Companies across the UK economy, as well as in other parts of Europe, are increasingly examining their approach to carrying out business in a socially responsible way. But the challenge for most businesses lies in how to formulate and carry out a corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy in a practical way, and how it can be prioritised against all the other daily challenges they face.
Getting started is often the toughest part of the process, yet one area that is often overlooked is how IT recycling can offer a straightforward route for a business to initiate their CSR efforts. Far from creating more work or requiring additional resources, IT recycling presents a way for businesses to voluntarily adopt a socially responsible practice. In many ways, it delivers the best of both worlds, in that it makes sense from both a business and social perspective.
The emphasis placed on CSR varies from company to company - from no overt focus at all in many cases, to very well structured, managed and monitored policies and activities in others.
Many larger businesses now address the issue of CSR directly, and produce reports to demonstrate their efforts and achievements. Even businesses which operate in controversial markets are addressing the issues surrounding CSR. Take BAT for instance, whose CSR area of its website focuses on initiatives such as environmental management, globalisation, tackling underage smoking and the elimination of childhood labour.
So, whichever way you look at it, CSR is important for businesses where groups such as consumers, shareholders, employees and the Government have been taking an increased interest in the role and effect business has on society. As is often the case with subjects of growing importance such as this, big businesses can often lead the way with high-profile examples of programmes and investment, with the practice filtering down through the entire economy in due course.
A high profile concern
CSR has gained such a profile that it is reaching the agendas of businesses of all sizes, all of whom need to start somewhere. However, it is easy to see why many CSR projects simply fail to get off the ground, because in the context of the day to day challenge of running a business, many do not have the time or resources to implement a comprehensive, sustainable CSR programme.
Many businesses may not believe they have the capability to address CSR, when in reality they are not considering the subject from a practical perspective. A useful starting point is to consider aspects of the business that are having a negative effect on society and look for ways that they can become positive without a radical or costly effect on day-to-day operations.
Recycling and CSR
One well-understood, yet massively under-used example is the extent to which businesses can recycle their obsolete IT equipment. Our reliance upon IT grows each year, as does the waste that is created when we update and replace it. IT offers an especially relevant point of focus, because it is an area where obsolescence is built in, and we are forced by the rapid pace of development to dispose of large amounts of equipment on a regular basis.
This is where the link between recycling IT and CSR arises. All businesses are now faced with European legislation (called the WEEE Directive) which will force them to make a more organised effort to increase the recycling of electronic equipment. With up to two million working PCs dumped in landfill sites in the UK every year, there are serious environmental ramifications, which is why the authorities have acted.
Given that there is a statutory obligation on the horizon to deal effectively with surplus IT equipment, recycling can give businesses a powerful way of meeting the legal requirements and kick-start their CSR efforts at the same time.
Businesses examining this option need to be confident that their obsolete products can be removed safely and recycled effectively. Recycling need not even be seen as particularly altruistic: an effective IT recycling policy can actually help a business make money by generating revenue from redundant technology. This can yield up to 5% of the initial cost of the purchase.
This is the kind of benefit that can help many organisations to activate their CSR efforts - helping to establish a link between business ethics and business priorities, which for most organisations outside the voluntary and not-for-profit sectors are rightly focused on making money.
Recycle by donating
Recycling IT equipment is not just an environmentally sound practice; it can also have a strong social impact. It can go much further than minimising landfill or reducing a product to its component parts and making them into something else. The advantage that IT offers is the extent to which it can be re-used for charitable benefit. This could involve either removing all the data from an old PC and donating it to a charitable cause or selling surplus equipment and donating the funds to charity.
It is inevitable that companies will be concerned about the potential security risks when disposing of redundant equipment. They will therefore need to ensure that they take the right advice when seeking to wipe data from their hard drives before recycling. This can be achieved by internal IT departments, but for smaller companies, there are a host of organisations that can provide a similar service.
Recycling of electronic and IT equipment in the context of corporate social responsibility can be beneficial across the board. It draws together a number of important strands of legislation, consumer interest and business ethics to allow organisations to make progress on CSR in a practical way.
- Peter Paduh is managing director of Maxitech - a not-for-profit company dedicated to the provision of reuse and recycling services to organisations throughout the UK, www.maxitech.biz SUMMARY OF THE WEEE AND ROHS DIRECTIVES
The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive was agreed on 13 February 2003, along with the related Directive on Restrictions of the use of certain Hazardous Substances in electrical and electronic equipment (RoHS). The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) aims to minimise the impacts of electrical and electronic equipment on the environment during their life times and when they become waste.
It applies to a huge spectrum of products. It encourages and sets criteria for the collection, treatment, recycling and recovery of waste electrical and electronic equipment. It makes producers responsible for financing most of these activities (producer responsibility). Private householders are to be able to return WEEE without charge.
The RoHS Directive will ban the placing on the EU market of new electrical and electronic equipment containing more than agreed levels of lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyl (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants from 1 July 2006. There are a number of exempted applications for these substances. RoHS takes its scope broadly from the WEEE Directive. Manufacturers will need to ensure that their products - and their components - comply in order to stay in the single market. If they do not, they will need to redesign products.
THE DTI GUIDE TO RE-USE OF COMPUTERS
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) have produced a guide entitled Unwanted Computer Equipment: A Guide to Re-use. This guide is intended to provide advice for individuals and organisations who wish to find a socially responsible way of disposing of old computers and other white goods. It could also help those who are looking for a source of refurbished items. The guide discusses levels of refurbishment in some detail, covering quality standards, checks carried out, who takes on the liability and end-of-life responsibility, after-sales service, markets for refurbished computers, such as schools, libraries, charities, businesses, households and export to developing countries.
MICROSOFT AUTHORISED REFURBISHER SCHEME
The Microsoft Authorised Refurbisher Scheme aids organisations to donate or sell refurbished PCs to UK schools, educational institutions and registered charities. It also helps these institutions to acquire a PC that has been professionally refurbished and which comes pre installed with a Microsoft operating system.
Microsoft recognise that an increasing number of organisations wish to donate PCs to schools, educational institutions and registered charities.
Donating and acquiring hardware through the Microsoft Authorised Refurbisher Scheme means that each PC is professionally refurbished (overhauled, cleaned and updated) and that a Microsoft operating system is legally installed on the PC before being acquired by a new owner.
Refurbishment includes the clearing of any data or software that is left on the PC and the repair, replacement or addition of parts required to make the PC function correctly. Applications such as Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint will not be passed from the donor to the recipient in this scheme but are made available at discounted rates through the Education Licensing Programme.
The scheme is open to any organisation within the UK for donations and it is open to any school, educational institution or registered charity within the UK to be a recipient. The scheme gives a structured way of processing redundant hardware as well as providing legal accountability.
Maxitech.biz is a not-for-profit company dedicated to the provision of reuse and recycling services to companies and organisations throughout the UK.
There are two main principles that it strictly adheres to, making it different from other asset recovery companies:
- COMMITMENT TO ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP - Its policy ensures that everything it processes is dealt with environmentally. No harmful components are sent to landfill, and no harmful waste is sent overseas for dumping.
Additionally, through its ongoing research and development efforts with partner organisations, it is also realising the vision of creating secondary products from otherwise harmful electrical and electronic components and discovering new methods of reclaiming useful materials from e-waste.
- COMMITMENT TO SOCIAL INCLUSION - Maxitech.biz has an on-going programme to train and develop youths from socially-disadvantaged backgrounds through its work placement schemes, which are conducted in conjunction with re-employment organisations. Its aim is to help these youths become upstanding members of society.