The recession is over! Build an e-waste policy!

A few years ago, IT and business executives alike seemed to be obsessed with talking green IT and corporate sustainability. But that all changed in 2008, when organizations were more worried about staying financially afloat than trying to cut back on power and cooling.

“Discussions of green IT turned into ‘uh oh, we have to survive the crisis,’” said David Daoud, a research director covering the PC market and IT lifecycle management with IDC Corp.

With IT budgets rebounding and the economy becoming less of issue for most organizations, Daoud said, many organizations are starting to come back to green IT and the environment.

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One area in need of improvement at the typical large enterprise is IT lifecycle management, which covers asset procurement, recycling and disposal. Only about 30 per cent of  companies have a sound policy to handle the end-of-life of IT assets, Daoud said.

“The vast majority tend to put recycling as an afterthought,” he said.

For organizations that want to be better corporate citizens, or at the very least don’t want to see their old equipment wasting away in a Chinese landfill on 60 Minutes, here’s some advice on how to shore up your IT asset disposal policies.

Planning for retirement before you buy

The first step to ensuring your e-recycling policy is no longer an afterthought is to determine who actually owns the end-of-life management of IT assets in your company, said Doug Washburn, senior analyst of infrastructure and operations at Forrester Research Inc.

“I find this to be one of the biggest challenges in green and the sustainability of IT,” he said. “If there isn’t one particular individual responsible for managing this efficiently, it’s not going to happen.”

Washburn said hiring or appointing an IT asset manager that builds end-of-life into the procurement stage is the way to go.

For Daoud, skipping over this step when purchasing new hardware will all but ensure an e-waste scandal a few years down the road.

“You put so many resources in terms of how to deploy the software, security policies, and networking rules to allow your employees to use the system,” he said. “And then there’s this thing called end-of-life where you just call the janitorial services.”

Whether an organization appoints one person as an IT asset manager or a team of people across technology silos, this process must be undertaken immediately at every enterprise, said Frances Edmonds, director of environmental programs at HP Canada.

An IT leader in charge of evaluating the procurement team needs to be measured on how much energy the technologies they buy are producing and how much it costs to safely dispose of the equipment at the end of the line.

“You need to make sure that there’s one entity and one path for your organization,” she said. A team should bring together representatives from the legal, security, IT, and financial departments, she said.

An asset manager or asset management team also must have an incentive for limiting e-waste, Washburn said. The top drivers should be data privacy, security, regulatory and power savings.

Edmonds added that taking advantage of carbon footprint calculators, a service which HP offers, can also help a procurement manager calculate energy and cost savings into a sustainability report.

“It’s a neat way for an IT department to show big numbers with hard data very easily,” she said. “They can be the heroes, for once.”

Don’t buy more than you need

Even with an end-of-life plan in place, IT asset managers need to be responsible for how much new equipment they buy in the first place. Washburn said many companies refresh their equipment faster than they should, an issue that will worsen as vendors such as Microsoft Corp. encourage businesses to buy new hardware during the Windows 7 refresh.

“This rush over the next several years should encourage companies to get a handle on their processes,” he said.
The speedy refresh cycle has also become an issue with smart phones, which refresh roughly every year and a half, Washburn added.

The key to solving this problem, according to Edmonds, is instituting better asset management strategies. “With small smart phones especially, they’re the kind of thing that gets left in a drawer because people don’t know what to do with them,” she said.

Whether your organization procures the device or supports employee-owned devices, taking stock of what you have is critical.

And, according to Daoud, it could also be helpful to try and link the end-of-life of a product with its potential value in the after market.

“Most asset disposal companies would actually prefer products that can fetch a value in the secondary lifecycle management,” he said.

Technologies with a short shelf life in your enterprise, such as laptops and smart phones, will often have the highest resale value in the secondary market. Washburn said that in addition to cutting back on the equipment you buy, having a partner that will find a second life for your outgoing equipment is advisable.

Asking the right questions

While your original equipment manufacturer (OEM) will typically do a good job taking back your hardware at the end-of-life, this method can sometimes be expensive and offer little value.

“They don’t necessarily take back the equipment they didn’t sell you, which will open you up to looking at multiple providers for your end-of-life,” Washburn said.

Third-party e-recycling providers will typically be willing to take back any technologies you have, including kiosks, ATM machines or other products outside the realm of traditional IT hardware.

In order to properly vet a third-party provider, Washburn recommends asset managers find out what sort of certifications the provider has in regard to data security compliance, how long the company has been in business, and which large clients they have worked with in the past.

“You might also want to ask if you can profit-share in the reselling of your end-of-life equipment, instead of just making sure it’s recycled,” he said.

Don’t rule out leasing

Another way asset managers can solve the e-recycling problem is to lease.

Steve Glover, senior vice-president with Richmond Hill, Ont.-based Compugen Finance Inc., said only 20 per cent of Canadian enterprises lease their equipment.

“Leasing from a financial benefit does make sense,” he said. “It certainly addresses the end-of-life issue and the full lifecycle does flow back to the leasing company.”

Glover’s only word of warning is for organizations to do their due diligence when choosing a partner. “Don’t just look at the rate,” he said, adding that organizations will want to determine where their leased assets ultimately end up, what happens to the asset tags and how the data is wiped.

Anytime you are negotiating with a vendor to buy or lease new technology, you should always begin the discussion with the end-of-life in mind, said Carol Hochu, executive director of the Ontario Electronic Stewardship.

“You want to consider environmentally sensitive materials,” she said, adding that organizations should choose vendors in the industry that have put an emphasis on environmentally friendly designs and energy standards.

The same questions that are asked of third-party IT asset disposition providers should be asked of equipment leasers as well, Washburn said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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