Brace yourself for green legislation

It's time manufacturers and users got over the obsession with the new, new thing and accepted responsibility for the complete lifecycle of equipment

If you put one ear to the ground and listen very carefully, you should be able to hear the creak of wooden wheels. That's the sound of hardware companies such as Dell, HP and IBM circling their wagons ahead of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE), due to be introduced and enforced over the next two years. Why the panic? Basically, WEEEadds to the growing raft of international legislation forcing manufacturers and consumers of electronic equipment to finally take some responsibility for the by-products of the upgrade culture they have cultivated and embraced over the past 20 years.

WEEE, together with similar state-level legislation in the US, strikes at the very heart of the IT industry and challenges one of the central tenets that underpins it: out with the old and in with the new. In an industry where the new, new thing is god, the fate of old and redundant technology has been quietly ignored. But as green issues have begun to permeate the mainstream, IT equipment manufacturers have found themselves under increasing pressure to clean up their act and develop a philosophy beyond mere production and consumption.

For its part, Dell recently embarked on a tour of the US to beef up its environmental image and is planning a similar series of events in Europe -- beginning with a recycling day in Ireland on 25 September. Under increasing pressure, the company has done much to improve its standing with environmental groups recently -- not least discontinuing its use of prison labour in the US to dismantle old machines.

The short-term impact of WEEE could be an increase in the cost of PCs. The likes of HP and Dell are refusing to admit how much this is all going to cost them, and ultimately us, claiming it's too early to say. However, analyst groups such as Gartner are already telling their members to start budgeting for the repercussions of green legislation and incorporate the costs of equipment disposal into their IT budgets.

An industry whose adolescence coincided with the decade when greed was good -- the eighties -- now finds itself having to face up to certain responsibilities post-millennium. Companies whose profits are driven from an inextricable, unquestioning forward momentum are being forced to consider a completely alien subject: the past. IT manufacturers and users alike are hopefully being educated to change their narrow focus on building or purchasing the next shiny piece of kit and consider the complete lifecycle of a product from retail to disposal. An industry hard-wired to focus on progress is being forced to think about the legacy it is leaving behind.

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