Sustainability is the real secondhand news

It’s become increasingly clear that most young people are far more concerned about the future well-being of the planet and focusing much more on sustainability issues than today’s political leaders. The success of Greta Thunberg’s school climate strike is testimony to the growing engagement and activism of young people when it comes to the climate crisis and environmental issues.

The abuse and vilification that Thunberg received from mainly middle-aged men in politics, the media and business, merely served to demonstrate the growing divide between those who wield power today and those who will be left to live with the consequences of their gross negligence and inaction over the earth’s health tomorrow.

Despite the hostility, young people are making choices of their own at a very local level that are likely to have significant effects further down the line. There is a growing demand, for instance, for pre-owned and vintage clothes from young people seeking to minimise the environmental costs of the clothes they wear. Many of them opt for refurbished smartphones, tablets and laptops, even if a major factor in those purchases could be cost. Nevertheless, there are considerable sustainability benefits from refurbished products – although they are rarely spelt out to buyers.

A couple of weeks ago, I ended an article about the benefits of buying refurbished equipment with the following sentence: “With a younger generation increasingly keen to buy secondhand items such as smartphones and clothes on the grounds of sustainability, wouldn’t it make sense for businesses selling refurbished IT devices to highlight the environmental benefits of buying their products?

Sadly, very few of them do. A quick search on Ecosia for “refurbished MacBook” gave me a reasonable list of suppliers but of the eight sites that I visited, only three made any reference to the environmental advantages of buying a refurbished product.

Amazon Renewed merely states “your purchase extends the lifetime of this product and reduces electronic waste”. Over at, clicking on the Benefits link in the top right corner of the page leads to a section entitled “Why refurbed?” which, after pointing out buyers could save 40% and take advantage of a 30 day trial period, highlights the sustainability benefits of refurbished products that could “reduce CO₂ emissions by 70% and save previous resources”. The company also has a “plant a tree’ programme to “compensate for the CO₂ emissions generated by the refurbishment”.

At there is nothing about sustainability on the main page but anyone clicking on the “About us” listing on the bottom left corner of the home page is directed to a page which has a section entitled “Buy responsibly”. If you click on the link to “Find out how”, it takes you to another page which has some useful information on the amount of e-waste generated by discarded smartphones and the benefits of recycling and refurbishing them. It states: “One phone recycled is one less that needs to be manufactured. Every phone used for just an additional year reduces the strain on Earth’s finite resources. Every phone refurbished can have a second, third or fourth life in the hands of another user before it reaches its true end-of-life.”

It’s fair to say that none of those gave much prominence to the sustainability benefits of refurbished kit but the other five - Apple, CEX,, and – make no direct reference to sustainability that I, or any other casual visitor, can see. But downplaying the environmental aspect of refurbished equipment could be a mistake. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the attractions of much lower prices and a one year warranty as much as anyone else when it comes to refurbished products, but failing to put the environmental benefits high up on the list is something of a missed opportunity.

Imagine the impact on someone looking to buy a refurbished laptop or smartphone if, in addition to a big cash saving and guarantee of reliability, he or she knows that making such a purchase will help reduce carbon emissions by 70% compared to buying new. That’s a strong argument for not buying a new phone or laptop unless you have an absolutely compelling reason to do so.

It seems to me that this type of marketing would appeal very much to young people – and hopefully older ones too – because of their strong interest in sustainability, the environment and the climate crisis. Unfortunately, a lot of companies selling refurbished equipment are too preoccupied with the price of what they’re selling today to realise the greater value of what it means for tomorrow.