Interview With Cloudblue CEO Ken Beyer

By Tamanna Mohapatra

As an active Sierra Club member and a passionate technologist, I am well aware of the environmental concerns posed by the proliferation of e-waste in our society. As we grow more technology dependent, we are using up more natural resources in the production of new devices which constantly need to be exchanged for faster, thinner, better substitutes leaving an ever increasing amount of e-waste behind us.

After reading an article about green IT in GreenBiz , a company called Cloudblue caught my attention. CloudBlue provides companies of all sizes, from Fortune 500’s to mid-sized businesses, with access to sustainable and secure e-waste disposal. Not knowing much more than that about the company, I decided to learn more about how CloudBlue operates, the pressing trends in this industry and what advice company insiders have for students and professionals wanting to get into the e-waste industry. With this in mind, I approached their marketing manager and was thrilled to be able to arrange a phone interview with company CEO Ken Beyer.

TM: It’s great to meet you Ken, please tell me about your background and why you started CloudBlue.

KB: I started my career as a management consultant at Ernst & Young and later went on to become CEO of MortgageRamp, a commercial real estate finance and technology company. In 2005, MortgageRamp was acquired by OfficeTiger which was then acquired by RR Donnelley in 2006. While my career has been focused on technology-related businesses, my partners and I wanted to blend our expertise with our personal passion for sustainability and the environment.

Specifically, we were exploring opportunities and ideas that blended Cleantech and IT. After quite a bit of exploration, we were most excited by what we felt was a growing industry: e-waste management, technology recycling and IT refurbishing. We launched CloudBlue and quickly realized that there were ample opportunities. E-waste recycling had and still does have a lot of small mom and pop shops that don’t always choose the most sustainable ways to dispose of IT equipment. In addition, we realized that most Fortune 500’s or 1,000’s were so focused on their core competencies that appropriately handling e-waste was not a top priority.

So we created a professional solution for businesses that is akin to buying a service: fully secure from a data perspective, audited for environmental and data security reporting and sustainable – meaning no e-waste goes to landfills or is shipped overseas. What we’ve really done is launch a new era in e-waste, which we call “e-waste 2.0.”

In just a few years, we have expanded from our original three locations in Indianapolis, Chicago and Phoenix to a total of 14 facilities throughout the U.S. and 2 in Europe. We also have partnerships internationally that allow us to service customers in 145 countries.

TM: Tell us what’s unique about CloudBlue.

KB: CloudBlue works directly with any company that uses electronics. In a technology driven world, that’s basically everyone. From a company with 80,000 employees worldwide to a small to medium sized business, we set up a standardized way of getting rid of old or unused electronic equipment.

For example, instead of exporting these electronics to under-developed countries, we re-use whatever equipment we can and break down the rest to sell as commodities. Thus, there are two main ways we handle the e-waste:

  1. If it’s in good condition, it’s wiped of all data, tested, repaired, and redeployed or remarketed.
  2. If it’s not in good condition, we break it down into components like plastic, glass, metal and circuit boards. We then send the sorted components to highly specialized refiners who produce clean materials for re-use in manufacturing of other products.

No matter what, all the e-waste material stays in the continent of origin. In addition, on every recycling job we remove all secure and confidential data from the equipment before disposal using Department of Defense wiping standards or physical shredding of the media devices. This service is critical to all of our customers.

TM: What trends are you seeing in the e-waste industry?

KB: There are three main trends worth keeping an eye on:

  1. Regulation and Policy: There are different regulations at different levels of government – state, counties, municipalities, etc. E-waste regulation is a rapidly developing part of governmental policy and is a main driver of change. I recommend to businesses and consumers alike that they do some research into local policies before recycling their IT equipment. The last thing you want is to break an e-waste law as the penalties can be substantial.
  2. Issue Awareness: The overall education regarding e-waste has grown tremendously as of late. The Basel Action Network, for example, has done a lot to increase general public awareness around the social and human health issue of e-waste. Because of it, more people and businesses understand the huge global issues related to e-waste and want to dispose of their equipment responsibly.
  3. Rate of E-Innovation: There has been an ongoing explosion in the rapid development of IT and electronic devices around the world. The rate at which innovation happens in the technology space has become so quick that it presents a serious problem if old equipment is not handled correctly. Because of this, companies and consumers tend to adopt technology much faster so sustainable services like ours will be critical going forward.

TM: Your website lists a wide range of client industries, from financial services to healthcare, corporate and education; how are these industries’ e-waste needs different?

KB: Data security is a main concern for most of our clients and many of them have to comply with mandatory industry regulations and standards. Thus, we offer different electronic data security methods and procedures to meet these different standards. For example, healthcare companies have to meet HIPPA/HITECH regulations whereas financial service companies are concerned about GLB, FACTA and SOX compliance. We dispose of the data according to each customer’s requirements so that they remain compliant and have a fully auditable record of both data destruction and the IT recycling process.

TM: How does CloudBlue engage new clients?

KB: Most companies now are much more aware and educated about various issues surrounding e-waste. There’s the amount of e-waste generated, confidential data on the items that need to be disposed, as well as making sure it doesn’t end up in landfills or in developing nations. Therefore, many of our clients are quite willing to be engaged by our direct sales force or our channel partners, which include IT resellers and services companies.

TM: What are some of your more successful partnerships?

Ken: We primarily work directly with large businesses and institutions. We partner with other respected companies to provide recycling services and take-back programs for consumers. Additionally, we have a successful partnership model with value-added resellers and IT service companies who have existing customer relationships that need our services.

TM: Talk a little about some of the issues and challenges you face in this industry.

KB: The issues the e-waste industry is dealing with include a recognized certification standard for recyclers, education of customers, and changing the regulatory landscape.  For the industry to really progress we need to adopt a recognized standard for e-waste management companies. This will help ensure that both consumers and businesses have access to best-in-class IT disposal services that protect their data while mitigating security and environmental risks. At CloudBlue, we have adopted the Basel Action Network e-Stewards standard.

TM: Any recommendation for students or professionals interested in pursuing a green career with a technology emphasis?

KB: I would say for those looking to get into the sustainability field in general or green IT specifically, you don’t need a specific degree. You do need to be passionate about the environment and about creating new solutions that meet specific customer needs.  Passionate and hardworking people are always in demand.

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