Friday, 28 November 2014

Let's Get Serious About Sustainability



Business should have a conscience. In this world of banking collapses, expense scandals and general cut throat behaviour, it is easy to forget that businesses are made up of people too. There has to be a certain hard-nosed attitude to making a profit, but within the boundaries of commonsense we all need to remember who we are.

Profits pay wage increases and bonuses, and provide the investment we all need so that life goes on progressing. But we cannot afford any business to make profit at any cost. There has to be a balance between tough commercialism and doing the right thing. That was one lesson of the banking crisis I suppose.

There are simply issues beyond profit.

Sustainability is one of those issues for me. Deep down, when actually forced to really think hard about it, everyone has to recognise that we cannot go on using the planet’s resources. Sooner or later everything is going to run out and then where will we be? The cynical answer is in our boxes of course, but again sanity usually prevails. We are custodians of this planet, not owners.

Because the environment is ‘AN ISSUE’. It is not something one can avoid anymore. Getting it wrong gets you into all sorts of trouble. Good grief, I remember when poor old Tony Archer managed to contaminate the River Am in the Archers a while back...he was almost tarred and feathered! (Sorry I am addicted to The Archers on BBC Radio 4). Big business really has got that message. I met an Environmental Manager the other day. His brief is to keep his employer legal, whilst not costing them too much money, obviously. That such a position exists shows that ‘the issue’ is firmly on the agenda.

However, the IT industry, and broadly the electronics industry, does seem to have got its act together on sustainability. Just about everything can be reused or recycled these days. 0% landfill is not an aspiration, it is a reality. But just as I have accused companies of paying lip service to data security issues, I am afraid the same is true of our attitude to recycling...at least at work.

At home, we are used to sorting our rubbish and we all know why. Not doing so is not an option unless you want to upset the bin men, and no one wants to upset the bin men. It is unthinkable. But businesses large and small are a lot more careless.

On one level it is apathy. Our toner collection service is pretty simple, and a good example of what I am talking about. We send you a box, you put the toner things in there. When full, you call us and we collect it. On the side of the box it tells you exactly what should go in there. So what do you think happens?

Yep. Just about everything gets tossed in there. Not only other cartridges and packaging but banana skins, coffee cups and all the other paraphernalia of office life. We have to give every box a good sort and that costs everyone extra money.

And money is the root of all evil of course. No business wants extra costs. That is why that Environmental Manager was struggling to find a meeting room and did not have as much influence within the business that he would have liked. I am not saying there were barriers in his path but he was not at the top table, where the crucial, big decisions are taken. He was not even on the right floor!

Board and ownership level responsibility is essential if we are to progress. Built in obsolescence has to be eradicated, we have to make things to last and invest in the infrastructure to pass equipment on from one user to the next, eking every last month of use out of everything.

This is what eReco do. We take stuff from user A, render it safe and try and sell it on to user B. It works but it could work better. Manufacturers stop supporting old software, so that that they can sell new software, and quite often that new software is so ‘big’ in every sense that they need new hardware to run it. Damn it, my beloved iPhone 4 will not take the iOs8 upgrade unless I remove all the music and most of my apps off it first...and then it might actually slow it down!

The obvious idea is that I should upgrade and let the best phone/friend I have ever had go. Why? It does everything I want it to do. I understand how it works. I even use it as a work phone, syncing both sides of my life seamlessly onto one device. I know I could do that with an iPhone 6 too, before anyone points that out, but I don’t bloody need (or want) to do so.

I am not stupid of course.

No, really.

I know that technology sells and makes massive profits and to a certain extent eReco makes money out of that too, but is that sensible? Designing software that works on existing hardware would be much more sustainable. Making cars that can easily last for decades makes sense. We just have to allow the manufacturers to make money out of replacing the engines and gears and all the other gubbins and let the rest carry on forever. We recycle the used bits and everyone can be happy.

In short, we still need to get serious about sustainability.