IT firms strive to become green giants

Summary:IBM is going global with its hardware disposal service, and Sanyo is putting financial muscle into an energy and ecology drive

Two technology companies have moved to bolster their environmental credentials this week with initiatives they say will limit the impact the technology industry has on the environment.

IBM is expanding the reach of its IT recycling programme to cover Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Asia Pacific region. This should help customers in those regions to dispose of hardware such as desktop and laptop computers more efficiently and cleanly.

Meanwhile, Sanyo is spending €150m to expand what it calls its "Energy & Ecology" business in Europe, which develops technologies that are meant to be more environmentally friendly.

Under IBM's scheme, called the Asset Recovery Solution (ARS) program, IBM will offer to buy back kit for its current market value. Alternatively it will dispose of a bundle of 25 or more pieces of IT kit for no cost.

The company also offers to wipe hard drives clean of data, to avoid important corporate secrets falling into the wrong hands.

IBM's move comes as the IT industry gets ready to address the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive. This should come into effect in 2005, and by 2008 there will be enforced targets for the collection, recycling and recovery of IT equipment.

Analyst firm Gartner believes IBM's ARS expansion is a welcome move.

"With ARS, companies can shift the burden of understanding and complying with country-specific environmental and privacy regulations to IBM," said Gartner's Frances O'Brien in a research note.

O'Brien recommends that companies should consider outsourcing the disposal of their IT assets to a third party, but warns that it's important to examine the various options carefully. While IBM's offer to remove large bundles of kit for no cost may sound tempting, O'Brien believes some firms would do better to take the cash option. It all depends on each company's mix of IT kit.

Back in September, Dell rolled out its own IT recycling scheme into the UK.

The Dell Asset Recovery Service (ARS) lets business customers recycle or resell redundant computer equipment including servers and computer peripherals. As with IBM's scheme, businesses can recover the value of IT kit which is still useful, or can get Dell to take equipment away.

At the time of launch, Dell declined to release any overall pricing for its service, claiming that the costs depend on the age and quality of the hardware in question.

Part of Sanyo's investment in the Energy & Ecology project will be spend expanding a factory in Budapest that manufactures lithium-ion rechargeable batteries.

A senior Sanyo executive said that his company is working on a number of new initiatives in the battery space, including a unit that can be recharged in 15 minutes.

Other products that make up the Energy & Ecology project include solar energy systems, air conditioning equipment, fuel cells, water processing systems, and heat pump water heaters.

Sanyo hopes that its Budapest factory will become a leading manufacturer of photovoltaic modules, which are used in solar panel systems.

However, the production of photovoltaic cells requires a great deal of water and energy to produce, and the factories will use a lot of noxious chemicals that can get out into the water table and cause problems.

But Sanyo says that its photovoltaic modules will last 20 years, a long enough lifespan to justify the environmental impact of their manufacturing.

Topics: Hardware

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