In my opinion: does today’s industry need e-Stewards or R2?

The author calls for the creation of a new certification program. | Africa Studio / Shutterstock

If you read this post, you know the ins and outs of the two certification bodies in our industry, R2 and e-Stewards. We’ve had years of these opposing sides and it’s been confusing, with more than a little mud.

I’ve always thought it was a mess for our industry to have two certifications that drive a wedge in our community fighting for the same market. It’s hard enough to sell a prospect on your services. Add a competitor with a different certification and you must now sell your services, your cost structure AND your certification choice.

I started in the scrap electronics industry before there were any certifications. Finally, our organization became e-Stewards promised, then e-Stewards certified. After I left recycling operations, I attempted to work for e-Stewards on the certification side of the fence. Today, in semi-retirement, I can observe the industry from an almost neutral point of view (I say “almost” because I am resolutely on the side of recyclers, regardless of the certification they hold).

Bob Akers

Bob Akers

Recently, much of my thinking on the subject R2 versus e-Stewards has been a “What would I do?” ” exercise. And my conclusion has often been that the industry should get rid of existing certifications and start over with a new one.

A look at finances

I have reviewed IRS 990 statements for the Basel Action Network (BAN), owner of the e-Stewards standard, and Sustainable Electronics Recycling International (SERI), owner of R2. The most recent publicly available online repositories for both organizations cover 2019.

BAN’s record shows gross income of $ 838,358 with total expenses of $ 817,088 for a net gain of $ 21,270 (the previous year, BAN had a net loss of $ 77,785). The organization only reported $ 83,351 in grant revenue, which means the bulk of the revenue comes from e-Stewards. The CEO received $ 133,741. Travel expenses totaled $ 39,234 and advertising expenses were $ 7,514. Another $ 314,701 was spent on other salaries.

SERI’s record shows gross income of $ 1,746,118, salaries of $ 508,775 and net income of $ 742,097. The general manager was paid $ 159,650. The certification fees brought in $ 1,689,774 in revenue.

Both files raise questions. For BAN: Is this program sustainable? What happens to my e-Stewards certification if BAN rolls back? BAN is primarily a one-man show. What happens if this person retires or becomes ill? Is there a business continuity plan to protect my investment in an e-Stewards certification? Has money been spent on advertising to help drive business to e-Stewards or just to get more companies into the certification pipeline?

For SERI, the main question is: is any part of its income spent to help attract businesses to R2 recyclers?

Now it is certainly true that R2 and e-Stewards have served us and helped the industry to grow to be better educated and more professional. But the cost of staying at these two clubs is high. Both organizations need revenue. Both have budgets and goals that they must achieve. You, the recyclers, are paying the freight for these initiatives.

If you spend $ 50,000 to $ 90,000 on your certification, are you getting value? Do you book business strictly on the basis of certifications to cover these costs each year? Are you booking a company that actually doubles your certification investment? Would that $ 50,000 to $ 90,000 be better spent by investing in equipment or in employee retention? Or set up a system to get more information from customers?

The main question really is: how much of that membership fee is spent to help certified recyclers in the market?

Looking at the 990 files, the answer is not much.

Are e-Stewards and R2 still relevant?

I would say neither organization has shown much interest in listening to you, the certification buyer.

R2 got more complicated and expensive, adding an approval system that angered some R2 certified companies. Meanwhile, e-Stewards have been told for years that its pricing structure is a barrier that many businesses just don’t want to skip, and many find intrusive.

Of course, basically these certifications exist to ensure that processors are doing the right thing in their facilities and in relation to the chain of custody. But the truth is, neither standard sets the bar high. Being required to provide safe working conditions, being honest with your customers, and obeying the law are not difficult thresholds for any business that wants to be there for the long haul. If you have unsafe working conditions and mislead your customers, the word will spread throughout the community and kill your reputation.

Additionally, both certifications appear to be stuck in the past in their relationship to the realities of electronic scrap management. Granted, they’ve been keeping up with some new materials and changes in battery technology, but they don’t seem to be aware of how the industry has operationally changed and what is economically feasible in a growing market. competitive. In fact, they now need additional certifications to qualify for theirs, which increases your costs and your workload.

While legal issues surrounding the mishandling of CRTs have dominated industry news, this material is an increasingly small part of the material we deal with today, and it will continue to decline. At the same time, OEMs have made efforts to reduce toxic materials in new products. We need to look to the future and plan to manage the flow of materials going to facilities in the years to come while ensuring that we don’t do anything unethical or illegal with the decline in CRT products.

It’s time to “scrape” and restart

I am, by nature, pro-certification. I hold or have held certifications in athletics, aviation, disaster response, first aid, and non-profit leadership. I favor certifications that provide education and training and open doors to excel at reasonable costs. These other types of certifications I got involved in include training from people who are themselves certified. They provide concrete knowledge on the subject covered – a real return on investment.

However, R2 and e-Stewards organizations are not managed by teams with in-depth practical operational knowledge in your industry. While both rely heavily on industry leaders to help them write reviews and updates to their standards, the final copy mostly goes to people who didn’t walk in your shoes.

Now is the time to ditch existing certifications and start over with something that caters to today’s world. The industry doesn’t need two warring certifications that continue to pile up on layers and costs. We don’t know how secure our investments are – or if they will even be worth five or 10 years from now. We need to know the short and long term plans for any certification, and we need a business continuity plan for any certification we choose.

There might be a better way

A clean, cost-effective certification that maintains the touchpoints defined by R2 and e-Stewards and is accepted by industry is possible.

ISO 9001 is an interesting option. More than one million organizations in 170 countries are ISO 9001 certified, figures which underscore its reach and stability. It is designed to ensure that customers get consistent, quality products and services.

If your business is focused on end-of-life recycling, ISO systems could be in place to address both customer needs, environmental safeguards, and potential issues. If your business is ITAD, you might be able to solve more quality of service and product issues. Our services should include data security, which could also be addressed. All should be auditable and meet the ISO standard for constant improvement. This approach would likely be much less expensive than the existing options.

In addition, thanks to technological advances, audits could be both more cost-effective and more comprehensive. We have the ability to track pickup and shipment data, for example. This information could be shared with an auditor, which would allow them to take a random sample of shipments and assess downstream, as well as control of materials as they pass through company processes.

Finally, any new certification framework should be active in marketing to our potential customers and help us open up new markets. Marketing to / through associations that serve other industries would be an easy starting target. Yes, the Fortune 500 probably know about R2 and e-Stewards, but to be a healthy industry we need the next 5,000 companies to know about our services. Our customers need to be made aware of what we are doing, how difficult it can be, and the great value we provide both as environmental organizations and as organizations capable of delivering quality refurbished products to fair prices.

Is this the time to spend more money on e-Stewards and R2, or is it time to demand something more logical? We need systems that help us meet strict environmental standards without increasing the bottom line, and we need help marketing the good that electronics recycling and reuse companies bring to communities.

Ultimately, it’s up to you. If all is working well for you on the certification front, move on.

But if you’re unhappy and want change, speak up. There are others in this industry willing to listen.

Bob Akers is the former executive director of Kansas City processor The Surplus Exchange and the former business director at e-Stewards.

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 [email protected] for exam.