Sustainability is a top priority for channel partners. Rachel Brindley, senior director, channels, Canalys, talks to Comms Business about how sustainability strategies are evolving

Canalys recently conducted a worldwide survey on sustainability. The analyst firm set out to gauge partner attitudes toward sustainability, assess their progress, and identify the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. It received responses from 545 channel partners in 76 countries.

Rachel Brindley, senior director, channels, Canalys, explained that sustainability is a priority for many channel partners, but their individual journeys towards sustainable businesses are varied.

Brindley (pictured, right) said key drivers here include regulations, ESG strategies, and also rising energy costs. She explained, “In the UK, we’ve got a focus around net zero and carbon neutrality and the need to be compliant is front of mind for many end customers. But each customer’s own sustainability strategies are driving a lot of that discussion as well.

“Organisations need to operate sustainably both to attract and retain customers, but there’s also an employee pressure as well. Employees, particularly new hires, want to want to work for a company that is operating responsibly and sustainably and that’s fuelling a lot of businesses to take this seriously.”

She added, “We have seen a huge rise in energy costs over the last 12 months because of geopolitical issues. That has highlighted the cost of energy within the customer base and the need for their IT to be energy efficient.

“This is making businesses ask questions about turning off lights, turning off servers, or turning off aircon in data centers if they’re not currently being used.”

These pressures, Brindley said, are making end customers ask more from their service providers.

She said, “There is a lot of opportunity for partners but customers are looking in detail at what they are spending on technology from an energy perspective, and wanting to make that more efficient.

“Conversations are being had around the energy impact of servers. Older servers can be very energy inefficient, and the newer ones are much more efficient.

“This is useful for partners in terms of being able to have those conversations, but customers are laser-focused on costs, particularly with all the economic headwinds we’ve got around inflation and interest rates.”

Circular IT

The survey also revealed that the circular economy, which emphasises the repair, reuse and recycling of products, is gradually growing in the channel.

Brindley explained, “We are seeing more and more partners looking at what to do with old equipment. This is partly because they’re being asked by their customers what can be done with old equipment, but also because questions around sustainability are now looking at the whole supply chain.

“What happens at the end of a product’s life? Is it going to be refurbished? Is it going to sit in an IT storeroom and gather dust? Is it going to be recycled? How do you refurbish it?”

She added that Canalys is now starting to see some vendor activity around circular IT as well, complementing the efforts of partners. She said, “In the past, it hasn’t been a priority for vendors to have that circular economy as vendor corporate objectives were often not aligned with vendor sustainability objectives.

“Their partners were often discouraged from selling refurbished devices at the expense of new. But, because vendors are having to report on their own emissions, they’re beginning to be much more aware of what’s happening to old equipment.”

Brindley described a couple of ways vendors are approaching this. She said, “Now we’re seeing some vendors putting specialisations in place to help partners have that discussion as part of the sales process, and then offering incentives on the sale of new kit. Others are looking at helping partners take back, refurbish and recycle so they can retain control over the old equipment.”

Brindley said that service-based solutions can play a role here. “Device-as-a-service can help manage the circular economy because organisations are leasing devices from partners and, at the end of the contract, you can either extend it or return the device and then it goes back into usage.

“That is still a relatively small piece of the market, but lots of partners are looking at that opportunity and beginning to recognise that opportunity.”

A sustainable future

The channel community can tackle these challenges and embrace a sustainable future, but working together will be key.

Brindley concluded, “It’s not going to be one company, one partner, or one vendor who solves this. It’s a collaborative approach, and we see so much collaboration between partners because they’ve all got the same challenges.

“They know they can’t solve it alone. They need to work together, identify best practices and share experiences.”

This interview appeared in our July 2023 print issue. You can read the magazine in full here.