IT assets’ place in your sustainability plans Leave a comment

This article is sponsored by SERI, an Electronics Sustainability Nonprofit Organization.

From entrepreneurial startups to the Fortune 100, a rural elementary school or a global non-profit, electronics play a key role in day-to-day operations for nearly all organizations. While most use IT assets — desktops, laptops, tablets, smart phones, printers, copiers, servers and routers — few businesses incorporate these electronics into their sustainability plans. 

Some certainly think about the sustainability of electronics on the purchasing side, preferring more durable products or devices with more recycled content, or perhaps even spec’ing a portion of purchases to be refurbished devices. And that’s typically where it ends. 

But there’s a lot more to making electronics sustainable at work. Fortunately, many sustainability decisions are easy to make and have nice returns for minimal effort. Plus, making electronics sustainable aligns with high-priority organizational goals such as data security and protecting brand equity, as well as positively affecting the environmental, social and governance. Success means thinking a little differently, and we’ll show you how you can add in some fast wins while chasing your bigger moonshot goals.

Rethinking the upgrade cycle

Beyond adopting sustainable purchasing, start by digging into your organization’s upgrade schedule. What typically triggers purchasing new devices are things such as accounting’s depreciation schedule, a warranty schedule or a service contract. Rarely is it that the devices no longer suit users’ needs, which means it’s likely that you are purchasing more devices more frequently than you need to. That affects your organizational carbon footprint because for the bulk of these devices, 80 percent or more of their carbon impact comes before they are ever taken out of the box the first time. 

So, let’s say accounting depreciates laptops and smart phones after three years and that triggers an upgrade. If those devices were used for just 12 months longer, that’s one fewer laptop and phone that you need to purchase over a 12-year period. Now, multiply that savings (both carbon and your bottom line) by every device and every employee, and it starts to add up. Maybe that means purchasing an extended warranty or service contract, or renegotiating lease terms, and yes, you will hear from your ITAD partner (more on that later) that you are giving up some remarketing dollars because those same devices will be worth less when you trade them in later. But that’s part of the rethinking, too. It can’t always be just about cost when you are incorporating sustainability.


Disposition is a big opportunity

Now, back to the concept of ITAD, or IT Asset Disposition. Every device that comes into an organization eventually must make its way back out, and that process is called ITAD. This is where sustainability folks really have a big part to play, because once again, decisions are usually driven by dollars, but ITAD has the potential for significant positive or negative impacts throughout the whole organization. We’ve built an ITAD Organizational Maturity Model to help you evaluate where your org is today and help you move along the journey from ITAD to Sustainable ITAD.

At the bottom of the pyramid are the organizations that are just starting out on their journey. These organizations look at ITAD simply as a cost center to push to zero. They’ve got old electronics that they need to get out the door and the goal is to spend no money or the devices just hibernate, wasting in storage. This means looking for “a guy who will take it all for free.”

The next level up is also financially driven, but they realize that old IT assets probably still have some value. The priority here is maximize this return, and organizations at this level are looking for whoever will pay the most.

The challenge with both levels is that when ITAD is driven by financials, it introduces plenty of incentives for your ITAD partner to cut costs. There’s a reason those guys will take it all for free or that they can offer significantly more than others — often it’s because they are willing to cut corners, putting your organization at risk.

Evolving from ‘profit driven’ thinking

The next level up is where organizations realize there are legal risks with data and e-waste regulations. See, just because you contract with an ITAD partner doesn’t mean you aren’t liable for what happens next. High-value assets carry plenty of incentives for your ITAD partner to do the right things with your old devices. But what about the older stuff or the broken devices that have lower value? Will they be handled responsibly, or will they just be graded and auctioned to the highest bidder because the cost to test and repair the devices and then sanitize data outweighs the value? This level is all about avoiding fines and penalties.

One level further along on the journey to Sustainable ITAD are the organizations that realize beyond legal implications, brand level risks are attached to used IT assets. They understand the hit a brand takes with a data breach or if an asset tag shows up in a landfill. This is where sustainability often suffers, because at this level, a data protection solution is to require ITAD partners to physically destroy hard drives, or even worse, whole devices. Which means now those electronics with plenty of good life left in them are going for recycling rather than reuse. Not only does that negatively affect your carbon footprint but it also means more new devices get produced and we’re missing a powerful opportunity to help address digital inequities in our communities.

Finally, at the top are the most sophisticated organizations in terms of practicing Sustainable ITAD because they understand that even beyond the financial returns and risks, used IT assets have the potential to create positive environmental and social outcomes for the organization and communities.

Sustainable ITAD supports the E, S and G

In Sustainable ITAD there’s an understanding that used electronics can become an easily demonstrable part of your ESG goals. Aside from the carbon reductions that come from using devices longer and making sure they are destined for reuse, your organization’s old laptops, smartphones, tablets and desktop computers can help bridge the digital divide by ensuring at least a portion of those devices go to organizations with social programs in place. It is a powerful lifechanging experience for a family to get their first home computer through the generosity of a corporate ITAD program. 

It’s important to choose an ITAD partner that aligns with your priorities and supports Sustainable ITAD, but how will you know who will? This is where standards and certifications come into play. 

Choosing R2 Certified partners for ITAD is how you’ll know you have a partner that supports Sustainable ITAD. R2 is comprehensive, including best practices for environmental, data and worker health and safety protection. It’s built by an independent multistakeholder group, and facilities are independently audited and certified to ensure adherence to the standard.

The bottom line is, if your organization’s IT Assets aren’t part of your sustainability plan, you are missing out on powerful and achievable opportunities. And imbedding R2 Certification into your ITAD RFPs is a powerful way to get there. 

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