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Management of quality.

Management of quality

In an age when computers, peripherals and software are widely considered to be out of date within a couple of years, and fit only for disposal after around five years, there is more than a hint of oxymoron about the expression ‘green IT’.

Users of computer systems are constantly being bombarded by the ‘green’ message, to draw attention to the energy efficiency of products and the reduction in energy consumption and storage space that can be achieved by the latest technology. This is certainly important, given the results of a survey by Garner predicting that around half of data centres worldwide will soon begin to experience difficulty getting sufficient power and cooling to support their high-density equipment. Another study, meanwhile, reveals that energy costs are likely to account for almost a third of IT budgets by 2011 – up from below 10% today.

These figures take no account of the considerable amount of energy used in producing a personal computer. According to one estimate, each machine requires ten times its weight in raw materials to manufacture. Energy efficiency can, then, go a long way towards making computers more efficient. But James (Computer Weekly, 18 Sep 2007) points out that the greatest environmental savings are likely to arise from extending the useful lives of the computers, keyboards, screens and printers already manufactured.

The European Union’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, which came into force in June, is a clear example of the way things are going. It indicates that replacing complete computer systems every few years, which has hitherto been standard business practice, is unlikely to be quite so acceptable or easy to achieve in the future.

For the moment, says James, too many organizations are content to allow their old computers and peripherals to languish in storerooms or under disused desks. The article points to the need for more schemes that promote the reuse of computers in charity and other not-for-profit organizations, and in third-world countries.

James also looks forward to the time when products such as Ndiyo’s Nivo are more widely used. The author describes this as a ‘thin client’ solution to enable a small network to be set up with a single personal computer and a few screens and keyboards.

Whitby (Computing, 20 Sep 2007) believes that, despite the onerous restrictions that green IT will place on companies, they will eventually embrace environmental measures because it is good business sense to do so.

In this context, Levinson (Quality Digest, Oct 2007, Vol 27 No 10) highlights good practice from manufacturing industry. The author points out that the main obstacle to eliminating waste is the failure to identify it in the first place, and highlights ways in which carmaker Ford has overcome this problem.

Ford, it seems, now habitually uses several small components to make a product rather than casting a large piece and then machining away any unwanted metal. Among Ford’s other initiatives are distilling wood, and using steel-mill slag for manufacturing concrete and paving products.

Levinson quotes an adage from the meat industry – that it uses everything but the squeal – and advises manufacturers to think the same way when designing an environmental-management system.