For some time, businesses have been obligated to dispose of their end-of-life IT equipment responsibly. In June, however, the EU introduced its Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, which aims to minimise the environmental impact of electrical and electronic equipment by increasing reuse and recycling, and reducing the amount going to landfill. This has given many firms further cause for concern.
Many believe IT equipment that is no longer functioning at full capacity has reached the end of its working life. Under the recommendations of the National Audit Office's recent report on IT lifecycles, leading companies are typically disposing of their equipment every three years. Most will pay to take it to a local waste and recycling centre, many will hire a professional waste disposal service and some will donate it to a good cause.
But much of the equipment can often be refurbished to a standard whereby it can be redeployed within the organisation, resold or donated to a third party. Thousands of UK businesses are seemingly paying to get rid of equipment that doesn't necessarily need to be disposed of and needlessly committing it to landfill. As a result, they are missing out on generating a potentially lucrative new revenue stream.
The existing duty of care imposed when disposing of IT equipment responsibly, coupled with legislation such as WEEE, means an increasing number of businesses are seeking assurance that their actions are being carried out in compliance with all applicable legislation. For many, the biggest issue is that of confidential and commercially sensitive data potentially falling into the wrong hands.
Research carried out by e-cycle has highlighted the poor quality of most companies' data security. More than 75 per cent of the 350 businesses questioned - including leading financial organisations - had sold or given away computers, and of these, only 23 per cent had cleansed the data sufficiently. Some 38 per cent had merely reformatted the drives while 22 per cent overwrote them.
Simply reformatting or overwriting data once or twice will still allow much of it to be recovered. It is admirable that companies are making redundant equipment available for reuse, but in the overwhelming majority of cases, they are not rendering the data unrecoverable.
Understandably, businesses want assurance that confidential data is safe from prying eyes, and should, where possible, work with IT refurbishers that hold Microsoft Authorised Refurbisher (MAR) status. The cost of employing an IT refurbisher - which provides businesses with peace of mind where legislation is concerned - is negligible compared with the punishing financial penalties for non-compliance. The resulting damage to a business's reputation of failing to carry out its responsibilities in accordance with environmental legislation can be far greater.
Businesses are increasingly being dictated to by their customers, who see corporate social responsibility as a priority. In e-cycle's case, that responsibility comes in the form of helping to provide sustainable jobs for the 600 disabled people it employs.
Tony Stroud is general manager of Remploy e-cycle