Greener computing procurement urged

Conference hears call for buyers to demand "open-source" software to prolong IT hardware life

Procurement officers in companies and public bodies should consider switching to "open-source" software for their computers to reduce the environmental burden of information technologies (IT), a conference in Brussels heard yesterday. Professor Roberto di Cosmo of the École Normale Supérieure in Paris claimed that the unwillingness of software manufactures to allow users of programs to see the basic code on which they run was increasing the material intensity of IT equipment by reducing hardware's useful life to as little as two years.

"Computer lifetimes are ever shrinking because of badly managed software evolution," he told the meeting, which was organised by European Partners for the Environment (EPE). The conference was organised as part of an initiative which will culminate in a set of green purchasing guidelines produced by the European green purchasing network (EGPN), established two years ago by EPE and the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ENDS Daily 4 December 1997).

The EGPN guidelines will be published in March next year, shortly after the European Commission is due to publish an "interpretative document" appraising the possibility of using existing directives on public procurement to achieve environmental aims. The document is currently under preparation by the Commission's internal market directorate and is expected to determine whether public tenders can stipulate that products should carry ecolabels certifying that they meet certain environmental standards. European ecolabel standards have been developed for PCs and are expected imminently for laptops.

Once the interpretative document is completed, more detailed green purchasing guidelines for individual sectors, including IT, will follow. Although currently intended as a non-binding communication, an official from the Commission's environment directorate told ENDS Daily today that it would be pushing for the advice to be included as an amendment to the existing directives on public procurement.

Although it welcomes the concept of green purchasing, the European IT industry is known to be hostile to ecolabels and yesterday presented its preferred alternative - a standardised product declaration sheet including all environmental "aspects" of a product to allow comparison by procurement officers.

Follow Up:
EPE, tel: +32 2 771 1534.

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