Written by David Tebbutt, PC Dealer 01/89 item 01 - scanned

Big Blue turns green to achieve a balance

Two and a half cheers for IBM, who recently donated £3.6 million of computer equipment to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The IBM equipment, which is a mixture of mainframe, midrange, 6150 and PS/2 products, will be used to support UNEP's Global Resource Information Database. This gathers and analyses information from space and ground stations about changes in climate and renewable natural resources. It is this kind of work which results in 'scientific proof' about changes to the environment brought about by mankind's activities.

Until recently, most politicians and industrialists turned a blind eye to pollution, thanks to a supposed lack of scientific evidence to connect health and other problems with the corruption of our ecosystems.

Most of us, when choking in exhaust fumes or swimming in sewage, have enough sense to realise that neither activity can be good for us.

Sadly, those who stand to gain from such desecration of the planet have to wait for the scientists to tell them what to us bystanders is blindingly obvious.

The important thing is that connections are now being made and everyone is listening.

Computers appear to be clean in use and their components often have to be manufactured in 'clean rooms' so our industry is regarded as environmentally sound. Sadly, this is not the case. We use thousands of highly toxic chemicals in the production of computer systems and then, when they've done their job, we have to dispose of them.

The offending substances go into the atmosphere, into waterways, on to landfill sites or into storage tanks until they become less toxic or until a way is found to dispose of them. The airborne emissions include the famous chlorofluorocarbons which are eating the ozone layer. Other airborne emissions are invisible until they react with other parts of the atmosphere to produce chemical smog.

Gradually, companies are waking up to the realities and it could be that publicity about pollution is just what's needed to accelerate action.

Every year, electronics companies in the US have to report figures relating to their toxic wastes to the Office of Environmental Affairs. According to 'Silicon Valley Toxics News', Hewlett-Packard and IBM headed the list for discharges, although their dispersal methods were quite different.

Each company was responsible for around two million pounds of toxic waste every year. IBM threw almost 80 per cent of its waste into the atmosphere, while Hewlett-Packard restricted itself to just under 9 per cent. The rest went to 'other discharges and offsite disposal (including discharge to sewage treatment plants)'.

So why does a company with such a strong preference for atmospheric emissions support an environmental agency which can't be impressed with such disposal methods?

Before I go on, let me say that IBM's 3.6 million donation is a wonderful gesture. And, if it helps the scientists give us the guidance we need to avert a catastrophe, it is a gesture for which the world should be grateful.

Of course IBM stands to get some publicity from the exercise, but that wouldn't be enough to justify such a gift. The publicity material gives some clues with quotes like: 'Through this donation IBM is actively contributing to UNEP's global efforts to achieve sustainable development'. And, 'the choice is not economic growth or ecological balance. It is both or neither'.

Even the UN is quoted as advocating economic growth which 'meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'.

So there we have it. Good old economic growth. The environmentalists are now dangling the carrot that IBM wishes to eat.