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Becoming PC with unwanted computers

News

Cite as: (2005) 79(11) LIJ, p. 24

Lawyers and law firms are being urged to think carefully about how they dispose of unwanted computer equipment.

Unwanted or unused computers no longer need be relegated to the office storeroom, left to gather dust and forgotten until they are dispatched to the potentially environmentally-damaging option of landfill.

A number of organisations in Victoria have been set up to take second-hand computers, restore them to usefulness and pass them on or sell at minimal cost to people on low incomes.

This helps the environment by reducing landfill and toxic compounds, such as mercury, from leaching into the soil.

One such organisation, Infoxchange, encouraged law firms and solicitors to think about such an environmentally-friendly approach when considering what to do with old PCs, monitors, laptops or printers.

“We would love legal firms to think about the type of work we are doing and donate unwanted equipment to our project,” Infoxchange operations manager Claudio Angelucci said.

The project, called Green PC, involves training long-term unemployed to be the technicians involved in refurbishing the computers.

Since 1989, more than 12,000 computers have been restored at workshops in Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and Perth.

Mr Angelucci said this included 500 computers delivered to the Tsunami appeal and about 30 to schools in East Timor.

At a local level, people who are holders of current Health Care Cards or who are on a low income are eligible to buy an Internet-ready computer from Green PC, with prices starting from about $150.

Green PC takes computers no older than 1997 – Pentium II 300 and above – reformat the hard drives, clean out the systems and, with support from Microsoft Australia, install programs to allow people to use Excel, Word and email. Computers no longer working have the components put to use restoring other machines.

Monitors 17 inches and bigger are also taken and refurbished.

Mr Angelucci said law firms which donated 10 unwanted computers could nominate two to go to a particular person or community organisation.

Baker & McKenzie has acted pro bono for Infoxchange for about five years and partner Ken Gray is a director of the organisation.

“It’s an amazing organisation. It is unique in terms of its focus of delivering IT to less advantaged people,” he said.

Mr Gray also encouraged law firms to consider giving old computer equipment to the project, rather than throwing it out.

Corrs Chambers Westgarth has previously donated at least 160 computers and 30 monitors to Green PC and also gives them to other charities and schools.

Corrs Chambers Westgarth chief information officer Vic Wotherspoon said upgrading the firm’s fleet incrementally each year had benefited many organisations, with an average of about 250 computers a year being turned over nationally.

Slater & Gordon has donated old computers to the Asbestos Diseases Society, an organisation which supports children with learning disabilities, and to schools. In August this year, it gave 30 computers and 30 monitors to a TAFE program for refurbishment and distribution to charities.

Law Institute of Victoria president Tory Strong said computers were an important tool but something people often took for granted.

“The ability to provide disadvantaged groups and individuals with refurbished computers is an extremely worthwhile project and I commend those involved,” she said.

“I would encourage all law firms to consider donating their unwanted computers as it is such a terrific way to put something back into the community and to help the environment.”

While the invention of the computer triggered dreams of a more environmentally-friendly, paperless office, it has largely not eventuated, particularly in the legal domain. Instead, paper consumption is on the increase.

With large law firms using about 12 million sheets of white office paper each year, the legal industry has been urged to take control of their workplaces and take up environmentally-friendly measures.

At the forefront of the charge is Lawyers For Forests (LFF), a group set up four years ago, which has produced an Eco-Kit, “Becoming Forest Friendly”.

The comprehensive 43-page kit seeks to educate people and details some easy and effective ways for law firms to reduce the impact they have on the environment and, in particular, native forest resources.

Staff at Gadens Lawyers in Sydney were shocked to discover earlier this year that their annual paper consumption was equal to at least eight football fields of Indonesian forest – or 6.9 million sheets of A4 paper in the 2003/04 financial year.

This corresponded to the deforestation of about 2266 trees in Indonesia, or about 24 trees per legal practitioner at the Sydney office. Gadens Lawyers has more than 100 partners and 820 staff in Australia and Papua New Guinea.

The law firm has since committed to an environmental program called Greener Gadens, which was launched on 19 July and involves using 100 per cent recycled paper, minimising paper use and encouraging paperless file storage.

The Greener Gadens’ launch is part of the firm’s Environmental Management System which sets a roadmap for managing the impact of the firm’s activities on the environment.

Lethbridges’ principal Gerard Lethbridge, in Melbourne, was also astounded at the amount of paper consumed at his Lonsdale Street office when he began recycling paper at the firm.

He said his workplace had adopted more environmentally-friendly practices with encouragement and guidance from the LFF Eco-Kit.

“I really had no idea just how much paper we went through. Now that I see what goes into the recycle bin each week from a small firm, I am astounded at the level of paper consumption,” Mr Lethbridge said.

“Before the recycling, it all went in the bin and was out of sight. It’s paper warfare in legal offices and even a little management goes a long way in making some small contribution to the environment.”

An electronic version of the Eco-Kit is available on the LFF website http://www.lawyersforforests.asn.au.

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