Beginning a dialogue to generate a vision

Posted on August 6, 2007

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The “every graduate” approach means that sustainable practice is recognised as a core capability which must be developed within the context of each discipline. A premise of the CfS Agenda is that we work with disciplines to articulate appropriate responses, coming at problems from both incremental and transformative directions.

The first four items on the agenda all involve us working with our industry partners.

So, here goes some discussion points:

1. What drivers are there for sustainability?

2. Are there local variations?

3. Can we point to any local examples/evidence?

In 2004, it was estimated that by 2006 the US would be producing almost 3,513 tons of obsolete computers, televisions and cellphones per day (SVTC, 2004). Destined primarily for waste dumps in the developing world, this e-waste represents a growing global environmental crisis. In addition to the volume of waste, these electronic goods contain significant amounts of heavy metals and other toxic substances, which are gradually released into the groundwater.

This problem is acknowledged by manufacturers in the computing industry. Dell Inc, for example, promotes a strong message of sustainability through recycling programs, reduction of hazardous materials and energy management (Dell, 2007). Business Ethics Magazine annually publishes a list of best companies, assessed across a range of metrics including financial performance, human relations and environmental responsibility. (Raths, 2006) Dell, Apple, IBM and HP consistently feature in the top ten companies, primarily on the basis of their environmental efforts. (Microsoft are notable for their absence). Raths comments that “Technology seems to be a genuinely socially responsible sector.”

Dell’s Sustainable Business Manager (Arbogast 2006) sees his position as one of protecting the company’s future “I lead a team that identifies and prioritizes future risks and opportunities for Dell”. He describes “most proudly” the work on product recovery but sees a wider commitment to sustainability as crucial: stakeholders, socially responsible investor groups. The Electronics Industry Code of Conduct (EICC) is also important. This

“code outlines standards to ensure working conditions in the supply chain are safe, workers are treated with respect and manufacturing processes are environmentally responsible”.

Rosenberg (2004) describes a similar position at HP: Corporate, Social and Environmental Responsibility. He describes a long legacy of “core objectives, which included good citizenship and responsible business practices”.

The such initiatives have been legitimised through financial sector activities such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and the FTSE (2007 – which differs in its exclusion of “sin stocks”: weapons, tobacco etc).

The US Environmental Protection Agency has initiated several projects to reduce the environmental impact of the consumer driven information technology industry, including a compulsory federal Environmentally Preferable Purchasing program. Criteria for the program are defined in the IEEE 1680 standard and stretch from the product design stage – “Design for end of life” through extending the product lifecycle, to packaging and disposal. Measures such as the Energy Star program use informative labelling to educate consumers on ‘green’ purchasing options. (EPEAT, 2006).

Case and Panciera (2005) give several examples of American government contracts requiring environmental considerations in purchasing. A RFR for Denver, for example requires information on corporate environmental responsibility practices and policies, compliance with Energy Star, third party certifications, take-back and end of life management services and use reduced, recycled, and recyclable packaging.

Yegyazarian (2006) reviews (lists really) “Eco-Friendly Tech Gear” in the popular PC World. She states “given the rising cost of energy, going green for your wallet’s sake makes sense, and it could help the environment. Check out the ecologically friendly offerings below”. Apple’s Take-Back Service, Voltaic’s Solar Bags, and Toshiba’s Satellite A105 laptop are listed (with thumbnail images).

Despite this effort by the IT industry, and corporate recycling schemes such as those promoted by Dell, IBM and Apple, still only 10% of computers are currently recycled responsibly (SVTC, 2006).

…more to follow

(References from Mann and Smith 2007)

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