A useful general source of information on IT equipment as a global environmental issue is the book “Computers and the Environment – Understanding and Managing their Impacts.” Kuehr and Williams (Eds.). Though the book focuses primarily on PC’s, the concepts can be extended to other IT products.
The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, the Basel Action Network, and Greenpeace have all taken active public roles in publicizing the environmental problems associate with IT systems and advocating for increased regulation.
A view of the problem from Switzerland can be found at http://www.ewaste.ch/.
For commercial buildings, The State of California says “Office equipment accounts for 26 percent of electricity used in office buildings. This is more than the entire lighting system (22 percent) and almost as much as the chilled water subsystem (28 percent). Yet this is the easiest area in which to achieve energy efficiency savings”.
The most comprehensive study of the issue of direct power consumption by IT equipment in the U.S is the Lawrence Labs 2001 study by Kawamoto, et al. Their study concludes that office and networking equipment represents 3% of total U.S. electricity consumption.
The cooling load required to remove heat generated by IT systems, particularly data centers, is becoming a significant concern in commercial buildings. The U.S. EPA is sponsoring research on the problem and possible solutions.
The U.S Federal Government has taken the lead in the U.S. with the Federal Electronics Challenge, launched in 2004. Many states and municipalities have enacted or are considering Green Procurement programs that include electronics and IT equipment.
The EPA is funding development of an Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) to provide a methodology and guidance for purchasing.
The Center for the New American Dream offers guidelines, advice, and institutional procurement resources for purchasing computers.
The most comprehensive source of information on the environmental effects of data cable is the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) study: Environmental, Health and Safety Issues in the Coated Wire and Cable Industry, 2002
TURI has undertaken a joint project with the U.S. EPA, manufacturers, and suppliers to develop more environmentally benign data cables.
DuPont is taking a leading role in the U.S. in developing programs for recycling of old cable, highlighting the problem of abandoned cable, and publicizing fire and electrical code requirements for data cables.
Research indicates that IT equipment, especially copiers and printers, may introduce unhealthy solids and gases into buildings, including brominated flame retardants, pthalates, organotonins, particles and fibers, dust, ozone, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s), and ammonia.