Adjusting Priorities

— April 01, 2006

Socially aware technologies make it a lot easier to be green. Normally, when IT people evaluate laptops for use in their organizations, they focus on key aspects such as cost of ownership, integration and compatibility, as well as features such as screen size, battery life and weight. But I spent time recently with about 20 IT executives who are responsible for specifying and acquiring portable technologies for their Fortune 1000 companies, and when it comes to buying new laptops in particular, two new criteria are on their checklists.

The first is the "green issue," which encompasses things like recycling and proper disposal of components such as the screen and any lead or toxic components used in the laptop. In Europe, PC recycling is already mandatory, and in the United States, California and Maine have laws requiring retailers and manufacturers to take back old computer equipment for recycling. Maine's law requires manufacturers to establish central facilities to collect equipment and to pay for its recycling. This creates an incentive for manufacturers to design equipment that is more easily recyclable. The California system requires retailers to collect a fee when equipment is sold; the fee is then used to subsidize a government recycling program.

Other states are working on similar legislation, and over time they should have similar programs in place for effective computer recycling programs. At the same time, all of the major vendors are working on their own green programs, which either make their computers more disposal-friendly or very easy to send back, so the manufacturers can handle the recycling for the customer themselves. Almost all of the IT folks I spoke with at this event had made this a key criteria in their purchasing, and I am convinced that this will continue to get more mindshare in the very near future. For more info on what the government and industry are doing in this area, as well as what options you have for a more green disposal of older PCs and laptops, go to www.greenerchoices.org.

The other program I heard a lot about is the recently launched Livestrong laptop from HP; for every one it sells, HP gives $50 to The Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF). HP's interest in this program came as a real surprise to me. This particular product is aimed at consumers, and though HP will not disclose how many it has sold since the product was launched in mid 2005, it has stated that through the sale of the Livestrong laptop it has contributed $2 million to LAF's cancer research efforts. I say this was a surprise to me because while many major companies do support charities, this was the first time I had heard interest in supporting an actual social cause by buying a computer product that targeted a specific charity, let alone any charity at all.

To HP's credit, this laptop is a very good product. It features an AMD Turion 64 processor, a bright 14-inch WXGA high-definition widescreen display, a b/g Wi-Fi modem, a DVD optical drive, a large hard drive and most other features that many of the upper-end laptops boast. Granted, this was not designed for use in large IT programs, but these IT buyers told me they were considering it for use in smaller department purchases, along with higher-end HP laptops, and that they expected all of them to be covered under HP's overall IT support programs.

I hope that they do buy some of these Livestrong laptops and that other IT buyers consider adding laptops with a social conscience to at least part of their purchase criteria in the future. And perhaps this could drive some of the other major players to create devices with connections to other worthy causes, to help make the use of portable technology something other than pure productivity tools in the future.

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