Season 3, Episode 097: Nick Rawkins

Reconome | ​IT Services | August 10th 2020 | 31:06

The Story

Nick Rawkins

Nick Rawkins works for Reconome, a company that helps businesses and households manage the lifecycle of their IT equipment in a sustainable way, as well as manage measure and report on this positive impact . Their driving purpose is to solving the global waste issue.

Highlights of Nick Rawkins

  • Nick has a background on banking but the trigger that brought him into Electronics was the lack of an effective solution.
  • The organisation tries to solve the surplus of good quality equipment that businesses have and usually end up as waste, along with the shortage of equipment for small businesses, schools and households who can't afford the newest and best equipment.
  • They focus on Electronics to provide an effective solution and turn potential valuable waste into assets.
  • The interview covers the argument of calling waste from auditor's point of view instead of what it should be considered as assets.


"We are sowing the seeds for the problems that exist today by calling it waste, when in fact it should be treated more like an asset".

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Will Richardson - 00:01

Nick, welcome to the green element podcast. Thank you so much for joining us today. Nick, you work for a company called reconome and wouldn't be possible if you tell us a bit about you and the organisation you work for.

Nick Rawkins - 00:15

I guess it's a pleasure to be on well. So I think the easiest way to describe our reconome is we work mainly with businesses. We also work with households, but our focus at the moment is on businesses. And we help them manage the lifecycle of their IT equipment in a very sustainable way. And then we help them measure and report on this positive impact. How I got started, was I used to work for a bank and I mean, the amount of IT equipment, you know, that just the sheer amount of kit that I had probably used in the eight eight years that I had I was working there, you know, could fill the truck or something, it was just, you know, oh, this doesn't work, here's a new keyboards. You know, there's a new PC out. So we're going to replace it. I mean, you know, there's no real even awareness of what was going on until you take a step back, obviously now I'm not in that industry, it's it's a lot easier. But so there is this kind of idea of E waste. Now, obviously, I think it's quite timely. I think we all you know, as soon as you hear e waste, you've probably got some kind of an image of like, you know, a junk pile and a burning pile of cables, you know, in some African country, where it does so often end up. So that's always been the driving purpose, to build a business, build a commercial model around solving global e waste. But I think what has always Been intriguing as part of that is creating the right system with the right incentives so that we permanently change our behaviour for the better. Just another point, I think worth mentioning is like so many of our problems, you know, where there is an acute shortage or, you know, there there are group of people who are missing out, and in this case, it will be technological poverty. And I think what's been unfortunate, but also pretty eye opening during the COVID crisis is that actually even within the UK, there are so many people who actually lack connectivity, be it, you know, smartphone or even just even having a computer in the household. And obviously, you know, students have been forced to work in a study from home they can't communicate with their teachers. So I think there are various initiatives to try resolve that, but a lot of it is kind of a bandage type solution where obviously you can resolve some of the acute shortages. But ultimately, you're still relying on the inherent system, which has caused these, you know, a mismanagement, if you will, or the imbalance. So we are trying to resolve the surplus of good quality working equipment that businesses so often have, and they're readily getting rid of, but then that all that most of the time gets treated as waste. And then on the other hand, we're trying to solve the shortage of equipment, you know, for small businesses, households, schools, you know, those sorts of groups of people who can't really afford the newest and best equipment.

Will Richardson - 03:46

Correct me if I'm wrong. That's largely reef refurbish what people classes refurbished items, isn't it?

Nick Rawkins - 03:53

Yes. So I mean, it's the most sustainable way that you can manage This equipment, so we refurbish. So we refurbish equipment that we collect from businesses and make sure that it is in a reusable like, close to like new state. And, and then we resell it or donate it.

Will Richardson - 04:20

Okay. Um, I really want to carry on this discussion about refurbishing, but I'm really curious to find out how a person who works in a bank ended up in the IT industry. You must have had some kind of interest in it. Or was it literally wow, I've gone through loads of kit. I'm gonna you know what, what what made you change?

Nick Rawkins - 04:45

Yeah, I mean that yeah, but I always get asked that question. Yeah, I mean, I wasn't that kid. You know, who grew up with it, you know, getting getting a strange tan from screen radiation. You know? Being holed up writing code or anything I kind of knowing the success of so many people who did do that I probably, you know, would do things differently. But I think the main parallel to what I was doing previously is, you know, being very close to a market. Yeah, I was a trader in the bank, and, you know, you're buying and selling and you have, every time a transaction happens, you have one party that thinks, you know, something's overvalued, they want to get rid of it, you have another party that thinks it's undervalued. And then you have a transaction. So, you know, it's obviously slightly different, but you have a middleman, which is what we're economies trying to become, to facilitate the efficient functioning of this kind of market to resolve, you know, shortages and surpluses. So I think that's really the parallel I think the reason why there's so much focus on Electronics is because there's really no effective solution. You know, the, this is a very valuable or potentially really valuable waste stream that is treated as waste and not as an asset. So I think that's really our particular my particular fascination and really the trigger for focusing on electronics.

Will Richardson - 06:21

And people talk about you're talking about the value in it, people talk about gold and minerals being inside the, on the motherboards, or if you can tell I'm not massively techie within this, but is that is that true?

Nick Rawkins - 06:42

So there was a big report published last year by I think it was the the UN. And there's a working group that's obviously looking at all these climate issues, and it was pretty, it was a pretty landmark report, and it's super widely quoted. And so there's a figure at They're about I think the, the material value of E waste is $50 billion a year, which is obviously pretty massive. But my point to that is actually that's literally a minute fraction of the amount of value that could be had if you were reusing this equipment. And I think there's really, we are creating, we are sowing the seeds for the problems that exist today by calling it waste, when in fact it should be treated more like an asset.

Will Richardson - 07:36

Yeah. Yeah, it's funny you say that we I have argued quite a lot in the past with environmental auditors because they come into our organisations and they look at what we have managed to do with the say IT come at IT department and managed to get them to not send their waste to London. But get it to be refurbished and send it off to different organisations, of which of course, you'll be one of them now, but it's they still, these auditors still wanted to call it waste, because it was easier for them to classify it as waste from a legal point of view, and from an auditing point of view, than to see us selling it, even though we were selling it, and because the legal definition is fairly ambiguous, and pretty subjective. We got into sometimes quite, quite good arguments about that. And I would always stand by note, we don't need a waste carriers licence. We don't need a hand as a consignment note, because we're not it's not waste. We are not classing it as waste. Well, you class it as totally up to you, Mr. auditor, but you ain't us. We are the company. And yeah, really annoyed me that whole classification and that, and I think and I've never thought about it before, but you've just hit the nail on the head the fact that it's called de waste.

Nick Rawkins - 09:21

Yeah, yeah. No and I and I'm very, very familiar with the arguments that you've just mentioned. And you know, we're absolutely on on the same side as you on this and I think it really doesn't help that there isn't clear guidance. I you know, I understand that. There are many unscrupulous players and that the law is probably trying to avoid any unintended negative consequences but equally it's preventing possible upside here. So...

Will Richardson - 09:50

Because I mean, what the where do you draw the line? With a consignment I add bureaucracy to a potentially very easy situation to solve. And the minute you start to put that kind of barrier in place, you take the driver away, and the company is there to perform that particular business. And if you start to put financial barriers in place, because they do become financial barriers by putting a consignment note into it, the company is less likely to do good, and is actually less likely to want to get rid of the secondhand products to have them refurbished.

Nick Rawkins - 10:31

Yeah, agreed. I think so much of, I think this idea of friction is always on my mind. And I think, you know, like we were speaking about earlier, but so much of successful business is about removing friction for the people that you want to do business with, and ultimately, I think there's so much pressure these days to perform. There are so many competing priorities. As soon as you know something doesn't fit in to your, you know, direct focus business line, then, you know, you you're taking away resources from what you know, so often your shareholders or other stakeholders are demanding and it becomes a distraction. So I think there's real value if you're going to, you know, offer a service to somebody then to make sure that it removes those hurdles so that they can most easily do what you want them to, which is, you know, hopefully in line with something with positive impact.

Will Richardson - 11:39

What do you do in situations like that?

Nick Rawkins - 11:43

Where, for example, an auditor gets in between?

Will Richardson - 11:47

Yeah, I mean, I mean, how do you be I'm interested because I know a lot of people listening to this podcast will be really interested in probably this discussion, because it is fairly appropriate to pretty much any company. That's how ISO 14001 50001 a month or any type of audited management system.

Nick Rawkins - 12:07

We can only be as explicit as we can about our process. And I think, you know, we've tried very hard to be extremely detailed in our reporting. So it literally goes to the device level when we record what, you know, what we have received, what condition it was in what happened to it. And so there's a lot of traceability, which I think, you know, provides a lot of evidence and, you know, so much of this is evidence based. So it's very easy for us to argue that our processes entirely focused on reuse, there is a very small amount of waste that we produce, and even that is recycled.

Will Richardson - 12:50

Okay, yeah, that makes a lot sense. That makes a lot of sense. What would you say? You're completely changing subject but what would you say your business superpower was at Reconome?

Nick Rawkins - 13:04

Well, I mean, you know, we're still very much at the beginning of our journey, right? We're still constantly iterating we're constantly learning and the impact that we have set out to make is still, you know, of course, we've worked with great businesses, and we continue to expand on that. But I think you know, so much of it is ahead of where we are today. But I think we've always it does tie into what I was speaking about before about friction, but I think it is admitting to ourselves that e waste is a concern and given the option, everybody would want to do good, but it's all about removing barriers like additional costs and additional burden and terms of people's time. You know, Matt, the potential risk to management of taking, doing something that isn't second nature and maybe screwing up and then you know, having that negatively reflect on them. So we've really tried to make our service as end to end as possible. And I think what's unique about our approach is that we also include the measuring. So the evaluation, the assessment component of the, you know, the sustainability of what we're doing, it's very transparent. And we show you know, the positive impact that we've had. And then it's also a bit of a roadmap so that we can have subsequent actions and build a sort of longer term relationship out of that.

Will Richardson - 14:47

And one of the one of the reasons why we've ended up talking to each other is you've recently become a B Corp. So congratulations on that is really, really good news and move moving on from there, I just want to find out how you engage your staff, suppliers customers with your mission and purpose and if you've got any tips on that place.

Nick Rawkins - 15:16

Our, yeah, our our team is amazing. And I think, you know, of course, the idea was fine in the beginning, but realistically, none of this would have happened without them. You know, it's really encouraging to see everybody really motivated by the cause. So it's not that I don't think of it as anything that we have to sort of hammer in or instil or really work hard to make people appreciate. I think it's quite clear from the get go, potentially, you know, the, the employment would have never even happened had we not had our, our purpose. So I think that so much of who we are sits on top of that. I think in terms of building a team what we naturally focus on is finding or surrounding ourselves with people with integrity. And I think the attitude of wanting to improve is that, you know, as a fantastic one, and everybody who's part of the team, I think has those two basic things. And I think in terms of how we structure roles, we try to be attentive to where, you know, people's individual roadmaps and where they see themselves going, and just making sure the content of the work is consistent and that it's going to get everybody to where they want to be in, you know, five years or 10 years or wherever, whether that's at the reconome or or somewhere else.

Will Richardson - 16:49

Um, when it comes to running an ethical and sustainable business, what would you say has been the biggest struggle so far? And can you tell us a bit about how you've overcome it?

Nick Rawkins - 16:57

Yeah, I think it's It's definitely knowledge. You know, I didn't come into this business, or I didn't start this business from a extensive background in sustainability. So filling that knowledge gap, you know, there's there's always your ambition versus what you know. And I wanted to fill that gap as quickly as possible. So I've been doing along with the team, you know, a tonne of research, it's a lot of conversations, a lot of rejection, a lot of rethinking going back to the board. And through that process, I think we've really come up with a service that does go a long way towards solving this problem in a in a sort of systemically important way. At least it creates this sort of framework or foundation for that. And we find ourselves at a stage when we can really scale or focus on scaling what we've come up with, you know, we ultimately need businesses to be motivated to work with us on this on this journey. The other thing is, you know, like so many things, and this is clearly not just limited to sustainable business, but how do you get maximum output with the limited resources that you have. And I think that comes down to focus. An interesting, I don't know where it came from, to be honest. But an interesting insight is, you know, if we could think hard about the top three things that we should be doing today, and then do them and we repeated that every day, then I really do feel like we'd be much better off as a species and we'd probably be a lot happier as well. I think, you know, we're so prone to distraction. We've almost created a society where, you know, entertainment and all a lot of these things are created to literally distract us. And it's, you know, quite hard sometimes to stay grounded.

Will Richardson - 19:02

Yeah, yeah, I totally agree with that. And I do. I wonder if and at this very moment in time, more people are feeling more grounded in some ways because they've not needed to travel as much and not needed to disappear as much.

Nick Rawkins - 19:20

Well. I think it's really encouraging that we are seeing, you know, it is a moment with a lot of suffering, both emotional, you know, I guess, obviously, a lot of people have had people that they know, friends family suffering from, you know, this disease. And equally, there's a lot of economic damage. And I think it's encouraging that despite all the damage, we are still able to focus on positive outcomes and positive direction and this talk of having economic stimulus tied to green initiatives, and, you know, a lot of kind of outcry against traffic and having cars polluting and encouraging bicycle commuting. And there are a lot of positive signs that I wouldn't necessarily have expected to emerge so quickly. And I think, yeah, it does seem, you know, for better or worse to be a massive time for change and upheaval. Hmm.

Will Richardson - 20:35

Yeah. No, absolutely. Absolutely. And could you, when it comes to reducing your environment, your economies, environmental impacts and carbon footprints, what would you say has been your biggest challenge or frustration?

Nick Rawkins - 20:54

Yeah, I think gathering data understanding where we are on everything, you know, every part of the process. It's a it's a pretty big deal. But without that holistic view, I think it's, it's difficult to you know, your mitch, our sustainability manager said, if you're not assessing, you're just guessing. I'm not sure where you got that from, but I think it's quite, quite good. So I think it you know, and it helps to be a B Corp and having certain frameworks. I don't want to say impose, but I think, you know, it's it's a doesn't necessarily naturally come to you to have these frameworks in place. And obviously, having a framework helps you understand all of the different aspects where you might be happy, you know, there might be an externality that you're not thinking about. So You know, I think we're reasonably on top of all these things, obviously, we kind of have to be to claim and preach as we do. But you know, it's also a constant Lee improving process. I think, you know, there's so much technology available, that date measuring and gathering data shouldn't necessarily be a problem. But I think doing it in a way where you can gain valuable insights, and not just having stockpiles of random numbers in a spreadsheet. You know, I think that's kind of the key.

Will Richardson - 22:36

And how would you say you approach this environmental management and carbon footprint?

Nick Rawkins - 22:43

So, we've identified a couple of priorities for our business. And obviously, that ties in quite closely to the service that we're offering. So, I'm not going to say waste management, I'm going to say resource management and carbon emissions are the two priority areas. And our service goes to directly reduce those for clients. And so a lot of our measurement focuses directly on the actions that we're performing as part of that service on the equipment that we're receiving the actual refurbishing the inherent emissions in those devices and the potential positive effects of our actions. And just to maybe highlight that, so for example, the MacBook Pro has about 400 kilogrammes of embedded emissions, and most of that so 75% 300 kilogrammes comes from the manufacturing stage. And a lot of this is understood through lifecycle analysis, obviously, to a large extent, we do have to rely on you know, other resources to measure this, I would love to have a sort of a laboratory that was doing all of this in house. You know, but I think that's it's sort of beyond what we're capable of just yet. And so we gather this information. And through refurbishments, we're able to avoid, you know, you you make a choice as a business to buy a refurbished laptop, then you've taken advantage of the original manufacturing emissions. So you're avoiding that entire process. And because you haven't bought a new one, you've actually got the emissions benefit of the original, avoiding the entire manufacturing process. And then I think as a business, we've instilled this attitude of don't label it as waste when it's a resource. You know, we're always trying to buy refurbished or used, or, you know, we have a huge inventory of components that we've extracted from various equipment that we've received and we reuse it. You know, even if the document for example, if it's a laptop, even if the laptop itself isn't functioning or you know, we can't get it back to a functioning state, and economically, then there's always, you know, valuable reusable components inside.

Will Richardson - 25:30

An inch out of curiosity, there are some laptops, which are better than others to refurbish, aren't they? And I'm actually looking at, I've got a Surface Pro. And I believe they were actually one of the look that they're one of the worst ones they could think of is Apple that started to glue everything together, wasn't it? And there was there's now been a trend to do the same and I think Microsoft followed suit. Is that true? up? Can you refurbish those? And I'm putting my hands up in the air in inverted commas glued together laptops, or is that just a myth and actually you can refurbish any laptop?

Nick Rawkins - 26:20

Well, yeah, you can refurbish any laptop, I think the where there is a, there is a movement called right to repair which I'm sure many of your listeners will be familiar with. And that is exactly against this. You know, I think the manufacturers, Rog, you argue that consumers are demanding, miniaturisation or you know, ease of transport, making things smaller and lighter. And they cannot do that if everything's very modular, because modularity requires, you know, engineering and parts do kind of bulk up. I think there's a certain amount of truth, but I think it's also the you know that it does that there is a sort of a dark secret in there that, you know, they don't, it's in the manufacturer's interest to not have too many people digging inside these devices. And quite frankly, you know, they're set up to and all of these manufacturers are set up geared to have new versions of their products come out every year, whether there is a significant technological advancement inside or not, you know, there's that sort of a cosmetic upgrade so often these days. And I think that is kind of frustrating for a lot of people for a specialised remanufacturer it should not be a hindrance. But obviously we see I think our main frustration is actually in a you know, I think, well, it's in cheap, consumer electronics which are built not to last at all, you know, it's very thin plastic. It's very difficult that the layout of components is not thought out in a way that anybody can easily access, you know, you have a simple, you know, you spilled a little bit of water and it went behind one of your keys or you've got some bread crumbs or something. And then literally, it's going to take you several hours to pull the thing apart and you have to, you know, things are assembled in a way where you literally have to rip things out. You know, that's, that is just completely poor engineering equally, you know, to brew something incredibly inexpensive, you probably are just going to have to cut corners. So I think that's ultimately what we're trying to displace. I think you know, this movement is gathering momentum about repairability. And I, you know, I don't know which is going to change first. It's really hard to argue that we're going to see you know, extremely amounts of modularity being built into, you know, the new version of the iPhone, for example, I think, you know, there just is too much technology being required to be packed into a very, very small space. But I do think that there are going to be, you know, some some some improvements.

Will Richardson - 29:22

Interesting. Brilliant. Let's lot of food for thought. There. Nick, thank you so much for yeah, discussing this with us is how do we find out more about our economy and what you do and where can we buy where can buy from you?

Nick Rawkins - 29:41

So yeah, very easy. Our website is Very happy to chat to anybody over email, Nick at re economy. And we we'd be very happy to run free sustainability reports from For anybody, any business or organisation that's interested to sort of assess where your business currently stands in the way that you are managing assets. And you know, we'd love to have a conversation about how we can improve on that.

Will Richardson - 30:16

Thanks Nick. Thank you so much for today. It's been some brilliant having you.

Nick Rawkins - 30:21

Thanks well been a pleasure.

Will Richardson - 30:25

Today we've got Nick on from economy, what brilliant, brilliant name stroke websites and amalgamating the two and it gets better with what they do. Ensuring people buy good quality equipments, IT equipment that is accessible to many, and they do it through refurbish, refurbishing, laptops and phones, etc. And it's up thing that we should all be doing a lot more. I hope you enjoy the podcast.

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