How to Be Green with Your Computer Hardware

By Doug Bartholomew  |  Posted 2008-09-24 Print this article Print

Many IT organizations today fail to assume sufficient responsibility for the ultimate end-of-life destination of used-up PCs. Companies should take a closer look at the IT manufacturer's policy toward PC and computer hardware takeback before buying. One organization, the Electronic Takeback Coalition, maintains a list of recyclers that have pledged to adhere to certain corporate responsibility standards, including not incinerating e-waste or shipping it to China.

With CIOs focused on achieving the green data center by reducing energy consumed for cooling and shifting to server virtualization to cut power consumption, there remains a dirty little secret many IT organizations would just as soon ignore: where their old PCs end up.

"We estimate that 55 percent of all PCs are in the commercial sector," says David Daoud, research manager for personal computing, PC Tracker, and green IT at International Data Corp., an IT research firm in Framingham, Mass. "In their effort to reduce their impact on the environment, many IT organizations have focused on the data center, but other angles of green IT have been essentially neglected."    

The impact of that neglect on the environment worldwide could be huge. An estimated 1.8 billion pounds of PCs are retired worldwide each year, but only about half that amount-865 million pounds-is processed by recyclers, according to a report issued this month by International Data Corp. Although some of the remaining 900 million pounds of computer hardware is rebuilt or reused, much of it is just plain discarded into landfills or incinerated.

What's more, a huge amount of so-called e-waste is handled by manual laborers working in electronic dumps in China, or by prison workers in the U.S. who break apart the machines for salvageable metals and materials. Both practices are considered irresponsible and unacceptable by such groups as the Electronics Takeback Coalition.  

Unfortunately, many IT organizations today fail to assume sufficient responsibility for the ultimate end-of-life destination of their fleets of thousands of used-up PCs. For instance, Daoud says one of the biggest means of disposal for corporations seeking to rid themselves of their rafts of obsolete PCs is to donate them to nonprofit groups. In effect, that means they have washed their hands of the problem.

"This part of the traditional IT lifecycle is not so green," Daoud told attendees at IDC's "Directions 08", the research firm's 43rd annual industry business briefing in San Jose, Calif.. "IT organizations need a better understanding of where the product's final destination will be."

Instead of disposing of PCs or donating them, some companies, he says, may elect instead to retire them earlier and sell them to other organizations while they are still useful and marketable. But all companies should take a closer look at the IT manufacturer's policy toward takeback before buying.

"If you buy the right product in the beginning, it will cost you less to recycle it at the end," Daoud says.

Doug Bartholomew is a career journalist who has covered information technology for more than 15 years. A former senior editor at IndustryWeek and InformationWeek, his freelance features have appeared in New York magazine and the Los Angeles Times Magazine. He has a B.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University.

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