Waste Not, Want Not 

by Suanne McGrath Kelly @PlanInMotion

I am a fairly early adopter. However, I am not an early departer…. I essentially like to use electronics until they die.

I was one of the first people I knew to get a mobile phone. The cell phone was game changer. There was convenience as well as security in being able to call when not near a landline or phone booth. I kept that brick around for a long time. It actually become a kind of game, as I slowly upgraded my mobile phones through the various iterations of flip and slide, as to how long I could keep them around.

The next game changer for me was the smart phone. When I got my hands on a used Blackberry and got a taste of being able to email on the go with a proper QWERY keyboard on such a little device, that was the beginning of the end. I was no longer chained to my desk to reply to email nor did I have to rely on spotty wireless on the go. I got a lot of satisfaction out of essentially wearing the thing out.

The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts.

I eventually converted to iPhone. This device has replaced a multitude of other items that I would have carried around in my purse (paper calendar, daily agenda, calculator, music player, mobile phone, camera, video camera, sudoko puzzle, paperback novel, small photo album, notebook and even a pen… I could go on). In fact if they came out with iLipstick, I would no longer need a purse!

One device multi-tasking like that, thereby using less raw materials and less energy is, in my opinion, good for the environment. The whole of this virtually limitless device is far more effective then the sum of its individual parts… even if it is the 5S model.

Being an informed and conscientious consumer and not getting caught up in technology hype is key. 

I work in the I.T. industry, so I have to keep up with trends and understand new technologies. I carefully examine the release notes and features list and generally do not toss my 2 or 3 generations old smart phone for the newest model on Day 1 of rollout. My rule of thumb about technology replacement: to obtain a mission critical feature or component that the old one cannot accommodate or if said device is obsolete.

Technology companies and advertisers are great at showing us that we cannot live without something, and it has often been said that consumers do not actually know what they need. ButI think the tech-savvy consumer can do better by asking these questions: Are these new features critical – ie will they dramatically improve my business capabilities or will the new features significantly enhance the quality of my daily experiences. Will I use these new features or will I shelf it? Can I wait?

I truly believe that some companies are doing technology right. Apple, for example, is a company of innovators and forward thinkers, and one of the only suppliers making technology that actually lasts. Their multi-functional platform is essentially replacing a mound of separate devices and infrastructures which I believe in the long run promotes sustainability. The challenge is they are forcing other technology companies to attempt the same; and what these other providers lack in innovation, they make up for by offering inferior devices. A disposable mentality forces folks to plow through a multitude of devices throwing away their old ones without regard for the implications; thereby creating unnecessary waste.

We live in a world of instantaneous gratification but we also live in a society that is accepting of waste. 

Disposable smart phones and electronics which are easier to throw away rather than fix…. Software and hardware being bought because it’s cheap and shelved because it’s not valued…. Ridiculously large and complex packaging encompassing the tiniest component….

I pass by the local electronics repair place and wonder, in this age of ‘designed for the dump’, how they stay in business. The fact is it is almost always cheaper to buy a new TV than it is to pay for the labour to replace a tiny failed part within it. It may not look like it (and he may not even know it), but he is one of the few electronics businesses still making a positive environmental difference. But how can they possibly compete with cheaper, newer and cooler? The Story of Stuff Project does a great job explaining the direction in which the electronics industry needs to head.

There is no doubt that technology has improved business and individual productivity, and that continued technological advances are necessary as society evolves. But what we all need to understand is that the life of a device does not end when the consumer is finished using its technological capabilities. Electronics producers, businesses and consumers alike should have an appropriate plan to address their contribution to e-waste.

Waste Not, Want Not. 

The simple definition: if we don’t waste what we have, we’ll still have it in the future and therefore will not lack it.


The next installment… It is clear that I do not agree with replacing hardware and software just because it is trendy to do so. That is why one of our objectives at Plan in Motion Inc. is to assist customers with software selection. When you make an investment in a system, you should be making that decision for the long term and therefore invest in the process of evaluating your options: (1) there has to be a solid business case for the acquisition, (2) an effective business process must be in place and (3) a realistic plan of execution is established up front.  The upcoming posts review the software selection process and managing expectations.

Suanne McGrath-Kelly is President of Plan in Motion Inc. in Toronto. Her passion for problem solving and commitment to help clients achieve successful outcomes has made her a trusted executive advisor. She is a known thought leader and mentor in the business community with active involvement on boards and professional associations. She has published dozens of business technology papers and presented on the topics such as Digital Transformation, C-suite Alignment, and Women in Technology. Beyond her love of all things strategy, she enjoys creativity, cooking and the great outdoors.


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