Seeking to capitalize on the growing "green" consumer trend, computer makers such as Dell, by all accounts late entrants to the game, have been staking bold positions and claims. In a recent speech he gave in Europe, Michael Dell, the company's founder and CEO, unveiled plans to turn Dell into the "greenest technology company on earth."
In addition to pledging to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 15% by 2012, Dell has extended its tree-planting program and proposed to require its suppliers to disclose their own greenhouse gas emissions. Yet Dell already faces some fierce competition from other established computer brands.
Hewlett-Packard, which just released the world's most environmentally friendly PC, has committed to reduce its energy consumption by 20% in three years while Apple, hardly a slouch in the sustainability movement, has pledged to remove all toxic components from its computer equipment. Fujitsu Siemens Computers, which has been building computers with power-saving features since 1993, launched a new initiative to run the UK's 350 largest companies' data centers 40% more efficiently or donate 10,000 pounds (roughly $20,000) to an environmental charity. Environmental scientists, however, are dubious as to whether such pledges will do much to put a dent in the most pressing environmental challenges. An excessive focus on carbon emissions and energy consumption doesn't address the underlying conditions, according to Simon Mingay, an analyst at Gartner.
"The focus ... is primarily on carbon emissions and responding to that. It's a bit of 'greenwash' as the sector's environmental problems go far beyond CO2," he noted.
Eric Williams, a professor at the Arizona State University, believes that the best way to minimize the impact of computers would be to extend their life cycles instead of urging consumers to purchase newer, supposedly less power-hungry systems on a regular basis. He argues that while only 20% of a PC's total energy consumption comes from using it, a whopping 80% comes from manufacturing it in the first place.
Furthermore, landfill and the release of pollutants from old equipment constitute some of the most significant environmental problems for computer makers. Although big firms like HP, Dell and Apple have all launched recycling programs, experts caution that there is still a long way to go since less than 30% of old computers tend to get recycled.
"The sheer volume of stuff that the IT industry is creating is making it unsustainable ... At the moment they are doing the easy stuff - buying renewable energy, claiming carbon neutrality and so on," Mingay said. "But the industry will soon have to tackle the harder stuff."
Image courtesy of The New York Times
See also: ::HP First to Hit Gold Computing Standard, ::Apple Helps Schools Recycle Old Computers, ::Interview: Verdiem, Making Computers Use Less Energy, ::enano computers: Little, Green, Different, ::The First Solar Computer Case that Charges Computers