In our opinion: certifications serve us all
Bob Akers’ editorial in E-Scrap News raised the question, “What is the value of standards and certifications in our industry today?”
To answer, let’s first take a little tour of the time machine. We can all remember the Asian and African scenes of e-waste mismanagement that the Basel Action Network (BAN) first brought to the world’s attention in 2002-08. It was a period of public awareness of the problem of electronic waste. Following this, over a decade ago, the US EPA asked what its role should be in improving the situation, and the majority opinion of stakeholders was that a set of best practices was needed. . It was BAN who insisted that they be more than a manual, but rather a third-party audited certification. From this process were born two standards – R2 and e-Stewards, the latter differing in that it was committed to aligning with international rules (Basel Convention) prohibiting the export of hazardous wastes to countries developing, even in countries where the government had not yet ratified these rules.
Much has changed since those days. Today, global dumping, as first reported by BAN two decades ago, is drastically reduced and every day more universally condemned. Certification is now the price of admission to be a serious player in the e-cycling business, as the public has become more aware and aware of the harms that improper recycling can cause. While recyclers can paint pretty green boards, declare that they recycle everything in their country, and write 100% certificates of destruction on their websites, we can all sleep better at night when those claims can be verified.
Today, for a sophisticated public and business community, certified recycling is simply a much better product than an unverified set of green claims. SERI’s Corey Dehmey rightly argued in his recent opinion response that certifications are good for business. Indeed, there are many examples of how they create a framework to make recyclers safer, operate more efficiently and avoid liability. But we would say more broadly that, in fact, checking and then rewarding good behavior makes the world a better place as a whole. The general public and businesses around the world all benefit from a good certification program for an essential service we all need: the electric bicycle.
Some keys to succeeding in certifications
If people now take the industry’s progress over the past 10 years for granted and question their value because they are now expected, we assume that is the price of success. But is starting from square one really the way to go? Certainly not. However, we strongly agree with Mr. Akers that certifications must continue to evolve and be ready to pivot to remain relevant. We should never rest on the laurels of past successes for fear of missing out on the new challenges and opportunities of a rapidly changing industry and what it is capable of achieving. We believe that a successful and relevant future for e-Stewards and other certifications hinges on the following:
- Beyond preventing bad behavior, encourage and applaud good behavior while creating new, positive initiatives. Qualifications must become more than a policing tool against problems – they must increasingly become a means of leveraging the social and environmental improvement capacities of industry. Our ADVANCE + initiative, for example, focuses on job creation for people with autism and other disabilities. Digital equity efforts are another prime example of helping to bridge the digital divide and providing computers and internet access to low-income communities.
- Resist the temptation to keep adding requirements to a standard. Be very strict on real threats, while allowing innovation on the rest. You should not confuse the improvement of a stallion with the thickening of a stallion! Audit times are not expected to increase. Critical requirements (data security, toxic exposures, international spill) should be very prescriptive and enforced; the rest should allow for new ideas, flexibility and innovation. Version 4.0 of our standard was produced with this in mind: shorter, clearer and more user-friendly.
- Create an open and constructive community of support. Building a community is invaluable in staying relevant with trends and providing the best advice. We embraced this model early on by holding face-to-face meetings, open public comment periods on changes, and setting up a multi-stakeholder governing board and alumni. The e-Stewards support community also includes around 50 companies, cities and universities who agree to help promote best practices and positive programs.
- Keep a constant and ready supply of tools and information for your members and the public. Feel free to offer webinars, white papers, news, videos and podcasts on industry and policy developments around the world. Ensure prompt customer service and response to inquiries from the public.
- Anticipate the future: Be prepared for new material challenges and become a force for more proactive green design initiatives. Is our industry really ready to properly handle PV, the next mountain of electric vehicle batteries, and the myriad of Internet of Things devices produced and installed in virtually everything? Plastic with too many toxic additives? Shouldn’t we be becoming more of a green design vector for electronics? Our Board of Directors has open seats for OEMs precisely because of the need to bridge the gap between product design and proper end-of-life management. It is the pivot that we must all make to move forward.
In this way, we believe that e-Stewards and other certification programs can evolve to meet the needs of their real customers, who are not only processors, but also those to whom they provide their vital services – to us. all.
Aaron Blum of ERI, Karen Dietel-Jenks of Cascade Asset Management, Brooks Hoffman of Iron Mountain, Mark Newton of Samsung and Caitlin Sanchez of Vizio are members of the e-Stewards Leadership Council.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not imply endorsement by Resource Recycling, Inc. If you have a topic you would like to cover in an editorial, please send a short proposal to [emailÂ protected] for exam.