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October 31, 1999

ICL Raises EU Green Cost Issues

By CBR Staff Writer

With the Commission of the European Union winding itself up to do something about environmental aspects of information technology, ICL, the services arm of Fujitsu Ltd, is positioning itself to be the source of choice for Green computer services. The UK company last week published How Green is UK Plc, a survey of 200 of the UK’s 500 biggest companies which suggests that while UK companies are starting to recognize than being green can be good for business, they haven’t yet realized that environmental responsibility has an IT dimension.

In Europe, and particularly in Northern Europe where environmentalists have been elected to office in several countries, simply throwing away equipment that may contain toxic materials is becoming a hot political potato. In the early part of the decade the EU legislated to force suppliers of laser printers and to take responsibility for disposing of used toner cartridges, and since then dumping of items such as PCs (toxic printed circuit boards), laptops (non-biodegradable LCDs) and even mobile phones (ditto) has come under scrutiny, and even legislated against locally.

Now though a raft of legislation, including a wide-ranging EC directive on waste electronics is in the pipeline and IT suppliers and users alike had better prepare for it. According to ICL environment policy isn’t a new direction for most UK companies. Some 70% produce a corporate environmental newsletter, and 67% include environmental information in their reports, and 93% employ staff with specific responsibility for environmental work. These encouraging statistics reflect a widespread corporate perception that environmentally sensitive management is a good thing either, in the case of 72% of companies, because it is thought good environmental practice can save between 1% and 10% revenue or, in 85% of cases because it helps project a positive public image to customers.

However, in most cases, green thinking still doesn’t extend to IT. While it can be argued that activities such as email and teleworking help to diminish waste and reduce pollution, some, and perhaps most of this dissipated by the 50% of companies which still consign electronic waste to landfill sites, and the 595 of companies which take no account of environmental issues in IT procurement processes. And, of the 65% of companies, who say they use commercial contractors to dispose of electronic waste, one in five are prepared to admit they have no idea what contractors do with it.

ICL, whose head of corporate environmental affairs, Joy Bryce, also happens to chair the UK’s Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling (ICE), argues that companies need to clean up their IT acts, starting with the implementation of IT tracking systems. The reward for this more proactive and strategic approach to environment management could include a longer life cycle for IT equipment, reductions in waste of equipment and materials, and another opportunity to impress customers with evidence of corporate good citizenry, including more responsible recycling of kit to schools and charities.

The cost of these activities may not be entirely recouped by savings associated with the new management strategy. On the other hand, after the expected EU legislation, it very well might.

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