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Responsible IT asset disposal drives sustainability & business value

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By Melissa Gray, Sr. Director Supply Chain ESG & Corporate Services, Equinix

Today is Earth Day, with this year’s theme being “Planet vs. Plastics.” This is an opportunity to pause and reflect on how we can make smarter decisions about the materials we use—whether that means plastics, metals or others—to reduce our impact on planetary health. In the IT industry, responsible asset disposal will be an important part of this equation.

To keep up with the rapid pace of innovation and new customer demands, today’s businesses are transitioning to higher-density solutions, leaving standard IT equipment on a path to the recyclers. While the components industry still has a lot of work to do to improve end-of-life (EOL) plans for IT assets, Equinix is working with the factors under our control to divert IT assets into a more circular and beneficial path.

Our Responsible Electronics Disposal (RED) program is how we support our customers in managing the
asset lifecycle to minimize environmental impact, avoid security issues, and recapture value from their IT investments. An asset disposal strategy must balance environmental, security and financial priorities Responsible asset disposal is taking on new importance in light of the aggressive sustainability targets businesses are setting for themselves and their suppliers. While a piece of technology may no longer make sense for a reference architecture, it may serve a higher or better use if refurbished and remarketed to someone who can give it a second useful life. This will also avoid the time, cost and environmental impact of extracting raw materials and the energy and water cost of manufacturing the asset. As they dispose of assets, companies should measure their data exposure, GHG emissions (from the processing and transport of EOL assets) and their financial return on assets.

Many businesses focus their sustainability efforts on reducing emissions in their operations and supply chains. This is an important part of the equation, because their IT assets include embodied carbon—emissions created during manufacturing, transportation and asset disposal.

Servers are also built using rare raw materials that may be difficult and expensive to acquire, so it’s important companies not let those materials go to waste. Ideally, all companies would move away from the linear mindset of take-make-use-dispose and fully participate in the circular economy. This means that as assets reach EOL, companies should evaluate them to determine which ones could be resold, repurposed, or recycled, thus putting embodied carbon and raw materials back into the marketplace. The emissions associated with refurbishing and remarketing an asset versus recycling it are vastly different, and this should be factored into a company’s carbon footprint.

In addition to their environmental responsibilities, businesses must also consider data security. While the goal is to divert assets from landfills, some data-bearing components are simply too vulnerable to be safely reused. At Equinix, our InfoSec and Procurement teams collaborate to ensure our Asset Sanitization and Destruction standard defines how our data classifications relate to internal data procedures and specifies additional physical and virtual handling requirements for our supplier partners.

This helps ensure we’re executing against the best NIST and customer contract guidance to secure our
company-owned assets. Businesses need to have policies and procedures that ensure assets are used to store only certain kinds of data throughout their lifecycles. If they can see that a particular drive was only used to store public data, then they know there’s no risk involved with reselling it. To keep waste to a minimum, they must make sure they’re only destroying assets that cannot be reused safely.

The final factor that businesses should consider is the financial value of their IT assets. Of course, businesses should recapture as much value as possible from the IT assets they’re retiring. They can achieve this by reselling their assets, components or raw materials. An effective asset disposal framework properly balances all three of these responsibilities—a company’s responsibility to the environment, its responsibility to protect sensitive data, and its responsibility to recapture financial value on behalf of its stakeholders. At Equinix, we believe we’ve made great strides toward achieving this balance with our RED program.

In addition to covering Equinix IT assets, the program provides an opportunity for our customers to responsibly dispose of their own IT assets. In Q2 2024, we plan to start offering customer access to the
RED program via Equinix Smart Hands®, our on-site tech support service for data center equipment. The
launch will begin in Singapore before rolling out globally.

Making progress in the circular economy
At Equinix, we know firsthand how challenging it can be to create an asset disposal program that
balances all three priorities and then replicate it across hundreds of facilities. In the past, we
traditionally managed asset reselling or recycling on a location-by-location basis. As we considered this
approach in the context of our broader sustainability and security ambitions as a publicly traded REIT,
we knew we needed to do more. To help us reach our security, environmental and financial goals, we
needed an enterprise-scale program that would make circularity an ingrained part of our global operations.

This was the impetus that led us to create the RED program. Every piece of Equinix-owned electronics
that reaches end of life—be it compute, network, or storage—is assessed through the program to determine how it might go on to its best and highest use after it leaves our data center. In 2023, 37% of Equinix-owned servers that left our business were given a second useful life through refurbishment and remarketing.

As a founding signatory of the Climate Neutral Data Center Pact (CNDCP), Equinix partnered with more
than 100 data center operators and trade associations to support the goals of the European Green Deal. The CNDCP aims to create the green infrastructure needed to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. 1 In accordance with goals set by the CNDCP, we’re working to increase the percentage of Equinix-owned infrastructure remarketed through the RED program to 50% by 2025. The RED program is based on three pillars, which help us address each of the three priorities outlined above:

Data security standards
Our Global InfoSec Asset Sanitisation and Destruction Standard is a company-wide policy that establishes the responsibility individual employees have to understand the data classification of different devices. It also outlines procedures for physically and virtually removing data before sending a device to an approved supplier. Our goal is to keep as many hard drives out of landfills as possible, and this standard helps us decide when it’s safe to reuse a drive instead of destroying it.

Internal governance
We must get everyone in the company aligned with the standards of the RED program, and that we’re all processing materials and reporting data in the same way. To support this goal, a cross- functional group of leaders sets program standards and evaluates monthly results to measure program performance, including data security, sustainability (how much-embodied carbon we’re incurring and avoiding), and how much financial value we’re recovering.

Supplier selection and management policies
We’ve set a high bar when it comes to suppliers, and we take rigorous steps to evaluate and monitor all suppliers before allowing them into the program. We need partners that have the same commitment to
responsible asset disposal that we have. To find them, we look for suppliers that can demonstrate this commitment through certifications and self-auditing programs across the three legs of our framework. We want our suppliers to manage assets responsibly from both an environmental and a social perspective. For instance, we don’t want our assets processed using prison labor, so our standards ensure suppliers have processes in place to prevent that from happening.

Circularity is just one example of the Equinix sustainability strategy in action
Implementing circular economy best practices throughout the company is a long and ongoing process.
We plan to continue building out the RED program into a global initiative that is consistently aligned with
our business objectives and industry requirements.

We believe that every Equinix employee has a role to play in making the RED program a success. For our
Earth Day campaign last year, we encouraged employees to turn in Equinix-owned devices to be processed at 15 different data center sites. We were then able to share with employees exactly how many units we collected and how many pounds of embodied carbon they helped keep out of landfills.

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