When presented with the terms ‘sustainability’ and ‘IT’ within the same sentence, one cannot help but perceive them as being an oxymoron. It can be quite difficult to fathom that million-dollar information technology firms are capable of focusing on ecological well-being rather than solely on profit-generation.

However, contrary to popular belief, IT is known to contribute a minimal percentage to global carbon emissions. In fact, companies are now looking towards technological innovations to leverage their sustainability initiatives.

According to a recent report titled Smart 2020: Enabling the Low Carbon Economy in the Information Age, a better and more efficient use of enterprise technology may be able to reduce global carbon emissions by 15 per cent and save industries approximately USD 720 billion in annual energy costs by 2020.

The second day of the Sustainability: Transdisciplinary Theory, Practice, and Action (STTPA) conference on October 17 saw representatives from prominent IT companies gather together and reinforce the idea of technology as a beneficial factor in achieving sustainable goals.

The ‘Sustainability and IT’ session grouped the head of sustainability at Hewlett-Packard (HP) Frances Edmonds, the Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Cisco Willa Black, and the Director of OEM Development at Microsoft Robert Santin in a panel discussion moderated by Brent Smiley, the Director of IT Asset Disposition at Compugen Finance.

During the session, emphasis was placed on the fact that e-waste, a term referring to electronic devices that have reached the final stage of their usability, is having a detrimental effect on the environment and is thus increasing the need for e-waste disposal initiatives.

In particular, plastics in equipment are nearly impossible to break down and thus remain in the environment for hundreds of years. “Unlike metals, there is no market for used plastics. The problem wasn’t as obvious before because for many years, the West exported plastics to developing countries,” said Edmonds in the panel discussion.

There is now an ever-growing need to develop in-house capacity to manage this waste because if not looked into, it is estimated that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050.

In order to play its part in mitigating waste, Compugen Finance has launched the Green 4 Good program which promotes the recycling and upcycling of end-of-life IT assets by offering a price to customers to hand-over their used electronics in order to be picked-up, transferred, and processed.

The customers are encouraged to use their payment to support the community by contributing to charities. In fact, Compugen helped BMO save $1 million that it was putting into IT asset disposition by doing the work for them and thus turning asset disposition into a source of revenue, half a million of which has been given to various charities in the last five years.

To date, Compugen has managed to process over 1.6 million IT assets. Eight per cent of these assets were recycled while 92 per cent were repurposed. Because of this, the program has managed to generate $3.2 million which was used to support 165 charities across North America.

In addition, HP has been relying on a closed-loop plastic recycling model which it initiated almost 15 years ago.

The idea behind this initiative is to recycle old printer cartridges—which contain a high amount of plastic—so that they may be upcycled to create new cartridges. This process has helped HP reduce its energy consumption by 63 per cent and its water consumption by 38 per cent.

HP has also formed a partnership with the survivors of the Haiti earthquake whereby it pays the survivors a sum of money to collect PET bottles to be used to generate ink cartridges as well.

In the past five years alone, HP has successfully been able to produce 3.8 billion ink and toner cartridges out of 830 million HP cartridges, 101 million apparel hangers, and 4.3 billion plastic bottles.

While Compugen and HP discussed their measures to reduce plastic waste, Cisco and Microsoft focused more on the social aspect of sustainability. For example, Cisco has a global presence in internet networking and created the Connected North initiative with the help of Willa Black.

The aim of this program is to leverage Cisco’s telepresence technology that overcomes the limitations of time and distance during communication, in order to aid members of the Indigenous communities in the North.

Research found that Indigenous people suffered substance addiction and had high drop-out rates due to their communities lacking access to resources for social well-being.

Black identified this as an opportunity to step in and improve well-being and so Connected North was launched in Nunavut in 2012. A telepresence unit was installed in classrooms and connected to university members so that they may teach the students.

Because of its immense success, the program expanded and, to date, 75 schools from Yukon to Nunavut have been empowered with 3, 211 sessions delivered so far. However, Cisco will not stop there and plans to reach its goal of assisting 100 schools within the next 18 months.

Robert Stantin, the representative of Microsoft, closed the session by mentioning the Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher Program (MAR) that aims to provide groups of people that are unable to access computers, with refurbished models.

Furthermore, it has authorized third-party refurbishers to use its software in its models and offers warranties on these models as well. In fact, just last year, approximately 900,000 PCs were refurbished, out of which 85,000 were provided to schools, 90,000 to charities, and 686,000 to consumers and businesses.

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