Monday, October 27, 2008

Openness is Environmental; who’d a thunk it?

So here is the gist of the argument:

Open architecture, open standards, open protocols, and open networks enable the multi-purposing of devices, and encourage and facilitate organic improvement in device and application functionality requires. E-waste is reduced when devices serve multiple purposes, and when useful life can be extended through on-going adaptation and upgrades with software or addition of hardware components.

Closed proprietary systems, on the other hand, do the exact opposite. They are made for discrete purposes, with planned obsolescence, and innovation is limited to insider willingness and insider imagination.

To see some exquisite artistic renderings of consumption, including electronic consumption, check out Chris Jordan's work, from which the photo above is an unworthy clip. There is an important tool -- an Executive Order -- the US government can use, that would have an enormous impact on reducing electronic waste.

According to an EPA study of solid waste: "The production of electric and electronic devices is a very resource-intensive activity. The environmental burden due to the production of electrical and electronic products ("ecological baggage") exceeds by far the one due to the production of other household materials. When these devices become obsolete and are discarded without recycling they leave behind lead, cadmium, mercury and other hazardous wastes.

In USA In 2005, we generated 2.6 million tons of e-waste in the US, or 1.4% of total discards. Of this amount, only 12.5% of the consumer electronic products in the municipal waste stream were "recovered," This compares to the overall recovery rate of all categories of municipal waste was 32.1% in 2005.” (1)

Even while "68 percent of consumers stockpile used or unwanted computer equipment in their homes." E-waste shows a higher growth rate than any other category of municipal waste in the EPA's report.

Of course, I have to tie this in to my favorite subject: transportation! Long-term policy goals for the US department of transportation include IT for safety, mobility, and convenience applications. These applications will rely on electronic hardware for wireless communications connecting the 240 million vehicles on the road today with network access points across America.

Given the scale and scope of the US transportation system, pervasive throughout America, touching every American family, electronic devices that leverage open architectures, open standards, open protocols, and open networks -- enabling the multipurposing of electronic and wireless investments – can dramatically reduce the amount of e-waste and would be the environmentally preferred solution for safety, mobility, and convenience applications that are intended for large fleets (over five thousand units).

The Presidential Executive Order -- “Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management,” signed by President Bush on January 24, 2007, instructs Federal agencies to “conduct their environmental, transportation, and energy-related activities under the law in support of their respective missions in an environmentally, economically and fiscally sound, integrated, continuously improving, efficient, and sustainable manner.”

Encouraging open architecture, open standards, open protocols, and open networks is important for this country’s future, one that includes limited resources – elemental as well as monetary ones. We need to get the most out of every device, every investment, and every dollar. Openness helps us accomplish that.

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