Green IT in the Brave New World of BYOD

Green IT in the Brave New World of BYOD

With the untimely passing of Steve Jobs, there has been a great deal of reflection about the broad impact of his legacy. From advertising to publishing, Main Street to Wall Street, his influence is felt. It is even found in the emerging trend Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), where his popular iPhone and iPads have nearly singlehandedly driven employees to demand the ability to use their preferred personal technology at work.

Many industries -- music, movies and more -- have been turned upside down by Jobs' innovations, and BYOD is having the same impact on corporate IT. Since the early days of the PC era, corporate IT provided -- and controlled -- the technology used on the job. That approach enabled companies to contain costs, protect data security and implement sustainability programs that promote reuse and truly responsible recycling.

Given the rapid change -- a recent Gartner study notes that 90 percent of organizations will support corporate applications on personal devices by 2014 -- it is important for everyone concerned with green IT to consider its opportunities and challenges.

On the plus side, BYOD may help reduce duplication of devices: no more need to carry a phone for work and other for personal use. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is fundamental to any sustainability strategy. If we can avoid a second computer, we can save a substantial amount of energy and natural resources. Manufacturing a PC requires 1.8 tons of raw materials, about the same amount as required for a mid-size automobile, and about 240 kilograms of fossil fuels. That's 81 percent of the energy a computer will use throughout its life.

From this perspective, BYOD promotes sustainability. But what happens to these assets when employees upgrade, or the device is at the end of its useful life? Here's where BYOD creates substantial risks for sustainability and data security.

Over the past few years, an increasing number of Global 1000 companies have adopted comprehensive sustainability policies that include responsible e-waste disposition as fundamental to corporate social responsibility. The growth of the e-Stewards Initiative, the global certification program for electronics recyclers, is another important milestone. With policies and procedures based on the traditional model, companies can readily track IT equipment through the lifecycle to promote reuse and truly responsible recycling. Equally important, companies can contract with qualified e-waste partners through the e-Stewards program to ensure that truly responsible recycling procedures are followed, which means:

  • No toxic waste disposed in landfills and incinerators
  • No export of hazardous waste to developing countries
  • No use of prison labor in the handling of sensitive data and demanufacture of harmful electronics
  • Global ISO 14001 standards consistent with International environmental trade law

Since BYOD takes place outside that supportive structure, employees may be left on their own to dispose of their personal equipment. Consumer awareness of proper e-waste disposal remains perilously low. Even if the employee does seek to dispose of their gear responsibly, the options available to them are notoriously unreliable.

Finding a qualified recycler has been a challenge for environmentally minded companies that care. For consumers, it unfortunately remains virtually impossible. The electronics recycling industry has earned its untrustworthy reputation, and the media has thoroughly documented that many e-cyclers are willing to display a green façade while exporting toxic e-waste to developing countries. Keep in mind that more than 80 percent of electronics collected for recycling in the United States are ultimately exported for low-cost dismantling in unsafe e-waste dumps that are poisoning the air, water and people of developing countries.

When employees are left to dispose of their own equipment, the risks are significant. Sensitive information about your organization may be on a device that's up for bid on eBay or dropped off at a community e-waste drive where the materials collected will almost surely be exported.

So how can corporate IT adapt? These are complex issues, and the industry discussion is just beginning. Here are some initial thoughts.

  • Educate, educate, educate. Responsible corporate citizens must take the lead in helping employees understand the importance of truly responsible recycling through education campaigns.
  • Enable: Employee recycling drives. For instance, companies may look at organizing an ongoing series of on-site employee e-waste collection events to offer associates a convenient way to dispose of unwanted electronics. By contracting with an e-Stewards certified partner, the company can ensure the highest standards of environmental responsibility.
  • Safeguard. Implement an opt-in agreement for employees who choose to bring their own device, which addresses the company's rights to wipe any and all data from the device, track devices and more.

To help corporate IT adapt to the BYOD challenge, Redemtech recently developed a blog series on key issues, such as impact on sustainability, data security, IT asset management practices and more. We invite you to join this important discussion.

BYOD is a relevant trend that is driven by preferences of the end user. Enabling staff to more easily integrate their professional and personal lives on the devices they prefer can be a win-win for employees and employers alike. With creative policies, companies can also continue to help build momentum for truly responsible recycling.

How is your company approaching the BYOD trend? Has it impacted policy yet?

Cell phone photo from Shutterstock.