The Role of ITAD Vendor Certification – R2 Certification Supports Sustainability’s Triple Bottom Line

By Henry Leineweber, R2 Solutions

There is a common guiding principle in sustainability known as the triple bottom line, which adds people and planet to the traditional measurement of prosperity. In essence, the triple bottom line is based on the idea that a profitable business and a responsible business are not mutually exclusive. This philosophy is at the core of the mission of the R2 certification and serves as the basis for its incredible success over the past several years, as well as its continued growth.

Even for those outside the electronics recycling and IT asset management sector, managing end-of-life IT assets is becoming increasingly important. The rapid pace of technological progress has yielded an incredible leap in worker productivity and global connectivity, but it has not been without its own set of unique challenges.

The Issues

Data security breaches have become common and increasingly damaging for companies and organizations. A 2013 survey of companies in the U.S., U.K. and Canada by market research firm EMC found that 61 percent had suffered at least one data security incident in the past year, with an average financial cost of over $860,000. Whether due to unauthorized access to systems, or to improper handling of decommissioned IT, these incidents represent a continuously evolving challenge for organizations of all sizes.

Additionally, the turnover of IT assets can represent a public relations and legal risk for many companies that do not do their due diligence in choosing an IT asset management vendor. Incidents of illegal and irresponsible end-of-life electronics management have led to legal action by authorities and affected individuals, not to mention damage to a company’s brand and public image. The end-of-life IT processing landscape is littered with reports of electronics improperly warehoused in ways that contaminate soil and water, handled by untrained workers in unsafe workspaces, or found in third-world dumps.

An infamous 2009 “60 Minutes” report on e-waste dumping in China introduced the general public to the environmental and human health consequences of failing to manage used electronics responsibly. This report directly led to criminal convictions for executives at an electronics recycling company, additional investigations by media outlets and NGOs, new import laws in China and other developing countries, and many difficult questions for OEMs, enterprises, and large organizations regarding their IT disposal policies. No one in the IT asset management and electronics recycling sector wants a repeat of this experience.

The Role of Certification

R2 certification exists to meet these challenges. The multi-stakeholder certification was first developed in 2008 as a way of combining the best practices in responsible electronics recycling and handling identified by recycling companies, IT services companies, retailers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NGOs and many other partners. The result was a standard that was both flexible enough to accommodate the needs of businesses – no matter their size or home country – as well as strong enough to meet the best environmental, health and safety practices in IT asset management.

IT departments and sustainability officers at organizations around the world choose certified companies as their preferred IT asset management vendor because they know those companies have been vetted by a rigorous auditing and certification process. Certifications like R2 simplify the process of selecting an IT asset management vendor, while at the same time ensuring an organization mitigates any external risk from the turnover of old computers and other electronics.

Organizations specifically choosing an R2 certified vendor are also committing to a system of continuous improvement. In keeping with its reliance on common best-practices, R2 integrates with and supplements other established certifications such as NIST 800-88, ISO 14001, RIOS, and OHSAS 18001. The R2 standard is also designed to grow with the electronics recycling and IT asset management industry – becoming stronger over time as feedback and refined best-practices are adapted to new challenges.

For instance, the latest version of the standard, R2:2013, places a new emphasis on secure and responsible reuse and refurbishment of electronics. This includes strict data wiping and data responsible handling procedures, functionality testing, and a quality-assurance plan. By emphasizing reuse and refurbishment, R2 enables the longest possible lifespan for electronics, and commits to repair processes that are safe for the environment and beneficial to the skilled technicians engaging in repair and refurbishment around the world.

In addition, R2:2013 requires all certified companies to develop a written Environmental Health and Safety Management plan that is reviewed and verified by independent third-party auditors. Certified companies must also have a comprehensive legal compliance plan detailing how the company – as well as its downstream partners – complies with all applicable laws and regulations relating to the storage, transport and processing of electronics. The certification explicitly prohibits the landfilling and illegal export of electronics, and the requirement of written legal compliance plans significantly reduces the risk for companies that choose R2 certified vendors.

Meeting the Challenges

R2 certification demonstrates that responsible recycling and IT asset management can be both environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial. The certification is designed to scale to accommodate electronics recycling and IT asset management companies of all sizes, anywhere in the world. With this flexibility, as well as its adherence to industry-leading best practices, over 400 companies with over 500 facilities around the world are now R2 certified – with more completing certification every day.

Certification is a comprehensive approach to managing used IT which is safe, sensible and sustainable. Choosing a certified vendor commits a company to environmental stewardship, reduces its overall risk, and simplifies the complicated process of selecting a partner to responsibly manage end-of-life electronics.