Companies and public sector organisations are refreshing their desktop systems too often, leading to high levels of waste and huge carbon footprints, according to speakers at GovNet's Government IT Goes Green conference yesterday.
While using lower-energy computers may be good for the environment, the high turnover of IT in many companies is leading to a glut of toxic waste that recycling agencies are finding increasingly hard to cope with.
More greenhouse gases are produced during the manufacture of technology than during its use, so campaigners are urging companies and consumers to buy less of it.
Experts are urging companies to "sweat" their IT for longer, and to take the costs of disposal and recycling into account when they buy equipment.
Jonathon Porritt, director of Forum for the Future, said, "Every year there £14bn worth of public spending on IT across government. A lot of that is churn of perfectly adequate IT that is replaced long before its sell by date. This is a policy that suits the business case of big suppliers."
He added that the practise of sweating IT assets for longer would become more necessary in the public sector, as "over the next five years that £14bn will be put under a microscope".
Malcolm Watson, general manager of IT recycling company Remploy e-cycle, said that buying energy efficient machines is not enough, because too many companies are still not realising how much IT they are dumping. "They don't think about the whole lifecycle," he said. "They don't realise they have got to put money aside for disposal at the procurement stage. Some organisations have yet to wake up. There is a whole shift of culture needed around the supply chain."
Some government departments, such as the Department for Work and Pensions, refresh their IT every five years instead of every three years.
Chris Chant, CIO at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, said, "There's buying efficient equipment, but then there's not using equipment that you don't need to use. We need to think about both sides of the equation."