Monday, June 01, 2009

eWaste - How Are CIO's Protecting The Environment?

Going green .... or protecting the environment .... has become even more of focus in companies today then ever before. In the US this is partly due to the new Obama Administration emphasis on the subject. But also because it's just plain the smart and responsible way to do business. One major segment of the overall effort is reducing and/or controlling E-waste.

E-waste is only part of the picture, though, of how CIO's can reduce harm to the environment.

For eWaste, many countries, US states, and even cities have eWaste proposals in various stages of becoming law. The common thread that is emerging is producer responsibility: the company that makes the stuff needs to be responsible for it at the end of its life. In some cases, companies pay a fee to a government recycling program. In others, the companies take the products back themselves. One very good source of information about these regulations is EIATRACK. All of the big equipment producers have product take-back programs; I suggest you speak with your particular vendors.

The problem of eWaste is also mitigated somewhat by a regulation that went into effect in 2006 in the European Union, and which is emerging as a common platform for laws in other places.

Called "RoHS" for Reduction of Hazardous Substances, it bans six specific substances in electronics (lead, mercury, hexavalent chromium, cadmium, and two flame retardants), subject to certain exemptions and limitations. The practical effect of this is that electronics will be less hazardous to recycle at the end of their useful life, and the stuff that eventually makes it into landfills will be less toxic.

Now, onto the broad question: How can CIOs help (or minimize harm to) the environment?

Probably the biggest thing, in my opinion, is to buy and operate less hardware.

Data centers use an enormous amount of electricity to run and cool the computers, and the generation of that electricity can contribute a lot of carbon to a company's carbon footprint. By fitting more virtual servers onto less physical servers, a company can use a lot less electricity--not to mention seeing other operational advantages.

CIOs can also make a positive impact by factoring electricity usage into enterprise purchasing decisions for workstations, and admin policy decisions (such as when workstations are put into hibernation mode after periods of being idle).

They can make technology and managerial decisions that facilitate working remotely: the pollution savings from non-commuting helps the environment, and the utility savings from not having a full-time office at the company help both the company's bottom line and the environment.

This isn't, of course, as simple as it sounds but plenty of companies are learning to to do it right.

Now what would YOU do. If you have suggestions or success stories .... please leave a comment.

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