Treating Recycling and Data Security as a Brand Equity Issue

Poor ITAD practices risk brand equity when corporate irresponsibility, even accidental errors, can quickly and irreversibly sour consumer perceptions.

To understand the importance of well-vetted IT Asset Disposal (ITAD) processes, one need only look at the various recycling and data breach scandals that emerge every year, resulting in customer data loss, enormous fines, and class action lawsuits. And while these missteps tend to be the exception and not the rule, it’s unlikely that they’ll slow down in the immediate future. In fact, as our cultural focus on responsible and sustainable practices ramps up and as the public becomes more aware and discerning, there will be increased scrutiny of data safety and sustainable practices – from the media, watchdog organizations, and the government.

Perception has never been a more powerful business driver, and poor ITAD practices pose an incredible risk to brand equity at a time when corporate irresponsibility, whether purposeful or accidental, can quickly and irreparably sour perceptions. First, from a data security perspective, if a company is a custodian of customer data or information and there is a breach, the subsequent loss of current and future customers can put the whole business at risk overnight. This is especially true if the breach was caused by outdated processes and competitors are taking a better approach that results in lower risk.

Separately, from a sustainability perspective, ESG and circularity are becoming table stakes for government, procurement, and customer buying choices. If you are a manufacturer of products and not making an effort to act sustainably, reduce emissions and track the data around your efforts, not only is your brand at risk, but your business is at risk too. Then there’s carbon taxes which are being voted on now. If you don’t have a carbon-neutral product, expect to get taxed if you want to sell it in the EU. Also, retailers like Walmart want to know the carbon footprint of every product sold in their stores. So, if you want to sell your products, you had better be tracking the data and working on getting that footprint down.

These various issues and benefits demand that more businesses treat ITAD as the important brand equity driver that it is, building supply chains that rigorously track their assets for the good of their overall brands.

Protecting Your Equity

Once you start seeing ITAD as a brand equity issue, protecting that equity means working to make sure those data security and recycling processes are building on a history of good practices. More eyes are on businesses than ever before, so it’s crucial that each decision – from who you partner with to how you communicate your successes and failures – reflects a company committed to fulfilling its responsibility.

This means resisting the urge to treat ITAD as an afterthought or a latchkey solution that doesn’t continually have to be affirmed or refined. Taking your processes for granted is a recipe for disaster. Instead, choose partners with a history of success in not only handling e-waste but tracking and reporting on ESG-related, future-facing concerns like emissions. While working with a less expensive and less discerning ITAD partner might seem attractive in the short term, past environmental and data scandals have regularly shown that this will eventually do irreparable harm to brand equity in the long term.

Ultimately, every business needs to make its cost/benefit and ROI decisions on anything they do. First movers might gain market share to offset their investments faster, whereas laggards may be stuck in situations where there is perpetual margin compression due to the fact that carbon neutrality just may cost more. Today, you can purchase carbon credits to offset your emissions. But to generate those, someone had to grow trees or deploy wind or solar farms, which came at a cost. Tomorrow, rather than buying credits, you might want to deploy that capital to improve your own processes.

But those important costs and benefits must also be clearly assessed in the context of brand equity. ITAD practices can isolate good and bad corporate citizens, impact sales, and more, and businesses should carefully weigh this as they begin rethinking their approaches in a quickly changing data and recycling landscape.