July was an an interesting month from the point of view of (generally positive) government involvement with environmental issues that effect the computer industry.
Biggest on the list was the activation of the RoHS Directive in the EU (here's the UK site for some more background). This put serious restrictions on the use of 6 chemicals that are known to be problematic in the waste stream (i.e. when they get thrown away). At Sun, we were in compliance on July 1st as RoHS went into effect. More importantly, we put into place some processes that will be critical as more of these types of laws take effect worldwide. I'm really proud of the work Sun has done on this (and I use 'Sun' since thousands of people were involved), and think we've done something good for the environment and put ourselves into a good position for the future.
And the future definitely holds more such regulations. China is next in line with a similar law that will take effect in the first half of 2007, followed by a long list of other countries, states, provinces, etc. How do I feel about these? While I like the intention of them and believe they will do good, there is a potential for a major problem. If every governmental bodies tries to outdo the next, it will become harder and harder for manufacturers to offer their products worldwide. Some companies may just drop certain products, others may find they can't afford to be in certain markets altogether, and others might just raise their prices to reflect an increase in cost of doing business in mish mash of locally inconsistent environmental regulations.
So we're trying to get the message out of the importance of harmonization of these types of regulations. I give China lots of credit for working to stay with the EU RoHS directive. While things aren't finalized there and there are differences, I think they are listening and working on doing the right thing. In addition, countries such as the US and Canada need to look at harmonization within their own states/provinces. We all know that the various states have differing appetites for environmental regulations, and the potential for an impenetrable mess is certainly there.
At Sun we've made big investments to be able to comply with (and in some cases, do much better than) existing and upcoming regulations, and are happy to do it given the good they'll do. Let's strive for a regulatory consistency that lets us focus our innovation and energy on greener solutions.
I'll write in an upcoming post on some of the other interesting government-related things going on.