IT industry urged to rethink concept of ‘green’

Making IT and technology more green is about more than just switching your monitor off at night - it is also about all the environmental, social and ethical issues surrounding production of the equipment.

That was the message from Miriam Kennet, director of the Green Economics Institute, as she addressed the Green IT Expo, in London, on Wednesday.

“Being ‘green’ is about providing social and environmental justice at the same time” she said. “It is up to the user and the buyer to make sure that what they are doing is not causing harm.”

Mobile phones are one example of a widely-used piece of technology which is linked to the exploitation and suffering of people in developing countries, she told delegates.

Mobiles use coltan, an ore produced from the mineral tantalum, which is mainly found in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to the United Nations, smuggling and exportation of coltan has helped fuel the war in the Congo, a crisis that has resulted in millions of deaths since 1998.

The mineral is often mined by prisoners in exchange for early release or by child labour, Ms Kennet said.

“We are all complicit in this – everyone who has a mobile phone,” she said. “If we want to live in this high-tech world we have to think about these supply chains.

“It’s up to us in the high-tech world to see if we can engineer our supply chains to make them more green.”

But this does not mean that companies and individuals should ignore the more obvious ways to help the environment, by reducing their energy use and CO2 emissions, Ms Kennet added.

“It’s going to be one of the big stories, I think, as IT develops,” she said.

A report produced last year by UK charity Global Action Plan revealed that the ICT sector has a carbon footprint similar to that of the aviation industry (see related story).

Kate Martin

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