Experts convened during the Erasing data for Good webinar series to discuss different methods of data sanitization, and what it means for businesses and their sustainability goals.
The webinar, organized by data security company Blancco, featured four sessions, notably, “Drive Destruction & Sustainability: The Hidden Value of Eco-Focused Tech Disposal”, to help organizations understand the importance of eliminating data from unneeded equipment in a secure and eco-friendly way.
The session was moderated by Fredrik Forslund, director, International Data Sanitization Consortium and vice president at Blancco, while leaders from industry giants Accenture and Deloitte shared their insights.
“When we look at the high tech and the software platform industries, we’re using a lot of technology and that’s creating a lot of waste. So what can we do to reuse and make our impact as low as possible while still driving the outcomes we want to get to?” asked Monica Kuroki, sustainability industry lead at Accenture, as she kicked off the discussion.
Data security has been key to driving discussions around data sanitization, with big organizations and individuals alike concerned about their data being compromised at the time of equipment disposal. GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation, the EU’s privacy regulation) penalties equally add to the pressure to dispose responsibly, explained Adam Moloney, chief financial officer and net zero champion at Blancco.
The key solution, he added, has been traditionally to destroy or shred that equipment into very small pieces so that none of the data can be recovered. But the environmental impact of that is very negative.
Real data erasure, Maloney said, sanitizes a device completely, such that old data cannot be recovered, while also ensuring that the device or its parts can be reused, resold, recycled, or “whatever it is you might want to do with the device without the need to destroy it.”
Last year, 300 million PCs and laptops were sold globally, and will need to be disposed of in the future, Maloney stated. Sustainability becomes a key question, as these devices, primarily computer equipment, go into landfills or are shipped to third-world countries, where they are unsafely disassembled for parts and precious metals, often by children and women. Chemicals present in the disposed equipment also present a significant risk to communities, animals, and nature.
The risk to the environment is not the only motivating factor for organizations with sustainability initiatives, however. Businesses with high ESG scores have better financial outcomes, more engaged workplaces, and are better able to retain and attract talent, said Kuroki.
More businesses are also looking internally to reduce expenses as they face decreased consumer demand caused by the cost of living crisis, she noted. Businesses can sell off older devices, while data centres can look to keep their infrastructure and hard drives for longer as they face the increase in the cost of raw materials.
“Sustainability credentials are more widely under scrutiny at the moment by regulators, customers, politicians – everybody is focused on sustainability. If an organization can do more to prove its credentials, it can have a lot of benefits in terms of stakeholder management.”
Furthermore, Kuroki argued that the push for sustainability is generated both from the top down and the bottom up. Executives are not only interested in doing the right thing environmentally and staying relevant with peers and competitors, but also want to reduce their risk of exposure to new regulations.
And, from a bottom up perspective, people want to make sure they are doing their part, aligning their values to their profession, as sustainability often feels really personal, said Kuroki.
The panelists offered these practical solutions for eco-friendly data sanitization and transitioning to a circular economy:
– Report on your company’s carbon footprint across the entire business chain, and how you are managing the footprint and the impact of changes in the environment on your business.
– Do a full IT audit of the organization to understand and optimize what your infrastructure looks like, the devices employees are using, how those devices are going end of life, what the lifecycle expectancy is, etc.
– Encourage remote collaboration
– Donate older equipment to worthy causes, supply them to schools abroad.
– Begin your journey sooner rather than later, set small and realistic targets that, in turn, make up circularity and its benefits