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Canalys Forum EMEA 2023 Expert Hub: Sustainability Embedded

Canalys Forum EMEA 2023 Expert Hub: Sustainability Embedded

A summary of the key issues discussed by partners, distributors and vendors in our sustainable ecosystems panel at our recent EMEA event.


The Canalys Forums are back for 2023! This year’s series of events kicked off in sunny Barcelona with our EMEA Forum, featuring a diverse range of Expert Hubs covering key business areas for channel partners. Naturally, sustainability was once again in the spotlight, headlined by the Sustainability Embedded Expert Hub.

Canalys host: Elsa Nightingale, Principal ESG Analyst

Partner participants: Softcat plc, Flex IT Distribution, Egiss A/S

Vendor participants: BNP Paribas 3 Step IT, Schneider Electric, Lenovo

Progress check: Where are we on sustainability?

Although we’ve seen lots of progress over the last few years in terms of setting long-term sustainability goals, 45% of partners still haven’t set targets, according to the 2023 Canalys Channel Sustainability Survey. Unfortunately, the wider global efforts to fight climate change still have far to go as well, as no country is on track to decarbonize quickly enough to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

But all is not lost. Public companies are continually moving toward sustainable transformation as investors consider ESG risks, with the loan market following suit. And there are encouraging signs in the IT channel specifically – Canalys recently found that 37% of EMEA partners link executive compensation to sustainability KPIs. The spirit of collaboration is another reason for optimism, as consortiums of sustainability-driven partners and vendors grow, demonstrating industry-wide unity to tackle shared decarbonization challenges.

Key points from the panel

The panelists highlighted that corporate mindsets on sustainability are changing – and fast. Channel partners and vendors noted an increased sense of urgency for sustainable transformation in the IT sector, with sustainability becoming a necessity for organizations’ customers, partners and investors. This sentiment is echoed in companies internally, too, with panelists disclosing that their organizations’ sustainability efforts are now important for both employee retention and talent recruitment.

Is the end in sight for corporate greenwashing?

IT companies’ environmental strategies have never faced tougher scrutiny, with greenwashing becoming a major concern and risk as firms promote their sustainability commitments.

Panelists disputed the future of greenwashing; some identified that companies are rushing to capitalize on the benefits of building a perception of sustainability and that real change will only be achieved if firms see sustainable business models as financially viable. But multiple panelists highlighted that increasing stakeholder skepticism, public greenwashing scandals and emerging regulations – such as the EU’s Green Claims Directive – will eventually force vendors and partners to communicate more carefully about their sustainability efforts.

The Expert Hub concurred that this change won’t happen immediately, and new misleading tactics will emerge. One newer trend the panel expressed concern over was greenhushing – the practice of companies deliberately underreporting or obscuring their environmental impacts to avoid criticism or allegations of greenwashing.

The channel is ready for circular IT, but data challenges persist

Advancing the circular economy was still a top priority for partners and vendors on stage. The channel has made progress in supporting circular IT models, with over half of partners now offering take-back services – but there’s a long way to go.

At the same time, partners don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Panelists highlighted the value of partners using the as-a-service model – which much of the channel already relies on – to gain better visibility of the state of customers’ hardware. The panel identified that, through a DaaS approach, partners can enable circularity by handling the takeback, refurbishment and reselling of used IT equipment for customers, ensuring that devices get a second chance once retired.

While this approach can help partners track circularity metrics, challenges around product sustainability data persist as vendor calculation methodologies vary significantly. But cross-industry efforts, including partner and vendor sustainability consortiums, offer reasons for optimism.

Sustainability must be a priority for all companies, including SMBs

Throughout the Expert Hub, one key takeaway was the importance of including and empowering SMBs as the industry embraces sustainability. Larger partners and vendors on the panel recognized that they play a vital role in supporting small and medium-sized businesses, which often lack dedicated internal headcount to drive sustainable change.

Channel partners leading in sustainability, such as Egiss and Softcat, highlighted their role as indirect consultants in helping both enterprises and SMBs make more sustainable decisions in their IT procurement and circularity strategies. Moreover, vendors are increasingly catering to SMBs by launching SaaS solutions, allowing businesses to calculate their baseline environmental footprints, create data-driven strategies to decarbonize, and regularly report on their key KPIs, such as scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions or the percentage of renewable energy usage internally.

Look forward to insightful sustainability discussions at Canalys Forums in North America and APAC!

Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important issue for partners and vendors in every region. Customers, investors and regulators are expecting more and more from companies on sustainability – but how can the channel turn this into a business opportunity? And what challenges lie ahead in embracing sustainability? We’ll provide more insights into these hot topics at our North American and APAC events in November and December respectively. Registration is open now, so don’t miss our sustainability Expert Hubs at the most anticipated IT events of the year!

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