How to make IT procurement environmentally friendly

When it comes to reducing some of the catastrophic problems caused by redundant IT, what matters is what's in it, and how it's put together.

When it comes to reducing some of the catastrophic problems caused by redundant IT, what matters is what's in it, and how it's put together.

A company's end-of-life processes are crucial when it comes to reducing the amount of kit that gets sent to landfill or illegally exported, but it is at the procurement stage where IT managers can flex their consumer muscle and help to bring about changes in the way IT is manufactured.

Environmental technology campaigners are on a drive to increase awareness among IT buyers, and encourage them to flex their consumer muscles when it comes to getting things changed. They say business customers have a lot of power that could be used to influence the actions of technology manufacturers.

There are two ways for an organisation to introduce environmental elements to an IT procurement process. It could either research and write its own environmental requirements, or it could stipulate that the successful supplier will be a member of an environmental scheme such as Epeat, which rates electronic products according to their environmental attributes.

The idea is that each supplier will adhere to a certain standard of ethical manufacture, meaning buyers know how green the products are.

Environmental technology expert Catalina McGregor, the United Nations Agency ITUT liason officer for the OECD and the European Commission, says, "No CIO should be issuing a tender without ensuring his team have stipulated they are looking to achieve green end-to-end from eco design kit (decreasing pollution) to achieving full participant status in the European Commission Code of Conduct for datacentres and broadband."

Sarah O'Brien, outreach director at Epeat, says the international standards system aims to make the process easier for IT managers and owners of small businesses. She says signing up to a standard such as Epeat makes it easier for buyers, as it removes the need to research complicated environmental requirements and gives the buyer more choice of suppliers. The organisation has recently launched a partner programme, and is encouraging IT buyers to sign up and pledge to buy a certain amount of-Epeat certified IT in the next year, in order to try and get a better idea of who is using its standards.

O'Brien says it is important to address environmental issues at the purchasing stage of the technology lifecycle. "Otherwise, you're just dealing with the end result of bad practices. Products need to be less toxic, easier to disassemble, and use more recycled content which creates a stronger market for actual recycling."

It's especially crucial to get the message across to small and medium sized companies, she adds. Large corporates and government organisations are often aware of the legal pitfalls of hazardous waste and of the PR nightmare that can ensue if you're caught, and they deal with it properly as a result. "But small businesses who buy maybe 200 to 500 computers a year don't have this reputational pressure. They might not realise they have liability."

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