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Written by The Mezzanine Group
on November 28, 2008

As society increasingly views environmental sustainability as a mainstream concern, going green is no longer just a trend but a core business issue for many companies. A firm’s sustainability performance is beginning to dictate its business development with ninety two percent of Canadians believing that the more socially responsible a company is, the more likely consumers are to purchase their products or services. Beyond that, with the looming war for talent, corporate social responsibility (CSR) becomes an even more prominent issue as workers look for companies whose values are similar to their own.

From a marketing viewpoint, the adage that ‘sustainability sells’ holds more truth now than ever before. However, this adage also means that ‘greenwashing’ - deceiving consumers with false or misleading claims of environmental responsibility - is becoming more rampant in today’s marketplace. In fact, TerraChoice, an environmental marketing company, recently conducted a study which revealed that out of 1,018 "green" consumer products from big-box stores in the United States, all but one were marketed with false or misleading environmental claims. The goods news however, is that with ever increasing access to information and collaborative solutions such as the Greenwashing index, consumers are much more likely to spot ‘greenwashing’ when they see it, especially as the consequences of these actions become more severe.

To truly be a ‘green’ corporation, companies need to internalize the sustainability ethic into every aspect of their corporate culture. One often overlooked area for many organizations is the disposal of end of life electronics also known as "e-waste". Recently, there have been a number of cases where branded end of life electronics have been shipped to developing countries to be dismantled under unsafe conditions. These cases have taken the issue of e-waste out of the trash yard and into the governance spotlight.

Most organizations do not have a formal plan to deal with this important element of environmental sustainability and may well be wasting money as well as potentially putting the company at risk. Improperly sanitized hard drives full of company data can easily be recovered to expose confidential information. Even worse, some companies dispose of their old computers with employee and customer data still intact. Such violation of privacy laws and regulations can involve hefty fines of up to $250,000.

In order to authenticate ‘green’ claims, companies must look internally to ensure that corporate practices are in line with environmental initiatives. A recent study conducted by Mezzanine identified the top 5 ways companies (big and small alike) can begin ensuring their e-waste disposal process minimizes security and environmental risks while allowing the company to maintain a green image. They include:

  1. Vendor Take Back Program – Choose vendors with a take back provision that offers trade in value. Take back programs create an incentive to design for recycling and increase the use of recycled content.
  2. 3rd Party Recycling VendorsChoose recyclers that meet Department of Defence standards with their data degaussing, disk wiping and destruction procedures and should be able to remarket refurbished products to capture the highest resale value (if possible). Recyclers used should be audited to ensure they are not exporting e-waste to developing countries to be dismantled under dangerous working conditions. Visit the resources listed below to find a responsible recycling vendor.
  3. Extending the Life of Older Equipment - Analyze the trade-off between purchasing newer more energy efficient products or extending the life of older assets.
  4. Design for Environment - Has a ‘Life Cycle Approach’ been applied in the design of the product being purchased? Can the item be easily upgradeable in the future? Purchase products that are expandable, upgradeable and recyclable.
  5. Eco-Labels - Look for Eco-labels that incorporate multiple environmental considerations and are certified by a qualified and independent third party such as EcoLogo, EnergyStar and GreenSeal.

In today’s environment of heightened ecological consciousness, maintaining a 'green' image plays a crucial role in a company’s long term competitive strategy. Electronic waste disposal has become an increasingly notorious issue and its importance in the realm of social responsibility should not be hastily overlooked. SMBs should ensure that an electronic disposal strategy is in place in order to identify potential revenue streams as well reduce the company’s exposure to risk.

Eco friendly purchasing resources:

Electronic Product Environment Assessment Tool

Purchasing Guidelines for Environmentally Preferable Computers

Finding the right recycling vendor:

E-waste: A recycling Resource

Basel Action Network (BAN)

Meeting IT Life-Cycle Challenges to Maximize Value and Minimize Risk

Ways to spot 'greenwashing':

The Six Sins of Greenwashing, Terra Choice

Shades of Greenwashing, Toronto Star

More information on e-waste:

Electronic Take Back Coalition

Basel Action Network

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