I was in New York City on Tuesday for a panel discussion focused on corporate sustainability. I've posted some of my broad thoughts about that conversation over at my SmartPlanet blog, but wanted to slip in an item here because I thought it was relevant for those of you who worry about green IT strategies.
I was struck by some comments made by John Gagel, manager of sustainable practices - EH&S for printer maker Lexmark. Gagel is in charts of understanding and managing what goes into the hardware company's products. So, for example, he is keenly aware of making sure his team tracks where it is getting anything that contains tin, tungsten and tantum (key components of many hardware products and gadgets). That's because these are some of the materials that have been emerging as part of the Congo's "conflict minerals" problem. Financial legislation passed in July 2010 made it mandatory for companies to disclose whether or not they have exposure.
Indeed, when I was chatting with him during lunch, Gagel mentioned that many of Lexmark's enterprise project proposals now include a request for information about what goes into the company's products, how much energy they consume and how they can be disposed of responsibly. Some of those information requests are up to 30 pages long! Which is really the focus of this blog.
The Lexmark sustainability team realized some time ago that one of the simplest ways to "design for sustainability" was to consider not only how to use more materials that were recycled or recyclable but also to look more carefully at how products can be disassembled, refurbished and reused at the end of their life. Well, at least at the end of their first life.
"It's thinking about things like the paint on plastic, using screws versus snaps," Gagel says.
So, Lexmark now designs just as much for the end of life as it does for the lifespan of a product itself.
Do your green IT procurement information requests contain enough questions about the end of life implications for your product? If not, you might want to explore more deeply how much attention your hardware vendors pay to this challenge. Or whether they consider it someone else's problem.