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Tuesday, May 6, 2008


The ICEB recently sent four MBA students to participate in the National Intercollegiate Business Ethics Competition at Loyola Marymount University in LA. The students proposed that the judges (acting as executives at a computer company) initiate a corporate take-back policy for their electric components.

Electronic waste, called e-waste, is one of the world’s fasted growing pollution problems and is not limited to computer parts. E-waste accounts for 70% of America’s toxic garbage and 2% of America’s total garbage. This smaller number, however, may be misrepresented, as much of the e-waste is exported to developing countries like China, India Thailand and Nigeria. Some companies are, in essence, outsourcing their pollution. In 2002 alone, 10.2 million computers were exported for illegal “recycling.” Much of these products end up in landfills where local adults and children find them and melt the valuable (yet toxic) materials down for resale. Harmful chemicals often drain into the soil and groundwater, further hurting the local peoples.

Using several systems currently in place in the EU (WEEE), Washington and California as a point of reference, the group argued that it is the company’s responsibility to dispose of this e-waste properly, speaking to ethical, legal and economic issues. Beyond the goodwill produced by such a process, often overlooked is the potential for income generation or cost savings that might also be produced.

Who do you think should be responsible for the disposal of electronic components? Do you agree that companies should take the lead? Or should the consumer be held accountable? Should the US adopt the systems currently in place in Europe and California?


Anonymous said...

Companies should take the lead if it is going to provide a benefit to the bottom line of the company. This is not just through parts but if the public adds value to the brand because of such a program. This is the issue the company needs to address. If the company sees no benefit then they are probably no likely to do it and the default should land on consumer. The problem we all know is that if the consumer doesn't have incentives and in this case, I really don't think they have much unless the government steps up and says this is really hurting the environment. Afterwards you will see programs and grassroots stuff showing up to take care of the problem. Let this run its course and a solution will fall out. No action necessary.

Fifth Freedom Futurist said...

The day after experiencing the WFS-2007 Conference, I met with our program director for CSR Global Sustainability Programs at General Mills WHQ in Golden Valley.

We explored adapting KU-AIS Balanced Scorecard models to benchmark ALL-WinWin Community of Practice (CoP) group decision support systems.

GDSS critical success factors include:
[1] Economics
[2] Education (Knowledge Factors)
[3] Empowerment (vs. Enforcement)
[3] Energy (KU-DCM Collaboratory)
[5] Environment
[6] Ethics

Carlos said...

Could you cite a source for
E-waste accounting for 70% of America's toxic garbage?

I'd really like to read more about that.

Rock Chalk Ethics Talk said...


This statistic came from a 2007 Mother Jones column by Giles Slade. I do not know the original source he used, but it looks as though this statistic is used quite often.

You might enjoy taking a look at this article from the Environmental Impact Assessment Review.

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