Tough Economic Times: Not a Good Reason to Retreat from Environmental and Social Responsibility

August 18, 2015. Seattle, WA

Currently, we are witnessing an electronics recycling industry under great financial stress. This is due in large part to a crash in commodity prices and to state/provincial e-waste programs that turn pricing over to manufacturers in what has too often been a race to the bottom. Recycling companies are increasingly forced to make tough decisions about expenses and their bottom line, while others have had to shut their doors or declare bankruptcy.

These developments are unfortunate, but it is a sad day indeed when leaders in the industry, like Sims Recycling Solutions (SRS), reacting to the stress, decide to cut what shareholders and customers (corporate and public) clearly value and demand: increased environmental protection, increased social responsibility, increased independent verification and accountability, and rigorous data security.

Until now, Sims has been seen as a sustainability leader in the industry: For five consecutive years, Sims Metal Management was named as one of the top 100 most sustainable corporations at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. But now it appears they are in retreat.

In our dialogue with the world’s most valuable brands, such as Facebook, Wal-Mart, Apple, Bloomberg, Samsung, Alcoa, we are repeatedly reminded how much the world has changed. These large companies now all understand two things: corporate responsibility is no longer an option, and the integrity of their brands are among a company’s greatest assets. Brand liability is real.

Given this sea of change in corporate values, it would seem to be a strategic error, even in the face of falling stock value and lay-offs, for one of the world’s biggest business-to-business electronics recyclers to announce that they are no longer concerned about being differentiated as an environmental and social leader. By dropping e-Stewards, the one certification that assures toxic waste materials are not dumped on developing countries, that assures that nobody is allowed to play fast and loose with corporate or personal private data, and assures that workers are not exposed to harmful dusts and emissions, a very wrong and discredited message is sent — ‘being responsible is expendable.’ On the contrary, these leadership practices go beyond current laws but are nevertheless vital for both our planet’s future and for maintaining competitiveness.

BAN/e-Stewards is very sympathetic to the industry and the pressures it faces today; however, in the face of hard times it is a strategic mistake to turn the clock back and go all 'wobbly' on corporate responsibility.

Each week brings us headlines that remind us that the e-Stewards Standard for leadership in electronics recycling is needed now more than ever. We hope that SRS, their shareholders, and leadership will be able to revisit this cost-cutting decision in the near future, and will maintain their status as true industry leaders in the growing community of those who champion e-Stewards Certification.