Refurbished vs remanufactured: what’s the difference and why does it matter?

Refurbished vs remanufactured: what’s the difference and why does it matter?

Businesses continue to update their sustainability goals as consumers become more conscious of how their choices impact the climate crisis. One area which businesses can explore is buying second-hand when it comes to tech. Steve Haskew, Head of Sustainability at Circular Computing, explains the difference between refurbished and remanufactured technology and how one is superior to the other.

Second-hand products have seen a surge in popularity of late as businesses and consumers alike look to save money and live more sustainably. The technology industry hasn’t been without its own mini revolution, seeing refurbished goods flood the market as online marketplaces and new business models disrupt the industry. And this trend is only set to continue with on-going supply chain issues, the cost of living crisis rumbling on and the ever-growing pressures to become more sustainable. Due to these tensions, finding cost-effective tech that does not drain the planet’s resources can lead you down two paths: refurbishing or remanufacturing.

In the B2C and SME space, refurbishing has been the popular choice for the last few years as consumers look to save money in comparison to the price of new tech, while also doing their bit for the planet. However, it’s not a robust solution. Remanufacturing on the other hand, while a less widely known term, is now a viable alternative to new. But what’s the difference between the two and why should businesses especially reconsider their options when looking at purchasing tech?

Refurbishing: where’s the flaw?

There is no denying that refurbishing has made a considerable impact on the technology industry over recent years. It’s made second-life technology widely available to consumers ensuring that some products that would otherwise go to waste are reused as commercially attractive options. They are cheaper, cosmetically close-enough-to-new and many run to a good standard for consumers to use for everyday activities. These benefits sound good on paper and have been a short-term solution to the minimise the growing pile of global e-waste, but there is a catch. Refurbishing is like covering a leak with tape; it will do the job initially, but eventually, over time, it’s likely to fail.

Even though it feels like you are helping the environment by buying refurbished goods, and you are through minimising global order for new, you are simply delaying the time when the product will inevitably reach the end of its life cycle and go to waste.

The issues become more apparent however on a commercial level. For businesses looking to become more sustainable and cut costs, refurbished is not often considered as a viable option – and there are many reasons for this. Traditionally, there has been a variance in operational performance alongside cosmetics, and historically it has been hard to attain high refurbished volumes of the same model. This has led to a common view that relying on refurbished products runs the risk of being disruptive to operational practices and performance, as well as potentially a long-term drain on your finances. The supply issues and risks have been exacerbated further since the pandemic, with large swathes of business IT estates migrating to laptops to empower flexible working and now depending on the performance and efficiency of IT systems. With refurbished IT mostly focusing on cosmetic appearance and only small fixes, the lack of reliability can leave many at risk.

Why is remanufacturing different?

Although the two have a similar end goal; restoring technology to ensure it can have a second life cycle, there are stark differences between the results of remanufacturing and refurbishing. Remanufacturing, when the term has been applied correctly, has been certified as being as good as or better than new, through a BSI Kitemark. This means that it has the same or better performance than its brand new equivalent but comes at a vastly reduced cost and without the damage to the planet.

Involving a thorough process, remanufacturing converts the product to like-new quality in both appearance and performance by testing and replacing individual components through a thorough remanufacturing process. Remanufacturing goes beyond correcting a single fault in a product or simply improving the cosmetic appearance. With those in the public and private sector needing reliable IT and becoming increasingly concerned about their sustainability footprint, remanufacturing can be a win-win solution.

Refurbishing often delays the end of life of those units selected for refurbishing, but nevertheless old or damaged parts are often discarded and eventually the whole product will need to be as well. Remanufacturing is a much more thorough process that can see more parts re-used and truly deliver 0% e-waste. In terms of adhering to the principles of the circular economy, it really is night and day in comparison.

The hidden benefits of remanufacturing

The immediate benefits are therefore clear for businesses and the wider industry with longer product life cycles, less overall e-waste, improved performance and ultimately cost saving. But many non-tangible benefits also come with it. Certified remanufacturers, operating under the BSI Kitemark for remanufacturing, can have a direct impact on ESG reports and have done the hard yards when it comes to measuring the impact, whereas this is a more difficult and unclear picture with most refurbishers.

With the public sector being tasked to be more sustainable and many businesses setting their own net zero targets, remanufacturing supports businesses improving their carbon neutral process by directly reducing Scope 3 emissions. Remanufacturing also directly benefits the environment by saving water and preserving critical natural resources.

Studies have also revealed that 40% of millennials have chosen a job because of its sustainable credentials. More businesses are experiencing fewer passive employees and seeing an increased interest from new candidates if their sustainability goals are more profound. When businesses get sustainability right, it can have a lasting positive effect on the culture of the company.

Why now is the time to alter a ‘new only’ policy

If there was ever a time to cut costs on business technology resources, it’s now. Due to the cost of living crisis, businesses that consider remanufacturing as an option will be able to cut costs and save money immediately in comparison to new technology. And they don’t even need to wait for their current IT estate to deteriorate. New as-a-Service innovations mean Remanufacturing-as-a-Service can help businesses refresh their estate at a fraction of the cost of new technology. It means current laptop life cycles can be extended so old and existing tech doesn’t go to waste, sustainable criteria is therefore met and overall the business is saving money without a loss in performance.

The global climate crisis is not going away. Climate conscious businesses are already taking action but soon every business will be able to benefit from using good-as-new remanufactured technology to save money and the environment.

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