Reuse and Green your Network!

By: Joshua Levitt

For those of us who have been living anywhere in our world other than the proverbial community located at "under a rock", you have probably noticed the latest trends of corporate environmental awareness. It seems like every day another large enterprise company makes a public announcement about their "new green initiative". Just today, Steve Jobs announced that Apple no longer sells CRT monitors, which contain significant amounts of lead. He also said the company has completely eliminated hexavalent chromium and some brominated flame retardants from its products.

The fact is, not all of these efforts are motivated by pure altruism. More and more evidence is beginning to surface, indicating that a financial benefit can also be realized through socially responsible initiatives. A recent report by the IT market research firm, Gartner, shows that consumers buying everything from cell phones to network hardware are changing their buying habits. Environmental factors will become one of the top six buying criteria for information technology organizations moving forward.

Gartner's study also produced some very sobering data for the technology community. Gartner illustrated that the energy from manufacturing, distribution and use of information and communications technology emits approximately 2 percent of total global carbon dioxide, which is equal to the emissions from the entire airline industry. These recent findings coupled with the financial benefits of reuse and recycling, create a one - two punch, and are paving the way for high-tech's green initiative to ratchet it up a notch. Gartner predicts that, more than fifty percent of global technology organizations will declare an "environmental imperative" by the year 2010.

Server maker Sun Microsystems and chip maker Advanced Micro Devices already advertise their products' power-saving credentials. Environmental groups like Greenpeace have begun rewarding these initiatives through token award systems called, "green ranking". Green rankings publicly highlight exceptional earth friendly efforts put forth by various computer makers every year.

Traditional business models of planned obsolescence, where capitalistic IT manufacturers encourage customers to buy the next iteration of their product, even if the existing one still works, are now coming under fire. Their high rate of turnover for network hardware appliances is clearly creating a fast growing problem around the globe. The short lifespan of today's electronic equipment is contributing to millions of tons of e-waste. The accumulated e-waste is dumped in landfill sites that are often processed in poorly managed facilities, in developing countries, leading to significant health risks and causing a major negative impact on the environment.

This information is not intended to scare you, but rather to serve as evidence to the changing world around us. Human beings are a robust species, and historically we have always adjusted our ethics to survive. We are in the midst of an ethical revolution now, designed to preserve our environment and ultimately our species. Historically, most ethical revolutions have led to more efficient outcomes, creating more resources and a better quality of life. This is usually the driving force behind them, a collective epiphany or species maturing process, resulting in a more efficient planet.

With that said, I believe, the days when businesses could send a product into the marketplace without first considering how it might impact the environment are rapidly becoming obsolete. Global recycling and product recovery programs, where businesses take responsibility for what they make and sell, are already under way worldwide. Both Dell and HP, have introduced programs where you can receive credit towards a new hardware purchase through trading in your old equipment.

This leads me to my next point: "Reuse"! Get used to that word. I believe we will all be hearing a lot more of it in the coming years. If you believe we are evolving to become less wasteful then, reuse is going to become a new standard for many industries.

The government is setting an example through its Federal Management Regulations (41 CFR 102), mandating that federal agencies, to the fullest extent practicable, use excess personal property, including electronic equipment, as the first source of supply in meeting agency requirements. Based on this, the following environmental hierarchy - from most to least preferred - should be followed for managing end-of-life electronics:
&bull Reuse
&bull Refurbishment
&bull Recycling
&bull Incineration or Landfilling

Consistent with the hierarchy presented above, secondary consumer markets for recycling and reuse of electronic equipment are growing at an unprecedented rate. According to market research firm Gartner, one in every dozen computers used worldwide is a "secondary computer", and about 152.5 million used systems were shipped in 2004. Gartner also said that both the home and professional markets for secondary PCs will continue to see growth in the next several years, fueled by better computer performance, longer system life, and recent recycling legislation that gives companies a greater incentive to sell their used machines.

Consumers are gradually becoming aware of the benefits associated with buying used. Refurbished hardware often comes standard with a warranty starting at one year and going up from there, depending on the dealer. The generous warranty periods have removed virtually all of the risk formerly associated with buying used. Realizing, there's no need to buy new when you can provide new life for old gear at great savings (up to 95% off list) coupled with a bullet proof warranty it's a "no brainer" for most educated IT managers.

Several new businesses have emerged to meet this new trend. One such company was recently established by Joe Asady, CEO of Digital Warehouse (an ISO-9001:2000 Certified Company). "UsedCisco.com helps protect the environment by providing network managers, a fast, convenient, cost effective and environmentally friendly way to purchase pre-owned networking products that would have otherwise been added to the growing global e-waste problem" said Joe Asady. The difference between Digital Warehouse and UsedCisco.com is that, DW is a service and solution based model aimed at "reducing the cost of network infrastructure", whereas UsedCisco.com is a click and buy e-commerce website for fast easy online purchasing of pre-owned network hardware.

In an unprecedented effort to spearhead a nationwide initiative to keep electronic equipment that still has value from being retired prematurely, UsedCisco.com has recently opened a 45,000 square foot refurbishing facility in Oklahoma City. The new facility will process millions of dollars worth of de-installed network hardware which will be tested, refurbished and remarketed online to businesses worldwide, saving their customer's money and protecting the environment at the same time.

Whether you are an IT manager, global CEO or a mere home PC user, the implications are the same. E-waste is a problem, corporate social responsibility is real! Although we are taking some steps in the right direction, a lot more needs to be considered. So please, do your share to get involved with environmental awareness, help efforts to reduce energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions and start to consider the secondary market as a viable alternative to purchasing new equipment.

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