Electronic Trash Can
THE MASSIVE MOUNTAIN of “e-waste”—all those obsolete computers, servers and every other piece of corporate electronic equipment deemed past its prime— just keeps growing. And companies finally seem to realize there might be a problem, not only for the environment, but for their security. After an IT manager at global health- care giant GlaxoSmithKline became fed up with all the discarded technology piling up around the office, he launched an e-waste disposal
project at the company’s offices in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, USA. Within a week, volunteers had
collected nearly 1,000 devices weighing 5. 8 tons, all
of which was delivered to an IT asset-disposal firm
according to CIO. Sensing its other offices could use
a clean-up, too, the company plans to launch similar
recycling initiatives at sites across the United States
and the United Kingdom throughout 2009.
can’t look at e-waste as a piecemeal effort. You have
to look at the whole technology investment across
multiple disciplines from cradle to grave.”
Through its e-waste management program,
Marriott recycled more than 28,761 IT assets from
its operations in 2008, which translated to 629,408
pounds (285,495 kilograms) of e-waste diverted
For most companies, this is not an entirely altruistic endeavor. Proper recycling of e-waste does make
them better corporate citizens, of course, but it also
helps them safeguard sensitive corporate data.
“Privacy is the most onerous risk of e-waste from
a financial standpoint,” says Robert Houghton, president of Redemtech, an IT asset-disposition company
in Columbus, Ohio, USA. He estimates 95 percent
of data breaches occur at the client site after decommissioning and before equipment can be repurposed
or dispositioned—and that loss of protected personal
data can cost millions.
THE END IS NEAR
E-disposal projects should be top of mind for companies right from the start, says Al Chaney, president
and CEO of Computer Recycling For Education, an
e-waste advocacy organization in Rancho Murieta,
“Companies need to incorporate e-waste management into their strategic mission and planning,” he
says. “Every time there is a capital improvement project in IT, there are e-waste issues associated with it.”
Global hotel chain Marriott International makes
e-waste management part of its IT implementation
projects at initiation.
“E-waste is not just what you do with technology
at the end of the life cycle. It’s also how you ensure
you are choosing assets that are responsible in terms
of the environment,” says Sharon Dorsey, senior
director of technology sourcing and life cycle management at Marriott headquarters in Bethesda,
That means vetting the environmental stewardship of technology vendors for new projects before
purchasing assets and working with an established
technology recycler at the end of the life cycle.
“In my mind, this is all part and parcel of how we
approach any technology project,” she says. “You
AVOIDING THE LANDFILL
The primary goal for any e-waste management
project should be to repurpose as much equipment as possible, Mr. Houghton says. That may
mean finding another use for it in-house,
reselling it on a secondary market or donating it
If companies do it right, e-waste projects can
turn costly waste into valuable assets, says
Barbara Scott, director of consulting and advisory services at Redemtech.
“The usability and remarketing potential of
equipment as a value-add should be part of the
business case,” she says.
And the numbers can add up, says Mr.
Houghton. “Most companies only measure certain
costs, like the cost of equipment purchases and
installation, but when you include the residual value
of assets over the equipment’s life cycle, the costs of
the overall project will change.”
If equipment cannot be reused, it can be dismantled for recycling, but here, too, caution is necessary.
“You’ve got to do due diligence on your recycler
and set expectations for transparency,” Mr.
Houghton says. “If you don’t, your equipment may
end up in a landfill somewhere, and that’s not a
good business decision.”