It’s hard to believe, but as recently as the late 1990s, IT purchasers had a fairly straightforward task. Sure, equipment had to meet price, performance, functionality and compatibility requirements. But the ultimate goal was simply for stuff to work, and for users not to complain.
Since then, purchasing computers and other electronics has gotten a good bit more complex. At first, concerns about emissions prompted IT manufacturers to implement health and safety measures. At the dawn of the new millennium, we began to worry about environmental impacts, ushering in the green manufacturing era.
Then, about five years ago, the sustainability movement emerged, putting a sometimes harsh spotlight on the ethical aspects of producing and using electronics. Today, more and more purchasers understand that sustainable products aren’t just supposed to be good for the environment. They’re asking bigger questions, like “Was it manufactured by forced or child labor?” or “How were conditions in the factories?”
Some problems that plague IT production – like blocked fire exits or malfunctioning safety equipment – are relatively easy to solve. But the issues go much deeper. From migrant workers who have to pay for the privilege of serving as modern-day forced labor, to using student workers for menial tasks under the guise of education, to extreme overtime — the human costs of IT manufacturing can be staggering.
As organizations work to meet sustainability standards across their entire supply chain, they’re taking a hard look at the socioeconomic impacts of the electronics that form the backbone of their business. And they’re holding their vendors to ever-higher expectations.
As critical as environmentally sustainable purchasing is, it’s no longer enough. Today, responsible governments and businesses are also measuring the social impact of the electronics they purchase, with a view to driving long-term improvements in working environments and conditions.
This evolution began in Europe and is gaining momentum in the U.S. What’s driving the shift? It starts with savvy consumers and shareholders who want the organizations they do business with (and invest in) to share their values. But it’s also being driven by municipalities that have passed related legislation, and by procurement managers who care deeply about these issues.
These forward-thinking purchasers are now looking at ways to streamline the process of verifying that their products meet certain criteria. Third-party certifications have done that for years on the environmental front, but until recently, tracking socially responsible aspects of product manufacturing has been challenging.
Fortunately, that’s changing. My company, TCO Development, is currently the only certifier of electronic products based on both social responsiblity and environmental standards, but nonprofit organizations like the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council (SPLC) are accelerating the process by helping leaders prioritize oppo