Thursday 20 October 2011

Working lives

This less than inspiring photo shows the broadband connection that makes it possible for me to work from home but write computer systems for clients in Australia.

The technology means that a relatively small consumption of electricity provides employment for 4 people - one of whom cycles to my house each day to work, the others drive relatively short distances. My staff spend some money in the village shop and I can offer flexible hours to a single mother.

Working from home means that 4 people (and the cat) are kept warm all winter by one small wood burner fuelled mainly by discarded wood. The computer hardware has a long life, we upgrade components to avoid complete replacement and anything that becomes too old for our use finds a new life with Recycle PC. So those are the good parts but is it a sustainable way to earn a living?

Computers use Rare Earth minerals, some of which have known reserves of only a few years – the industry is going to have to get a lot better at recycling. But the big question is - how do our clients earn their money? We are not sustainable if they are not. Our clients are very diverse, some offer education, some provide services others supply and fit items – a pretty average mix and fortunately none of them is involved in anything really unsustainable. But the clients in turn are dependent on people to buy their services and the same is true for anyone who provides a service to the general public. We are all part of the same system and have to take some responsibility for the whole. Even TN’s Farmshare scheme is dependent on people to earn money to pay for their veg boxes.

The computer industry has its good and bad points – the Internet has enabled the sharing of knowledge and ideas and is heavily used by Transition – yet much of the structure of the internet is funded by advertising, often promoting the worst forms of unnecessary consumption.

We can’t change the system overnight but we can all nudge things in the right direction through the choices that we make every day. Since we are all dependent on each other, all those nudges should create an accelerating , virtuous cycle. I hope!

1 comment:

  1. Hi John, thanks for the post! IT is an interesting industry from a sustainability point of view, because on the one hand it helps to prevent extensive foreign travel and brings the working world "closer together", but on the other hand, it still requires energy & rare earths to run, and is funded by international markets with all sorts of different (not necessarily bad!) agendas.

    Having a home office is a bit clearer - if you're only heating one house (on renewable fuels), rather than having to drive to some electrically lit, air-conditioned out-of-town office and still have your house kept warm whilst you're away, you're obviously going to be using a lot less energy!