Friday 22 March 2013

E-waste: How bad can it be?

Did you know that about 130.000 computers are thrown out every day in the United states?

As technology grows faster, so does the amount of electronic waste produced. Individuals and businesses are required to stay up-to-date on the latest gadgets and the concept of upgrading a phone or a computer is not new to most of the developed world. The average life of a computer is 4.4 years and in the case of mobile phones, it is less than 2 years.

Let’s be optimistic and throw some numbers around...

Let’s imagine that each computer is a standard 15’’ Laptop. This means that it would measure more or less 2.59 x 36.5 x 25 cm, requiring a surface of about 36.5 x 25 = 912.5 cm2 = 0.09125 m2. Not that big, until you consider the volume of Laptops thrown out.  To put it in a visual format, the average football field measures 105 by 68 metres with an area of 7,140 square metres. The US alone produces more than 18 football fields of computer waste and more than 6,645  fields a year.

This figure is optimistic since we are assuming that all computers are laptops. However, we know that is not the case. What about desktops that also come with keyboards and screens and even mouses?

Let’s also remember that e-waste is not limited to computers and mobile phones; there are also printers, scanners, TVs, game consoles, e-readers, tablets, digital cameras, and digital photo frames just to mention a few. Furthermore, every year we encounter new designs that incorporate circuit boards into existing products like smart fridges or ovens. Actually, e-waste is the “fastest growing component of the municipal waste stream world wide” according to Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, a Natural Resources Defense Council senior scientist and waste management authority.

Even with these large e-waste figures, it is worth noting that we actually produce more waste every day in our homes, so what’s all the fuss about e-waste?

The real problem comes from the fact that every circuit board included in every electronic device contains some composition of the following hazardous substances.

Brominated flame retardants (BFRs)
CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbons)
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)

To get an idea of how harmful these substances are, if we cross-reference this list with the Substance Priority List (SPL) from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry from the US Department of Health and Human Services, we find the top three components included in the previous list. Furthermore, all of the substances or chemicals also contained in these circuit boards, are listed as hazardous substances by the SPL.

So, What are you going to do next time you have to dispose of E-materials?

On future posts, you will learn more about this...

Thursday 14 March 2013

How can ICT offset its own carbon footprint and help lower emissions on a global scale

The rising demand of information and communication technology (ICT), not only in developed countries but also increasingly in emerging and developing countries, generates a rapidly growing carbon footprint.
In 2007, ICT accounted for 0.86 metric gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions annually (ca. 2 percent all emissions globally). According to a study done by McKinsey, ICT could develop into one of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters by 2020 (1.54 metric gigatons; ca. 3 percent of all emissions).
What is even more alarming is the fact that these projections already incorporate improvements in the energy efficiency of ICT and its production.

However on the other hand, research also shows that an efficient use of such technology could help reduce carbon dioxide emissions five times beyond what the ICT itself creates (7.8 metric gigatons).

Where does this abatement potential come from? The report examines the optimization potential for energy productivity in four areas – buildings, power, transport, and manufacturing – as well as across these areas.

The greatest impact of ICT could come from a more efficient grid resulting in annual abatement of 2.03 metric gigatons (€61 billion).
Utilizing ICT to built smarter homes and building could contribute with an additional abatement of 1.68 metric gigatons per year.
Smart transportation systems, used to manage transportation flow and optimize loads, would further reduce emissions by 1.52 metric gigatons on a global scale.
The use of smart controls in motors in the manufacturing sector, could lower emissions by 0.68 metric gigatons annually.

The study suggests that a further increase in energy prices and /or the introduction of carbon taxes would induce the demand and supply site of ICT to reconsider their approaches and innovate.  Consequently, IT managers would consider the carbon footprint a more important factor when deciding on which ICT to purchase. This in turn will not only promote more energy efficient ICT but also ICT that will help reduce energy consumption on the demand site.

Thursday 7 March 2013

Enter Green IT

Have you ever wondered what’s the environmental impact of your computer?  Consider that a typical computer has a three-phase lifespan: production, use and disposal.  During production, a computer requires the equivalent of 1.500 gallons of water and natural resources in the form of raw materials during manufacturing. During its usage, the computer will consume electricity, which when produced via fossil fuels, releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Finally, if a computer is disposed of and not recycled, the toxic metals it contains (namely, Lead, Antimony, Chromium, Cadmium, Lithium, Halogenated Flame Retardants and Beryllium) could leach into the environment and reach human and animal bodies where they can cause cancer, birth defects, neurological disorders and even death. 

If these deleterious impacts are more than you were expecting, you may be asking if there is any way to mitigate them.

In fact there is.  Enter Green IT.

Green IT refers to the set of practices and initiatives of using Information Technology in an environmentally friendly way in order to reduce its carbon footprint and environmental impact. While we just looked at a computer’s impact, many of the same negative impacts are caused by other IT products (e.g., mobile phones, printers, etc).  

It’s safe to say that the world’s increasing need for computation, data storage, and communications is rapidly increasing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with such technologies.  As businesses rely more and more on technology, their carbon footprint grows. According to McKinsey, information and communication technologies such as laptops and PC’s, data centers and computing networks, mobile phones, and communication networks are estimated to become among the biggest greenhouse gas emitters by 2020. Some of the contributing factors of this trend are the increasing digitalization in emerging economies, the worldwide growth in the use of mobile phones, the increased amount of time spent (and energy consumed) using information and communication technologies, etc.   

But while these products make up a significant part of the problem, they can also serve as part of the solution. The use of these technologies (in a green way)  can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 15 percent annually (and even more according to 2020 estimates).  So why don’t more companies adopt Green IT practices? That’s a good question.  Part of the problem is that most companies aren’t measuring the  impact of their organization on the environment.  According to CIO’s Green IT Survey, 61 percent of respondents report their organization does not currently measure its carbon footprint.  More surprisingly, of the companies that do, only 11 percent include IT in the calculation.

Debora Horvath, CIO at Washington Mutual (WaMu), saw great results in her efforts to cut their carbon emissions, reduce power costs, and become a greener business.  From 2007 to 2008, WaMu cut its PC-related greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent and saved millions on IT-related electricity costs.  The decrease in electricity usage is mainly due to the energy-saving-power-management software that was installed on 44,000 PCs.  

Stay tuned to better understand how Green IT can help businesses reduce their environmental impact and be more sustainable.