Last week IBM announced what it says is the first ever server remanufacturing centre in China. The Shenzhen facility will initially remanufacture mid-range IBM Power Systems, which are reconditioned, tested and certified, or rebuilt to meet specific customer requirements. The facility will expand to refurbish 100,000 PCs and low-end and mid-range IBM and non-IBM servers a year by 2014. IBM already has similar facilities in Australia, Singapore, Japan, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany and the United States.
The idea is that the centre will extend the life of IT equipment and help reduce the environmental impact of e-waste that would otherwise go to landfill. But it’s not just about saving the planet. Richard Dicks, General Manager, IBM Global Asset Recovery Services, a unit of IBM Global Financing, said "The demand for IT products in emerging markets is growing; however, not all businesses want to purchase new products". China represents an opportunity for IBM Certified Pre-owned Equipment, especially for small and medium-sized businesses that want to keep IT costs down, or for clients that need to meet short-term IT project requirements, find emergency replacements or expand existing IBM infrastructure with a model no longer in production.
Sustainability comes into its own when it coincides with making money, as is the case with IBM here. By reusing and/or recycling equipment the company is doing its environmental bit, but the ‘remanufacturing’ of equipment also helps to service a user market need, with the IBM label attached. It’s a good way for the company to address the huge, emerging market in China as well as establishing the brand for all other products.
The trouble is, IBM will be understandably wary of undermining its new product business. Re-use is by far the best solution for end-of-life equipment and should be encouraged, but the dynamics of pricing, supply and demand threaten to be a limiting factor. What’s needed is for remanufactured equipment to be actively promoted not just on price, but on the sustainability benefits. For companies that track and report the life-cycle carbon of equipment (not many now, but it will grow) refurbished hardware represents a real benefit – more than half of the lifetime emissions of an IBM server are in the manufacture. It would be nice to see IBM promoting its remanufactured equipment as much for this market as for lower-priced solutions.