April 2012

R2 Standards Support Sustainability

Strong Standards Develop Robust Industries: R2 Is Helping Electronics Refurbishers and Recyclers Grow and Act Sustainably

By John Lingelbach, R2Solutions.org

One of the most important, and gratifying, developments in the electronics refurbishing and recycling industries has been the growing awareness of voluntary industry standards, and the understanding of how these standards develop sustainable business practices. Standards, when developed through an open and transparent process, and demanded by consumers, raise the performance bar for all of the players in an industry. Perhaps nowhere is this more important than in the electronics recycling industry. The R2 Standard ensures that electronics refurbishing and recycling practices help protect the environment, as well as human health and safety, while providing a much needed service for customers.

About a year ago we wrote about the launch of the R2 Standard. In less than 12 months it’s amazing to see what this standard has made possible: 108 companies with a combined 182 facilities have been certified to R2. And these companies have a global reach – there are now certified facilities in Canada, China, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States. We expect that dozens more will soon be certified, further extending the global reach of responsible electronics recyclers, with additional capacity in Europe and the first R2 certified facilities in Africa and Australia.

R2 Solutions has been organized as the housing entity for the standard. It is a dynamic and open organization charged with promoting and improving the R2 Standard. Well known environmental experts sit on the board of directors and are responsible for governance of the organization. Last year we announced the formation of our Technical Advisory Committee which has members from some of the leading information technology and electronics recycling companies in the world as well as leading policy and environmental experts. The TAC operates under a set of published guiding principles as part of R2’s commitment to transparency and to responsible recycling worldwide.

This growth has exceeded expectations but it’s important we go much further. Ultimately, every business and consumer will have the need for responsible recycling of used electronics. The R2 Standard will help ensure best practices as the electronics recycling industry continues to grow. But more recyclers need to be certified and more organizations need to be aware that they should require their electronics recyclers to be R2 certified.

What are some of the benefits that the R2 Standard offers an organization that needs to responsibly recycle used electronics?

First, the R2 Standard requires that certified recyclers have robust standards in place for secure data management and destruction of all types of data storage devices. Data loss remains the number one concern of IT managers at mid to large size organizations when considering how to manage old computer equipment. R2 requires that certified recyclers both have a security program in place for collected customer equipment as well as processes to sanitize, purge or destroy data on hard drives and other storage devices.

Second, R2 recognizes the importance of reuse – both to the environment and to the economy. R2 follows a “reuse, then recover” hierarchy. Electronic equipment with sufficient reuse value should be refurbished and directed to reuse. When doing so, however, R2 wants to assure the quality of the equipment to be reused, so diagnostic testing is required and key functions must be working properly before such equipment is deemed, like new equipment, outside the scope of the R2 Standard. Ultimately maximizing reuse places less strain on the environment from the sourcing (mining) of new raw materials.

Third, it’s critical that any voluntary industry standard has a true global focus. The electronics industry is global and consumer need for electronics – and the responsible recycling of them – is not limited to developed countries. The development of a responsible electronics recycling industry won’t serve the environment well if it’s limited to North America and Europe. The need for responsible recyclers that have gone through the arduous process of becoming certified, and have the requisite safeguards for workers and the environment in place, is just as important in developing countries. That is why R2 has focused on ensuring that electronics recyclers around the globe become certified – to the same high standards everywhere.

Perhaps as important is the R2 commitment to open and transparent administration and maintenance of the R2 Standard. The R2 Standard was developed through a fully open public process. Key stakeholders participated throughout its multi-year development. This provided the R2 Standard with its core strength – it raises the bar for environmental performance substantially while providing some flexibility regarding the steps recyclers can take in achieving this bar. Further, R2 Solutions has as a core tenet maintaining transparency and multi-stakeholder participation when improving the R2 Standard.

The R2 Standard is currently being revised, and will continue to be improved in the future, by a voluntary consensus standards body. Moreover, the standards revision process is being designed in accordance with the process requirements of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which require openness, lack of dominance, balance, notification and comment, consensus, and appeals. The R2 Standard revision effort is dynamic, innovative, and exacting – precisely because of the broad range of key perspectives that are participating throughout the standard revisions development process.

So where is the R2 focus going forward?

Most importantly we must continue to grow the number of recyclers being certified to the standard. Estimates of the number of electronics recyclers vary widely but it’s safe to say there are hundreds of companies in the U.S., and more globally, who still aren’t certified. Commitment to high standards and the willingness to be audited to a standard such as R2 by a third-party needs to become a “ticket to entry” for the electronics recycling industry. R2 Solutions is continuing to manage a robust industry outreach program with communications at conferences, in the press and directly with recyclers to help ensure more recyclers become certified every week.

To achieve this aim, we also need to engage the customers of recyclers, and help raise their awareness of how requiring their electronics recycling vendors to hold R2 certification can meet their own sustainability goals. R2 Solutions is working with a number of companies, nonprofits and universities and will expand these efforts.

The strength of R2 has never been more evident. We look forward to collaboration with all electronics refurbishers and recyclers as we work together to raise the bar for environmental performance in our industry.