Dumping on the Poor: see the video

I wrote about the problem with e-waste and pollution in China back in April, but this topic is worth harping on every chance I get. It’s very serious, and it will affect us as well, in the very near future. The Earth is smaller than we think, and its ecosystem is fragile enough already.

Please watch the video entitled “E-Waste: Dumping on the Poor” (4 min 35 sec). It’s available on YouTube, and it was put together by a journalist called Michael Zhao, who took a trip to China and filmed what’s going on there. I found out about the video from an article in Time Magazine, entitled “Your Laptop’s Dirty Little Secret“. Michael has a website as well, called eDump. The full documentary he made is available here (20 min).


Scary stuff is happening in China

As I look at these truly scary images of pollution in China, I realize how big a problem pollution really is over there. For most of us, China’s this big country over there in Asia, sort of communist but not really, with plenty of human rights abuses under its belt, but still more decent than other communist countries like North Korea. We also know it as the place our products (toys, computers, clothes, etc.) come from. Well, it’s high time we got to know as the place where incredible pollution exists, and it’s as much our fault as it is theirs.

As consumers, we’ve happily accepted the lower-priced products made over there, because we can buy more of them, more often. As companies, we’ve happily moved our factories over there, because the labor was cheaper and the environmental laws were almost non-existent. China itself was only too happy to receive our business. They got an incredibly influx of money, expanded their economies and gross national product through the roof, got a middle class and a very wealthy upper class, and started walking out of the darker stages of communism toward something that might be called “capitalism light”.

Along the way, people all around easily closed their eyes or winked at the horrible pollution that was accumulating around them, poisoning China’s air and water and earth and cities. They reasoned that it was the price to pay for progress. They chalked it up to growing pains.

Well, it’s hard to close our eyes any more. Not after you see those photos. Don’t worry, they’re not the only photos available. There is plenty of proof of the damage that’s occurred there. And it’s scary. Very scary.

China is a very sick country. It’s very polluted. It’s incredibly polluted. I don’t know if it’ll ever fully recover. The damage has been done, irreversibly. Yet we all keep on going ahead, full steam, in a mindless race toward certain disaster, motivated by corporate greed and consumer lust for more shiny toys.

It has to stop. This will come back to bite us, right here in the US. It’s guaranteed.

Part of the solution is willing to live with “upgradeable” products. Instead of buying a new computer, send the old one in to get new, faster parts put in the old enclosure. Instead of throwing away a toy, donate it if it can still be used. Same with clothes. Don’t throw them away, give them away. Furthermore, Truly gigantic recycling efforts must be put forth, like the Japanese are doing. Every kind of plastic must be recycled. All metals must be reclaimed and reused. Poisonous chemicals must be contained. This is serious stuff.

Recycling efforts in the US are half-assed at best. Let’s face it, if the best stuff we can come up with from recycled plastic is park benches, then we’re screwed. If our answer to reducing environmental pollution is sending our used computer equipment to China, where it piles up by the mountains, we’re screwed. If companies’ answer to societal needs is to create crappy designs that age in months and practically scream “throw me away”, then we’re screwed. If we do nothing, we’re all screwed.


Ways in which companies waste money and energy

I want to focus in on a few specific ways in which companies waste money and energy. I see the following things happen daily in the workplace. They’re not specific to any company. Chances are that if you visit any American company, they’re probably doing at least one of these things.

Lights are left on regardless of time or day, and whether or not there are people present in the room

Many people will turn on their lights during the day, even if they have an office window that lets in plenty of light. That makes no sense. Want to know what else doesn’t make sense? Walk around at night in a big city. Look at how many businesses have left their lights on. Now look through the windows (it’s easy to do with skyscrapers) and see if you can see any people in there. Chances are you won’t. Those big offices are empty, and the lights are fully lit. What for? Don’t tell me it’s to discourage theft, because it doesn’t work. Having the lights turned off and making the thief use some sort of light to see his way around is a much better way to discourage theft.

Utility bills are doubled and tripled by leaving lights on at night, and yet that sort of expense is just shrugged off as a given. Well, it shouldn’t be that way. It’s wrong. And no, using CFLs doesn’t really count. They reduce electricity consumption dramatically, yes, but that doesn’t excuse you from turning lights off when you leave the office.

Computers are left on at night and when not being used

This one bothers me a lot. As a past IT director, I know computers consume a lot of electricity, and I also know that most people don’t need to leave their computers on when they leave their office. Short of server rooms, which need to stay on all the time, and selected desktops (used mostly in IT departments) that need to stay on because they’re being accessed remotely, most computers can be safely turned off or put into standby or hibernation at the end of the day. Do people do it? No.

Each desktop system consumes anywhere from 200-500 Watts of power (or more) while turned on, not counting the displays, which vary from 50-200 Watts (or more). IT departments should institute group policies (it’s doable in Windows) that automatically put computers into standby or hibernation if they’re idle and not used. Just think of the energy savings that could be obtained! By the way, Macs come pre-programmed to do just that, so they will give you energy savings right out of the box.

No recycling program in place

Most businesses will have a document shredding services, but they’ll have no recycling containers on site for aluminum, glass or plastic products. They’ll trash them and pollute the landfills, when they could be easily recycled and re-used. What’s more, they miss an important opportunity to set a good example for their employees.

No equipment recycling policies

Related to the overall recycling program, companies usually do not have any arrangements in place to recycle their used computer equipment. When computers and other equipment reach the end of their usable lifespan, they most likely get trashed, not properly recycled through businesses that specialize in this sort of thing. Some companies donate their computers to non-profit organizations that re-use them, which is laudable, but those are few and far between.

Do we really want old circuit boards which contain toxic chemicals polluting landfills everywhere and seeping into our water supply?

Not enough telecommuters

It’s true that a lot of jobs can’t be done via telecommuting. But many of them can be done that way. Programming, web development and design, project management, accounting, etc. are only some of the jobs that can be done from home, if things are planned out correctly. There are many benefits to be reaped by both companies and employees when telecommuting policies are worked out. One of them is cost reductions, for both parties, and another is less pollution on the environment.

Read this article I wrote on telecommuting for the details. Here are just a few of the benefits that can be observed right away:

  • Reduced office space
  • Reduced utility costs
  • Less crowded roads
  • Less stress
  • Higher job satisfaction
  • Less expenses for employees
  • More family time

I’m sure there are more items for this list. If you know of any, please let me know in the comments.


13 arguments for telecommuting

I thought I’d put together this list of arguments you could use to make the case for telecommuting at your workplace. No, there’s nothing special about the number 13. That’s how many reasons I came up with. If you know of more, please let me know and I’ll be glad to publish them here.

First, I should say I’m all for telecommuting, and I think it’s unfair to make people come into work when most jobs — in particular tech jobs — can be readily converted (with little or no effort) to allow employees to work from their homes.

Reduced office space

Leased office space can be less (significantly less) when employees are allowed to telecommute, since most people won’t need dedicated offices at company headquarters. All that’s needed are offices for the employees that need to be there: phone operators, receptionists, facilities, help desk, and meeting rooms. You’ll need the latter because employees will probably need to come in for meetings or other tasks that need to be performed on-site once a week or every two weeks. In addition, sales folks may need to come in to meet with clients, etc. An unexpected benefit will be that you’ll actually be using the conference rooms a lot more than before. Management will be happy, since the space they’re paying for will be well utilized.

Reduced business utilities

Utilities and other bills, like communications, will be much, much less. With most of the workforce staying at home, and much less office space, electricity usage will be slashed. None of those things that really rack up the bills, like A/C, computers and lights will be anywhere near their previous figures. People will use IM and video conferencing tools (like Skype) to communicate with each other, and will use home phones when needed. You’ll be able to ditch expensive phone system, or scale them down significantly.

Less crowding during rush hour

Businesses that allow their employees to telecommute are doing a greater good. They’re directly contributing to solving today’s serious traffic problems. When employees don’t need to come into work, they stay home and their cars stay in the garage, not on the streets, clogging up avenues and highways, causing traffic delays and accidents. Let’s not also forget the added benefits of burning up less fossil fuels.

Less pollution

When cars stay in the garage, there’s less pollution. I’m not just talking about greenhouse gases, I’m talking about traffic noise as well. Those of you who live near busy streets know this.

Contribute to national security efforts

Businesses that allow employees to telecommute are indirectly contributing to the safety of our country, by reducing our dependence on foreign oil. The less gas employees burn driving to work, the less gas that we’ll need to purchase from countries that finance terrorism. That’s always a good thing. And police and fire trucks will have an easier time driving on our streets during rush hour with less cars on the roads.

Less stress for everyone

I don’t know about you but traffic is very stressful. Sitting in traffic, knowing you can’t go anywhere and you’re stuck there, sandwiched in between other cars, puts one in a very helpless mood. Don’t even get me started on how much time is wasted on commutes, because that’s completely ridiculous and unnecessary. And let’s not forget the people who are actually trying to go shopping or must make it to an event during rush hour. They’re stuck in there too, and they’re not going to work.

Higher job satisfaction

Wasted time makes productive people unhappy. Time and energy gets wasted in traffic. Hence, allowing employees to work from home makes them happy. It’s logical, isn’t it? Besides, I don’t need to analyze things to know that if I could sit at my computer in the morning, right after having breakfast, and get right to work, instead of having to find clothes, get in the car, waste my time on the road, get out of the car and settle in my office, I’d be a lot happier. Why go through all that when I’ve got everything I need right at home?

Less expenses for employees

What do we spend on gas every month? C’mon, add it up! I spend about $100, but I’m one of the luckier ones, because I only have a 25 mile round-trip commute. I’m sure other people spend more. And we’re not even counting the wear and tear on our cars. And how would we value the time we waste in traffic, time that could be spent working productively? I suppose we could calculate our hourly rate, then come up with a total for the time wasted on the road.

Less expenses per employee (business-wise)

Managers, count up the costs to get an employee in a chair at your place. Add in furniture, supplies and equipment (and make sure to include the computer as well). Well, now slash all those costs by about 70%. Happier? An employee that works from home won’t need an office, won’t need a phone, won’t need a desk or a chair or a bookcase or a filing cabinet or even a computer. Okay, there might be some leeway with the computer. You could let them sign out company equipment if you desire, or sponsor the whole or part of the cost of a computer, considering that they’ll use it for work now in addition to their home chores. And you might need to supply them with work-related software as well. But think about it, all of the other costs will go away. When employees come in, they can use terminals set up in the conference rooms, or bring their own laptops. And they’ll use common desks set up near conference rooms to do work that needs to be done at work, not dedicated offices.

Improved management practices

When employees telecommute, work becomes objective and goal-oriented for everyone. It has to, in order for telecommuting to work. Employees get treated as adults instead of babies that need to be micromanaged. Clear monthly and weekly objectives get set, and employees produce status reports or track their objectives online. When tracking is enabled, it’s easy to see who performs and who doesn’t perform. Non-performers can be let go. This is efficient management. Employees are enabled to do what they need to do, and the good ones will go out there and do it.

More family time

Those of you who are married or have significant others, let me ask you this: if you had two hours a day, extra, would you spend them in traffic, or would you spend them with the person you love? That’s an easy answer, right? So okay, you don’t have a spouse. Wouldn’t you rather pursue a hobby or read a book rather than waste your time in traffic?

Safety, safety, safety

People without time constraints are more laid back when they drive. When you work from home, you don’t need to rush into work. This means we’ll have less aggressive drivers on the streets, and our lifestyles will be more relaxed on the whole. Businesses who allow their employees to telecommute are indirectly decreasing the number of accidents and costly traffic tickets.

No more workplace annoyances

This may be more of a pet peeve of mine than anyone else’s, but I’d rather use the bathroom at home than the one at work. I don’t want to go to the bathroom and see (or smell) someone else in there. Why? Because people are disgusting. I want to be able to relax, at home, in my own bathroom, where I’m not in danger of contracting other people’s germs or be subjected to other people’s gross bathroom habits. I’m sure there are plenty of things that annoy you about your own workplace or co-workers, so we probably don’t need to get started down that path. Well, wouldn’t you be happier if you could see less of those annoying people, and only deal with them through email, from time to time? I thought so.

Hope this helps you make the case for telecommuting at your own workplace. Or, that it helps business managers realize the value of this wonderful practice, which is a fantastic way to attract motivated and valuable employees to one’s organization.


Has your fish tasted funny lately?

Just found out from a Congressional Report that the US Military disposed of chemical weapons in the oceans from World War I through 1970. The report is frank about the quantities and make-up of those chemical weapons. It’s funny (in an ironic sort of way) how at first, they dumped them fairly close to shore, then, in 1970, they dumped them 250 miles offshore.

I wonder how many of those containers have already been corroded by the sea water, and how many will continue to corrode and release their poison over the years? And I also wonder how many other countries have been doing this, and when we’ll find out about it? Finally, I can’t help wondering what other dark and poisonous secrets we’ll get to find out about as the years go by… What’s been going on since 1970?