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Not necessarily a biz expense

The greening of tech America

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By Meg Mitchell Moore

(IDG) -- "Many companies view environmentalism as a luxury rather than a necessity," says Christopher Juniper, a senior associate at the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Especially where technology is concerned.

Does it really matter that the United States uses 1 million barrels of crude oil and 7.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas to build new computers each year? Or that computer components contain lead, cadmium, mercury and silver, all of which the EPA deems hazardous materials? Or that discarded copiers, faxes, cell phones and PCs are choking landfills?

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Some observers say companies that dismiss the notion of environmental stewardship of technology are tossing a profit opportunity in the landfill.

There's evidence that companies that are looking at (the environment) are doing better," says Dan Bakal, director of outreach for the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES), a Boston-based coalition for environmental responsibility.

A study published in the journal Management Science in August 2000 found a relationship between market value and environmental responsibility in multinational companies. Companies on the Dow Jones Sustainability Group Index (DJSGI) -- a set of indexes that ranks companies on their sustainability practices -- regularly outperform their conventional counterparts.

Business leaders are taking note. In a speech to CERES, Bill Ford, great-grandson of Henry Ford and now chairman of the board, said that Ford's participation in environmental programs has "confirmed my strong belief that -- in addition to being the right thing to do -- preserving the environment is a competitive advantage and a major business opportunity."

Salomon Smith Barney's screens

When Salomon Smith Barney prepared to furnish new offices in London's Canary Wharf, the IT department wanted to give its traders sleek, flat-front LCD monitors, which take up far less space than ordinary CRT monitors. But the cost was difficult to justify -- LCDs cost about $3,000, while CRTs run only about $500, according to Graham Hill, first vice president of Wintel Systems Development for Salomon Smith Barney.

By digging a little deeper, however, the folks at Salomon discovered that LCDs use one-third the energy of CRTs. The fancy monitors also emit much less heat than CRTs, which means that SSB didn't have to pay as much to cool the new building. That cost saving was enough to justify the purchase to the those who write the checks, says Hill.

Kinko's takes its product evaluation even further. Environmental Manager Larry Rogero uses what he calls an environmental quotient ("EQ," he calls it) to assess new equipment. From printers and copiers to PCs, prospective purchases are valued based on the use of recycled material in the original equipment, the suppliers' product take-back and recycling programs, energy efficiency and generation of hazardous materials.

Kinko's 'EQ'

Kinko's also audits its paper suppliers on their environmental practices. For example, if Rogero purchases a copier from a supplier that takes back old machines, he won't eventually have to pay for storing or disposing of that machine once it hits its dotage.

"The supplies coming into our branches have hidden costs, including short-term expenses, such as increased waste management, occupancy of inventory space, and logistical and labor handling costs," he says, and his self-styled "EQ" program helps cut those costs.

Although he won't give specific numbers, Rogero says that using "EQ" has had a "very positive impact, both on the environment and on our bottom line" for the company, which is based in Ventura, California.

Cutting costs on inventory and labor provides tangible payback, but there's more. Rogero points out that by reducing its use of hazardous materials, Kinko's also decreases the likelihood of any possible long-term legal liabilities, a less obvious but potentially huge savings.

Rogero encourages businesses to work with suppliers during the early stages of product development. "This approach will not only allow for environmental improvements but also substantially shorten the distance between the consumer and the engineer designing the product," he says.

Xerox's 'Extended producer responsibility'

Companies can take long-term responsibility for what they make. A concept called "extended producer responsibility" (EPR), legally mandated in some European countries but optional in the United States, teaches corporations to increase product sustainability.

"The idea is to enhance the probability that something useful and productive will occur" with the materials, says Jack Azar, Xerox's vice president of environment, health and safety. For a company like Xerox, EPR means building reusable materials into the beginning of the production process and creating products from recycled materials that are indistinguishable in quality from products built from virgin materials.

It's a painstaking and complex process, but today 90 percent of Xerox-designed equipment is remanufacturable.

For example, the company estimates that it will keep 6 million of its printer toner cartridges out of landfills with its recycling programs, which provide customers with packaging and mailing labels for returning used cartridges to Xerox. Azar says that programs such as those -- reusing parts and pushing its suppliers to eliminate toxic materials -- will save Xerox several hundred million dollars a year. Ultimately, that means customers pay less.

Sony's resources

Sony has other reasons for thinking green. Twenty percent of the world currently uses Sony products. That's a lot, but not enough for Sony.

In order for the company to increase market share drastically, it must first recover some of the resources it uses, says Mark Small, vice president of corporate environment, safety and health for Sony. "Everything that leaves our factories eventually becomes a waste product," he says.

To that end, he says, Sony has begun operating refurbishing centers, eliminating hazardous materials from its products to make them easier to recycle and subsidizing recycling of its products in states such as Connecticut and Minnesota.

Technology Recycling

Bob Knowles, president of Technology Recycling in Denver, Colorado, spent 30 years selling technology to some of the biggest companies around, including Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. Frequently, he says, he fielded questions about what businesses could do with their old technology equipment.

"I'll get back to you on that," he found himself saying again and again. But he discovered there was no real outlet for abandoned technology.

According to Knowles, less than 7 percent of computer equipment gets recycled, refurbished or resold. Less than 10 percent gets tossed. That means companies are storing the rest, eating up money in storage costs and paying taxes on the equipment, which counts as a business property.

With those numbers in mind, Knowles started a company to fill that gap. Technology Recycling now is in 200 cities in 48 states. It picks up and dismantles technology -- computers, printers, copy machines, even mainframes.

The company then sorts and recycles all materials -- plastic, glass and metal -- which help make new technology.

"It's a closed loop. Nothing ends up in a landfill," says Knowles. Tech Recycling charges $35 per computer component. One of Knowles' client companies estimates that it has saved about $100 per recycled unit.




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