What’s more sustainable refurbished or remanufactured IT?

You’ve decided to move away from buying new IT – But which is better? Refurbished or remanufactured? Ikonic has reviewed the evidence and gives our reasoning on why we would choose refurbished every time.

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You’ve decided to move away from buying new IT – But which is better? Refurbished or remanufactured? Ikonic has reviewed the evidence and gives our reasoning on why we would choose refurbished every time.


We all need to be more sustainable. As countries set environmental targets and as businesses start to see pressure build to meet those targets, every way to become more sustainable is going to be examined. The total life cycle carbon footprint of the ICT sector is approximately 730 million tonnes CO2 equivalent (Mt CO2-eq) or 1.4 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions (Ericsson) and is used by 70% of the global population. With such a large amount of the population using ICT now is the time to look at where you are buying your digital assets.

But the biggest question is, if you move away from new, what is the better option remanufactured or refurbished?

What is the difference between remanufactured vs refurbished?

Before we can understand which is better for the environment remanufactured or refurbished, we need to understand each of the terms.

What is the meaning of remanufactured?

As the DXP define: ‘remanufactured product is restored to like-new quality not only in its appearance, but in its performance, and parts are almost always rebuilt or replaced.

What is the meaning of refurbished?

Taken from the Cambridge Dictionary: ‘A refurbished product is made to look new again by work such as painting, repairing and cleaning.

Which is more sustainable refurbished or remanufactured?

The first thing is to establish is that both refurbished and remanufactured are better for the environment than new and this is for several reasons including:

  • Extending the life of the device which means reducing e-waste in landfill.
  • The purchasing of remanufactured or refurbished means that there is less demand for the purchasing of new equipment which reduces the need for mining and extraction  of valuable and scarce resources such as cobalt.
  • Refurbishing promotes a circular economy by keeping products in use for longer.

The argument for buying refurbished.

If we go back to our definitions the key thing to highlight is that with remanufactured ‘parts are almost always rebuilt or replaced.’ Whereas with refurbished will be repaired and cleaned. This means that a remanufactured device will replace parts that are still running to a high standard with new pieces to get it back up to factory spec. This process means that there is a greater requirement on virgin materials. Meaning there is a need for mining and extraction, which is bad for the environment and for the workers involved in mining that equipment, due to the toxic components such as, cadmium which is found in chip resistors, semi-conductors, infrared detectors, stabilizers, cables and wires.

Refurbishing, if done properly, will often require some level of repair. But refurbished will use high quality existing components rather than using new components, wherever possible.

When we look at the process of refurbishing it is far more energy-efficient than remanufacturing, which often requires complex manufacturing processes and extensive use of energy, resulting in increased carbon output associated to the device.

The argument for remanufactured.

Remanufacturing companies will argue that the quality of a remanufactured product is better than that of a refurbished product. It should therefore last longer than a refurbished product.

This view, however, is over simplistic.

It is true that a well remanufactured device is going to perform and be more sustainable than a poorly refurbished device. This is largely due to the lifetime of a well remanufactured product lasting longer than a poorly refurbished device, which is using poorly refurbished parts or one that has simply been cleaned and not properly refurbished.

But a highly refurbished device from a reputable refurbishing company like Ikonic who offers a one-year warranty on our devices will be of better quality than a poorly remanufactured device. And if you compare a high-quality refurbished device with a high-quality remanufactured device, you are unlikely to find much of a difference – other than the price with refurbished device being the cheaper and the lack of new components which are going to impact upon the devices carbon footprint.

The importance of choosing the right supplier

Ikonic would always argue that refurbished IT is a better option than remanufactured. It is more sustainable and cheaper than remanufactured. But if you want to purchase good quality refurbished then you need to look for the right supplier, as an example, Ikonic’s refurbished just makes remanufacturing seem expensive.

If we take Ikonic as an example each device must go through our strict 66-point check to make sure that each element of the device meets our high standard. We can also reprint the keyboard to make it look as good as new, repaint desktops and cover our laptops with market leading vinyl to make sure that the devices all look as good as new.

The problem the refurbished industry has is that there isn’t anyone regulating the standard of the products being refurbished, which means that one companies grade A is not the same as another companies.  It is therefore important that you interrogate your refurb supplier, you need to understand their processes and get a good idea of the quality that they refurbish to.

If you are purchasing refurbished for its sustainability credentials, then go further. Ask your supplier where they refurbish their devices. Many companies are refurbishing abroad and then shipping to the UK to try and keep the costs down. This of course makes these devices less sustainable due to the airmiles involved – it is worth noting that there are some remanufacturing companies that also have their devices remanufactured abroad, so always ask the question.

Key takeaways.

To summarise, it comes down to five key questions:

  1. Is the reassurance of having new components in your device worth the extra cost and the carbon impact for you and your company?
  2. Do you trust your supplier?
  3. Do they understand the definition of the terms refurbished and remanufactured? Many companies use the term inter-changeably so it is important to know whether you are actually buying remanufactured or refurbished?
  4. What assurances are you given on quality, are their accreditations, are there warranties? These will guarantee the quality of your product, even if it is refurbished.
  5. What is the carbon impact of your suppliers’ devices? Are they ethically sourcing their components? Are they refurbishing/ remanufacturing in the UK or are they sending it abroad to save money at the cost of the carbon footprint.

Once you can answer these questions and then place an importance of each one, you will be able to choose between refurbished or remanufactured.