From early 2007 all UK companies will have to comply with the WEEE Directive, which will govern the disposal of electronic goods and computer equipment.
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Improving financial governance has been high on the agenda for most IT directors in recent years, but environmental governance is still generally neglected by IT departments.
However, with spiralling energy bills and new environmental legislation on the way, the landscape could be about to change.
From early next year all businesses will have to comply with new laws on the disposal of electronic goods, including all computer equipment. Although the legislation, the UK's enactment of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, places most of the onus on suppliers, businesses using IT equipment will also have some responsibilities.
Above all, businesses must be aware how the legislation could affect negotiations with suppliers, experts have warned.
"Most businesses are asking if there is anything they need to watch out for, and the answer is yes, particularly if the supplier is palming off responsibility onto you in the contract," said Jane Southworth, associate at legal firm Eversheds.
"It is one thing if you know [about your recycling responsibilities] but some firms have a way of putting things on page 40 of the contract, in the small print."
Gartner principal analyst Meike Escherich also warned that suppliers may seem to offer cut-price hardware, but offload their environmental responsibilities in the contract small print.
"It happens quite often. When you look at the contract it is amazing what is left out. It is up to the end-user to make sure that all the loose ends are covered."
She said small and medium-sized firms are likely to find it most difficult because they are less aware of the legislation and its impact.
On 25 July, the government issued draft legislation on how the WEEE Directive will be enacted, which is likely to come into force early next year, once a period of consultation is completed.
IT departments should be aware that they will become responsible for recycling any computers and peripherals they want to dispose of if they were bought before 13 August 2005 and are not being replaced with similar equipment.
But with IT departments increasingly looking to consolidate servers or take advantage of networked computing, this notion of like-for-like replacement could be difficult to pin down. Indeed, even once the legislation is finalised it is unlikely to become clear.
"There will not be an exact definition of like for like," Southworth said.
If you are replacing like-for-like, then the supplier of the replacement machines is responsible for the disposal of the old equipment if it was bought before 13 August 2005. For machines bought after that date, the supplier of the orginal machines being replaced is responsible for their disposal.
However, this does not mean a business can simply treat the problem as solved. Although suppliers may be legally obliged to dispose of redundant technology in a legal way, they can refuse to take on a contract if the task is too onerous.
The Department of Trade and Industry puts the cost of implementing the WEEE Directive for businesses and their suppliers at between £108m and £124m in 2008. Suppliers are unlikely to meet this cost alone, Southworth said.
"If you are in the process of a large expansion, you need to check what the contract says about disposal. You should think about who is paying the end-of-life cost. You may pay more because the supplier has the responsibility. If the supplier has gone bust you may end up paying anyway, so you may want to say, 'take money off and we will do the disposal'," she said.
Escherich said that in the vast majority of cases it would be better to allow suppliers to handle disposal, even if prices go up slightly, because they have the economies of scale to deal with the problems most efficiently.
"It is not just the price - disposal includes logistics, wiping hard discs, and so on. It is easier if you hand back as you receive new equipment," she said.
Fujitsu Siemens already offers a buy-back scheme for old computer equipment and in the future this will be extended to help companies comply with the WEEE legislation.
Mark Danis, head of asset management at Fujitsu Siemens, said it was still unclear exactly how the legislation would work, but manufacturers would most likely take responsibility and include the costs in their pricing.
This could mean £4 or £5 on the price of a laptop, he said.
Energy consumption to come under scrutiny
Businesses are likely to face environmental obligations over how efficiently they use energy. Although legislation governing carbon emissions currently affects only the most energy-hungry businesses, if the government is to meet its targets experts are in no doubt that all large businesses will come under some form of carbon cap and trade scheme. That means power-hungry datacentres will come under greater scrutiny.
Michael Rea, director of strategy and markets for the Carbon Trust, said, "Within services businesses, historically energy consumption is not an issue, and not a big part of what IT professionals have to worry about. In the coming years, that will change.
"Most manufacturers do not have energy consumption high on the list of important features, but user pressure can help change that."
As well as the power consumed by computers, firms will have to limit the energy used to keep them cool, particularly with large datacentres.
"Businesses should take it into account when building a datacentre they expect to be around for 20 years," said Rea.
Although green cooling technologies include sophisticated thermal stacks, as employed by the new parliament building Portcullis House, Rea said simple factors to consider included ensuring a datacentre site was well shaded.
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