Canada’s IT recycling efforts have a long way to go

Canada has come a long way, baby, when it comes to recycling IT assets, but there’s a long way to go still. Samsung Electronics Canada Inc. and the Toronto Transit Corp. (TTC) gathered Wednesday to discuss where they’ve stumbled, where they’ve succeeded so far, and best practices that other companies can crib for the future.

Samsung vice-president of sales and marketing for the IT division Ronald Hulse said, “We’re still neophytes.” The company announced in September the roll-out of recycling depots across the United States, with plans to do the same in Canada. “We own those assets and have to take responsibility for them,” he said.

So far, he said, the company has taken some internal measures to match its marketing muscle; this includes using duplex printers and instructing staff to not print their e-mails. “Which is ironic, as we sell printers,” said Hulse. “But we need to practise what we preach…we didn’t exactly give ourselves an A, and don’t necessarily think we’ve been a good (green) custodian up to now. We need to be green from the beginning, which will also help us sustain our competitive advantage.”

It’s even looking into using organic ingredients like corn in future phone models, and organic LED displays using oil and water, said Hulse.

Samsung enlisted Toronto-based Mezzanine Consulting to sit down with a dozen or so top-tier companies to quiz them about their IT asset recycling and other green initiatives. Results ranged, said senior consultant John Wells, from throwing things in the garbage to drafting best practices.

There are several important steps, said Mezzanine Consulting president and CEO Lisa Shepherd. They include seeking out vendors with take-back programs, third-party auditing to eliminate greenwashing, using eco-labelled products, and purchasing products that can be easily upgraded, remanufactured, recycled, or resold.

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While the cost of doing so is occasionally daunting to its bottom line, said chief information officer John Cannon, the TTC is making a strong effort to establish its own best practices — from the beginning. “There’s a green element from right when we’re reviewing acquisitions,” said Cannon. “For example, we put in our agreements that we can use remanufactured cartridges and that the company will take them back to be recycled.”

End-of-life is covered, too, he said. The organization tends to keep machines for five years, reducing the need for refreshes every two to three years.

When it does come time to recycle, however, there is one major pitfall: making sure to choose an ethical recycling firm, and staying away from the more budget-friendly companies that probably outsource the recycling overseas. “This is really dangerous, as (if it gets out) it could be more negative media than you can handle,” Wells said.

Info-Tech Research Group research consultant Aaron Hay said that it’s important to work with a company that certifies its recycling practices as safe and non-shady. Hay said, “These services will cost more, but an IT manager can pitch it from a risk management perspective. Governments might eventually make it illegal, and the company could be penalized criminally for sending things overseas for five-year-olds to work on. It’s a risk minimization move.”

Another concern is data security. Wells said he had heard of people visiting a flea market, only to find corporate-branded computers, with old data intact. It’s key to also enlist a recycling company that will wipe the hard drive correctly. The TTC has found success in offsetting the offputting recycling costs by reselling equipment sans hard-drives on eBay.

Said Hay: “It’s a good idea, though, to always employ an outside firm to wipe the data to make sure it’s done right.”

Green initiatives take a lot of buy-in, and employees are a valuable asset, too, according to Shepherd, who said that the younger generation wants to work in greener workplaces that work green and engage employees in helping to go greener. The TTC has tapped into this by offering cash incentives for viable green ideas, such as an install-date on ink cartridges to ensure they’re not recycled prematurely. Said Cannon: “It seems like such a simple idea, but it really helps.”