Sustainability Standards In IT Sector Confuses Consumers

A lack of coherent sustainability standards in the IT sector is confusing customers with what is and is not green IT, says Probrand, a reseller that deals with more than 1,000 technology vendors.

The company is calling on large IT vendors to co-operate on standard setting.

"Standards exist for the energy consumption of IT products, such as the US Energy Star, and for the disposal of end-of-life kit, such as the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment legislation in force in Europe," Probrand business analyst Gary Price told "But there is no over-arching sustainability standard."

This means IT buyers often pick a standard which may not be the most relevant to their proposed application, says Price.

For example, a local council that wants to cut carbon emissions by reducing the power requirements of its PC network might tender a requirement for hundreds of Energy Star-rated PCs. But they would yield bigger reductions if they used technologies such as virtualisation, which help to consolidate the number of machines required overall.

The IT sector is notorious for the proliferation of technical standards, many of which are interoperable with one other.

As a value-added reseller, Price says Probrand can add value to the provision of IT equipment with advice on sustainability, but a lack of meaningful standards makes this complex for buyers, especially when it comes to establishing the carbon embedded in the lengthy and tortuous supply chains of IT products.

"Without legislation or a clear signal from the market, some manufacturers are saying to us 'why should we bother with sustainability data?'," says Price.

Trials of product and supply chain reporting standards have recently concluded across 62 multi-sector manufacturers in 17 countries by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). A move that Probrand believes will apply pressure to stakeholders and observers of the IT supply chain to more easily provide supply chain sustainability information.

Two new Greenhouse Gas Protocols that provide methods to measure emissions associated with product life cycle and supply chain are due to be published in spring 2011 by the WRI and WBCSD. Feedback from the six-month trials will be used to update the draft standards before a public consultation period begins in late September 2010.

Forty-two companies tested the product life cycle standard including 3M, BASF, General Electric, JohnsonDiversey and PepsiCo. Most were able to complete their product assessments within the six-month trial period, but there were requests for worked examples and more guidance on measuring a service's carbon footprint.

Many of the 35 companies testing the supply chain standard struggled to collect satisfactory data from their suppliers in the time available. Some decided to rely on secondary data instead and most were concerned about data quality as there was nothing they could do to verify suppliers' figures. This trial included Ikea, Pfizer, Kraft Foods, Veolia Water and Ford Motor Company.

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