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Does technology help or hurt the environment?

Level 1
Level 1

As usual, on Earth Day we all think a bit more about the environment and our role in helping to protect the natural world around us.  Because we are all technologists of some sort here in the Community, I wanted to pose this question today: does technology help or hurt the environment? 

I'll offer my perspective and let folks respond.  I think the answer is both.  Now before you dismiss me as a wishy-washy (I prefer "flexible") fence-sitter ("centrist"), afraid to express an honest opinion ("fiscally responsible"), I will tell you why I think this way.  Honestly. 

Today, in the past, and even in the short-term future, I think technology is undeniably destructive.  The process by which we manufacture the majority of our technology products is primarily based on fossil fuels at the front end and results in non-biodegradable and sometimes toxic waste on the back end.  In the middle, we transport these goods via internal combustion engines, we sell them in artificially lit stores, and we consume massive amounts of electricity in their use. 

But don't go quitting your day jobs just yet; there's good news: renewable and clean energy generation and use is on the rise, non-toxic recyclable materials are increasing in quality and popularity, and distribution channels are becoming more efficient, and by extension, less polluting.  And what makes all of this possible?  That's right, technology. 

Right here in San Jose, we're witnessing the birth of a "Solar Valley", with alternative energy start-ups springing up all around.  New breakthroughs in e-waste recycling technology make it possible to safely recover and reuse toxic materials that were previously destined for an eternity underground.  And Internet-based communications, collaboration, and commerce have made the entire purchasing cycle more efficient, less costly, and much more environmentally friendly. 

Having been raised to respect the "glass houses" rule, I take special pride in the work we've done here at Cisco to improve our own processes and practices to minimize our impact on the environment.  From designing products that are flexible, durable, and software-upgradeable, to building products with minimal toxic materials, to funding and managing product buy-back, reuse, and recycle programs, Cisco is a leader in environmentally responsible ICT manufacturing.  (Even Greenpeace likes us.)

Obviously Cisco develops and sells a number of technologies, like WebEx and TelePresence, that help our customers reduce their impact on the environment, but we're also setting an example for our customers and partners in the use of Green technologies, as evidenced by the recent completion of our state-of-the-art Green Data Center in Allen, Texas. 

So I'll stand firm on my flexible view: technology, like most things in life, is both good and bad.  But I am completely -- honestly -- of the opinion that our continued commitment to the good will eventually make up for, if not eliminate, the bad. 

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Thoughts?  Ideas?  Criticisms?  I'd love to hear from you all on what you think we can do better.

Happy Earth Day, everyone!  Get outside and enjoy it. 


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