we can achieve it together.

Articles and reports

Life Cycle Assessment of ICT

Malmodin, J., Lundén, D., Moberg, Å., Andersson, G., & Nilsson, M. (2014). Life cycle assessment of ICT: Carbon footprint and operational electricity use from the operator, national, and subscriber perspective in Sweden. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 18(6), 829-845.

Material footprints of ICT and Entertainment & Media

Malmodin J., Bergmark P., Matinfar S. (2018)

E-waste - major differences between regions

Liebmann, A. 2015, Master Thesis

Avfall Sverige - Invisible waste

Kommunernas branschorganisation för avfallshantering - The total waste of products – a study on waste footprint and climate cost

Elavfall & råmaterial

Jurate Miliute-Plepiene och Lena Youhanan, IVL Svenska Miljöinstitutet, 2019