Environmental responsibility and information security: two sides of the same coin?

Posted: March 30, 2020

Most private companies in the UK – 99 percent, in fact – are small businesses that have less than 249 employees1. It follows that the extent to which SMEs embrace recycling, cut down energy use and other green initiatives has an enormous impact on the environment.
 
Paper recycling goes a long way towards hitting sustainability targets and demonstrating environmental good practice and is one of the easiest and most common ways a workplace can help protect the environment.  But with the risk of security breaches at an all-time high, it’s important that workplaces also prioritise data security, while still committing to green office initiatives.
 
Recent guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has confirmed that whether we leave with EU with or without a deal this month, most of the data protection rules affecting SMEs will remain the same. With the UK continuing to adhere to EU GDPR, information security must remain a top priority for small businesses.
 
Recycling paper carries certain risks. Those documents sitting in a recycling bin or waiting in large clear plastic bags by the lift are a magnet for data thieves. Replacing recycling bins with locked consoles ensures documents can’t be retrieved once inside, but a shred-everything approach is really the best policy. Research shows that more than a quarter of information breaches are caused by employee negligence or error. By making the decision to shred all documents that are no longer needed, employees don’t have to decide what is or isn’t confidential – at the same time as increasing the volume of documents that are securely recycled.
 
If handled correctly, shredding your paper not only ensures document security, but it decreases an organisation’s environmental footprint.  Shredding also improves the paper recycling process because there are virtually no pollutants (e.g. plastic or metal) mixed in with shredded paper.
 
In terms of environmental footprint, for every two consoles of securely shredded paper that is recycled, one tree is saved.  Secure recycling processes help to save thousands of trees every year – as well as reducing carbon emissions and water and other natural resource usage.
 
There are other simple steps based on the  “Three Rs” – reduce, reuse, recycle –  that can kickstart your company’s sustainability programme. For example, paper use can be cut in half by having your printers’ default to two-sided printing. In addition, computers can be turned off when not in use, which in turn ensures greater security of company information.
 
These steps can help to keep employees motivated and on track and will set the stage for more ambitious initiatives, which may include introducing policies to purchase eco-friendly office and cleaning supplies, sourcing materials used in daily operations from green suppliers, installing energy-efficient appliances, buying second-hand furniture and other fixtures, and taking advantage of government programmes that offer financial and resource support to small businesses to step up their green efforts.
 
We live in an age where every business – no matter how big or small - must implement environmental and security policies, while reminding staff of their commitments. Being environmentally responsible is good for business, but it’s a long-term commitment, and needs to coexist with clear data protection policies. Given what is at stake for the environment, the community and the UK economy at large, it is a collaborative effort that businesses of all sizes must embrace.

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