Editorial: Carrots and sticks

Editorial: Carrots and sticks

In launching a PC recycling initiative last week, the Sims Group has called upon the local whitebox community to clean up its act.

While it is true the IT industry has to get its environmental house in order, and that independent system builders are going to be the most difficult to regulate, pointing a finger at the little guys is not going to solve the problem. It is simply going to make it worse.

If the environmental benefit of IT recycling is ever going to reach the grass roots of the PC industry - and let's not forget that whitebox accounts for almost half of that market in Australia - the government is going to have to come up with some legislation that makes it an attractive proposition.

And it had better be a carrot rather than a stick. Any attempts to impose hefty fines or other punitive measures for non-compliance will only drive the problem underground and create another dirty little industry secret - the hardware industry will see the emergence of its own version of software piracy as those that cannot afford to comply (or simply don't wish to) find ways to make themselves even less visible.

Much more useful would be the introduction of a scheme that allows system builders who do comply with asset disposal policies to badge their machines to that effect. After all, many of these smaller operations are plying their trade in the government and education sectors, where carrying that accreditation would be a welcome differentiator from their competitors.

Furthermore, those that failed to tow the line would find themselves at a commercial disadvantage, and any business owner will tell you that this is the best motivation imaginable for positive action. There's nothing like a handicap to pull people into line.

We are living in a world where it is easy to make a big noise about an issue but much more difficult to take meaningful action. The notion of corporate responsibility is a prime example - laudable in concept but often amounting to little more than multinational companies slapping themselves on the back.

While companies like Microsoft have ploughed huge sums of money into sections of the community that desperately need it, there is a massive gulf between the global citizenship mantras espoused by these leading vendors and the daily grind of trying to keep your head above water while assembling computers.

And anybody who thinks this gulf will eventually be closed by goodwill or market education has clearly inhaled a few too many apple blossom joss sticks over the years.

I'm not suggesting the scheme I have proposed would solve the problem at a stroke, but it would go some way towards advancing the environmental cause. If the Sims Group and other recycling businesses are serious about getting their message out to the market as a whole, they should start by getting in touch with an industry body and driving the push to compliance. This would be much more effective than putting the emphasis on small businesses that have neither the resources nor the incentive to get involved.

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