Wednesday, September 23, 2009

eWaste: Establishing an Environmental Program

In the past several posts of this eWaste series, we’ve looked at electronics recycling and end of life (EOL) management from the EMS company’s and recycler’s perspectives. Today, we’ll look at the idea from one OEM’s viewpoint, and follow this networking and security vendor's internal and external initiatives to construct and implement an environmental program. David Cox, senior VP of Blue Coat Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BCSI), describes how the BluePlanet program started, their method for laying out an environmental roadmap, and other steps that any company can take to shape their reduce/reuse/recycle program for sustainability and profitability.

The BluePlanet environmental program, designed in partnership with consultants from TFI (see Pam Gordon’s Do’s and Don’ts in the first eWaste post), operates on a company-wide level, interconnected between different departments. For example, the company implemented a take-back program when customers upgraded to new models, recycling the legacy products into their spare parts program. This required coordination between account managers in the field, channel partners, the rework and repair team, and shipping, as well as a marketing push to get the word out to customers. A simple “swap mentality” didn’t yield many returns, and since upgrades occur on the customer’s schedule, not coordinated across the customer base, distribution was highly fragmented. Logistics were difficult at first, Cox admits, but incentives for success included reduced cost of replacement/refurbished units for customers, reduced excesses in component build, and satisfying the many green info requests that come through in a request for quote (RFQ). “This program pushed us to really study our installed base, and there are additional benefits reaped from that,” Cox adds.

As much as the environmental program is global in scale and a company-wide project, it also is reliant on the individual employee. Blue Coat created an E-Heroes program, wherein employees submit ideas for how Blue Coat can become more green. This includes anything from designing products for ease of rework (reducing scrap and waste), considering the impact of raw materials used, designing for the environment (DfE) in new product introductions (NPIs), carbon footprint in travel and shipping, and more — even the kind of ink used on packaging. Since the company’s products enable increased application response times in consolidated server environments, it was only natural to execute a server consolidation internally, going from 85 servers to 3 and conserving energy as a result. Cox said these internal suggestions led to a solid program from the start, with a comprehensive approach and clear goal. As with the take-back program, secondary benefits like boosted employee morale and a recruitment edge were realized.

Blue Coat, like many EMS providers we interviewed for previous posts, chose to partner with a dedicated recycler for some of its EOL needs. “We found that 98% of some products were recyclable or recoverable,” Cox notes. Blue Coat’s hardware, manufacturing, and process engineers took a workshop on design for recyclability (DfR), which can boost this materials reuse even higher in the next product generation. Cox suggests performing due diligence on a potential recycling partner and looking for specs like a global footprint, commitment to correct practices, and satisfied clients. Read more about choosing a recycling program in the eWaste post, “Which Electronics Recycling Model Fits Your Business?”

Blue Coat is over the first few hurdles in establishing an environmental program. The company is now at a point where it can see and understand all of the future opportunities available, and can leverage the steps it's already taken. With the unifying and company-building power of the BluePlanet implementation, Cox now looks forward to determining longer-term goals for the company’s environmental strategy.

Meredith Courtemanche, executive editor

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