The catch phrase of the 21st Century is sustainability of resources: the ability of societies throughout the world to manage its needs for renewable or recyclable resources so that these resources will be available for future generations. Going green, especially as it refers to computing and IT, means that IT users must look for ways to preserve our finite resources for future generations.

Traditionally, resources fall within two broadly defined categories: non-renewable and renewable resources. Non-renewable resources, such as ores, minerals, petroleum, and coal, have finite supplies and are only sustainable while new reserves continue to replace consumed reserves. Renewable resources-timber, harvested domestic and naturally occurring livestock, groundwater-have the ability to replenish its reserves if society manages its depletion rate to allow for natural or managed recoveries. Renewable applies to IT manufacturing resources, as well. Going green is forcing IT users to think of ways to reuse or recycle displaced IT assets in more environmentally responsible ways.

The IT data protection/e-waste horizon

Businesses, governments, and society store more operational/personal data in digital form every day. As the volume of data increases, so do the needs to protect sensitive and/or personal data. Federal and state legislation has stepped in to control the management of data security:

  • Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX): Companies must establish and maintain adequate internal control structures; Procedures and processes must be in place to assess the effectiveness of internal controls
  • Gramm-Leach Bliley Act (GLBA): Targeting financial data, businesses are required to ensures that the security and confidentiality of customer records and information that could result in substantial harm to its customer base is protected
  • Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA): Organizations must ensure confidentiality of its health records and related information; also true for patient information and employee records within an organization
  • Fair & Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA): Under the Disposal Rule, businesses must institute disposal practices and provide steps that prevent the unauthorized access or use of discarded information derived from consumer reports

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study published in July 2008 says that a small percentage of retired electronic equipment was actually recycled from 2000 through 2007 (Electronics Waste Management in the United States published by the Office of Solid Waste at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, July 2008). The EPA study reported that of the 2.25 Million tons of the electronics produced in 2007, only 414,000 tons of end-of-life assets were recycled-about 18.4 percent. This makes electronic waste, or e-waste, one of the fastest growing waste streams on the planet.

With the growing need to dispose of e-waste safely, individual states have adopted legislation setting limits and/or outright bans on the disposal of e-waste into landfills. Starting January 1, 2012, the Illinois Electronic Products Recycling and Reuse Act (State Bill 2313) will ban the disposal of televisions, computers, monitors, printers, and a widening array of electronics from landfills. State Bill 2313-one of the nation’s most aggressive e-waste laws-provides incentives for reusing raw materials in the remanufacture of electronics.

Businesses, governments, and citizens need to work with IT hardware providers and e-waste recyclers to handle the disposal of obsolete technologies. End-of-life assets pose several issues for proper disposal and potential environmental consequences. These liabilities, combined with the social pressure of “green” practices, will drive businesses, governments, and communities to seek safe, responsible recycling solutions. In addition, management of personal information requires businesses to eradicate data from hard drives before third-party reuse or before recycling responsibly.

Discarded electronics represents a rapidly growing waste stream. Made from valuable resources, electronic products contain precious and other metals, engineered plastics, glass, and other materials. Throwing away old electronic equipment also throws away valuable resources that generate additional pollution. Some electronic products (cathode ray tubes or CRTs, circuit boards, batteries, and mercury switches) contain hazardous or toxic materials such as lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, and some types of flame-retardants in amounts that may cause them to test hazardous under Federal law. In particular, the glass screens, or CRTs, in computer monitors and televisions can contain as much as 27 percent lead.

Green IT

Governments, manufacturers, and society will have to think green in ways that previous generations have not had to think-to sustain its renewable resources through managed processes that will allow these resources to recycle through to future generations. Sustainability of resources comes with costs that will affect the bottom line-whether real or hidden. However, the “value of going green,” as stated in an IBM Executive Report Green and beyond, postulates that organizations will have opportunities to reduce costs “while overcoming operational barriers . . . strengthening reputations while meeting regulatory requirements . . . and [create] products and services that can satisfy customer demands and give rise to new markets.” Sustainability of resources for future generations mandates that “changes can . . . build smart sustainability within [organizations and their stakeholders throughout] the value chain.

As a society, we must begin to think with the beliefs, the ideals, and the standards as a call for the protection of our environment. The call for action for sustainability of our resources will cause businesses, governments, and society to protect the environment for future generations.

(The Green and beyond white paper is available for download from IBM’s Green and beyond web site located at