Photograph by Ton Koene/Redux

The Rise of the Corporate Sustainability Officer

  1. Creating E -Waste
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    Creating E -Waste

    Americans are discarding a growing pile of electronics. People dispose of 29.4 million computers, 22.7 million televisions, and 129 million mobile devices annually, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Only around a quarter of those devices are recycled.

    Photograph by Ton Koene/Redux
  2. Avoiding the Landfill
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    Avoiding the Landfill

    In some cases, discarded devices can be refurbished and reused, rather than scrapped or thrown out. Approximately 38 percent of mobile devices that are collected are reused, according to the EPA.

    Photograph by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
  3.  Profiting From Materials
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    Profiting From Materials

    Stripping electronics of valuable metals is a big business. A million cell phones, for example, contain 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium. But electronics also contain a large amount of toxic materials such as lead, cadmium, and mercury that can pollute the environment if improperly thrown away.

    Photograph by Taller de Imagen/Cover/Getty Images
  4.  Sending Recycling Overseas
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    Sending Recycling Overseas

    E-waste recycling is slowly gaining momentum. About 54 percent of all disposed electronics will be recycled by 2025, up from 18 percent in 2010, according to Pike Research, a cleantech market research firm. E-waste is sometime shipped to Nigeria, Ghana, and other developing countries whose environmental laws are lax. A number of companies such as Dell (DELL) refuse to export their electronic waste to developing nations because of concern over environmental impact and unsafe recycling techniques.

    Photograph by Kai Loeffelbein/laif/Redux
  5. Data Deletion
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    Data Deletion

    Companies are encouraged to use only electronics recyclers certified through R2 Solutions and the E-Stewards program. When discarding electronics, companies should make sure that all data is deleted from the devices. Overwriting hard drives or shredding them is common. However, many companies neglect to do so or entrust the job to unscrupulous recyclers. Any company found to have carelessly lost sensitive data in such a manner could be held legally liable.

    Photograph by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
  6. Directing Environmental Efforts
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    Directing Environmental Efforts

    Sustainability is playing an increasing role inside companies. Those who lead the efforts go by many titles. One is corporate sustainability officer, a role that implies a high level of responsibility within a corporation. There were 29 chief sustainability officers at public companies in 2011, according to a study by the Weinreb Group, a corporate recruiting firm that places chief sustainability officers. Preliminary findings for a follow-up report show that their numbers have grown around 20 percent since the original research. Companies with chief sustainability officers include Coca Cola (KO), Kellogg (K), DuPont (DD), UPS (UPS), and AT&T (T).

    Photograph by Jetta/Gallery Stock