Hard-Core Hardware: Green Is the New Black

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Jul 24, 2008


Drew Robb
At a recent IT event, a member of the press prefaced her question to the CEO of EMC saying, "First, I'd like to thank you for making no mention of green IT in your presentation." This comment resonated with an audience of journalists who likely have been inundated with story pitches and press releases about various aspects of greenery as of late. There's no denying green computing is a hot topic among IT vendors. As the IT messaging chorus grows louder, however, the soundtrack rings hollow and smacks of political correctness. Is green gear really about saving the planet afterall?

Just about every vendor and analyst, it appears, has jumped aboard the green submarine. I listened in on a Web conference from IDC yesterday about green IT. It was all about sustainability, reducing your carbon footprint, climate change and social responsibility. Right afterward, I got a newsletter from HP with almost identical messaging.

It isn't that such themes lack merit. They just sound hollow, as though fed a generous diet of political correctness (PCness).

Let's tackle the PC issue first. It has now become virtually impossible for vendors to avoid mention of the G word. Thus, for the next several months (and maybe a whole lot longer), most press releases will likely emphasize this topic. It is already getting tedious.

What's coming next? The HP newsletter and the IDC briefing carried a hint of it. HP is cooking up measurements about the total number of joules a given product produces throughout its lifecycle — from manufacturing through usage and disposal. IDC has a scale that measures the level of green maturity of an organization. So the next wave will be yet more press releases with a theme of "We're greener than you."

How about hollowness? All this green pomposity comes from the very same industry responsible for the 130,000 computers a day being discarded in the United States alone. Add in TVs, cell phones, monitors and VCRs, and the EPA reports that an annual total of 304 million electronic items are discarded — two-thirds of them still working. That's nearly 2 million tons of electronic waste going into the nation's landfills. Then there's the massive amount offloaded into third-world landfills. Now, factor in the Gartner estimate that businesses and consumers will have replaced around 925 million PCs and 50 million servers in a five-year period ending in 2010.

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Much of that waste came about due to the overly aggressive marketing of these same companies that now profess to be so green. They very nearly achieved their goal of placing a PC in every home in the Western world. Foisting off unneeded PCs on computer-illiterate grandmas is not my idea of social responsibility. Nor is wholesale advising by the analyst community to change out all servers and PCs every couple of years. Yet, they pushed that concept with ferocity.

I guess that's my underlying objection. All this green posturing is really just another marketing gimmick. Granted, it's one that will achieve some desirable goals to do with reducing electricity consumption. But it is not about saving the planet by any stretch of the imagination. The real game is to sell a whole lot of servers. Change out your old inefficient gear (that we sold you earlier) and buy this new sustainable equipment that will cost you a bundle. And let's really fill up those landfills to emphasize our newfound greenness.

Now, if some of the executives and public relations people really want to lower the carbon footprint, how about they begin by not bothering to come into the office for the next few months, ceasing at once all these green proclamation-type releases, cutting back on ridiculously excessive packaging, and letting the IT world get back to business as usual.

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