Why Not Just Let the Landlord Handle It?

by Carol Baroudi
Apr 6, 2015 12:25 PM ET

Often the first challenge sustainability practitioners face, once they’re given a green light, is gathering basic utilities expenditures from facilities where an “all-inclusive lease” gives them no visibility into actual utilities usage. A prevalent but far more insidious practice buried in the comprehensive lease might not catch their attention – but it should.

The practice is rooted in not distinguishing electronic waste (ewaste) from other waste, so when a landlord offers to take out the trash – including the electronic trash – many organizations check the box, thinking it’s one less thing to worry about. And they are wrong.

Electronics pose serious risks to an organization’s brand and the very viability of the business. Most electronics – from tiny thumb drives to printers, scanners and copiers – can contain sensitive data, data for which the organization can be held accountable. Simply erasing data from these devices is not sufficient evidence that in fact the data is gone, and handing the devices over to an entity not equipped to perform thorough data eradication leaves an organization needlessly exposed.

The environmental risks parallel the data security risks. Assets can often be traced back to their owners, and negative exposure linking an organization’s assets to improper disposal will cost a lot more than the price of appropriate handling.

Electronic assets need to be scrupulously tracked through a secure chain of custody. Remember that the liability tied to the asset – both from a data security perspective and potential hazardous waste perspective – ties directly back to the organization of origin; what’s more, the burden of proof lies with the original organization – proof that they properly destroyed all sensitive data and proof that the data was disposed of ethically and responsibly.

Having an e-waste policy is likely a good thing, but just having one won’t protect an organization. Policies must be enforced, and they are most effective when they are accompanied by education and executive sponsorship. Larger organizations with many facilities often leave the management of the facilities to the individual facilities managers. Without the understanding of why electronics need to be handled differently, and support and enforcement guidance in this area, chances are that organizations are leaving themselves highly vulnerable.

Write to me (at cbaroudi@arrow.com) and tell me what happens to unwanted electronics in your building – I’d love to know.