How were computers in 2006

Digitization and data protection

Dennis Mocigemba

To person

Dr. phil., born 1975; Postdoctoral Fellow at the International University Bremen, Jacobs Center for Lifelong Learning, Communication Science. P.O. Box 750 561, 28725 Bremen.
Email: [email protected]

Various discourses from the IT world are presented as sustainability debates by reducing them to their normative basic idea, the mediation between economic, social and ecological interests.


On April 22nd, 2005's Earth Day, activists from various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) gathered for an unApple campaign in front of the Apple Computers headquarters in Cupertino, California. With their protest, they wanted to warn the company to comply with social and ecological standards. The computer company celebrated one record profit after the next in the past few quarters. Compared to its competitors Hewlett Packard and Dell, so the activists' core allegation, Apple is a straggler when it comes to handling electronic waste and continues to produce products with high levels of heavy metals that are harmful to the environment and health.

In Europe, especially in Germany, an institutional framework was created comparatively quickly for the toxic and electronic waste debate: In January 2003, the European Union issued guidelines on the reduction of hazardous substances in new devices and on the handling of old devices. Germany was one of the first member states to transpose both directives into national law with the "Law on the Marketing, Taking Back and Environmentally Compatible Disposal of Electrical and Electronic Equipment" (ElektroG), which came into force on March 23, 2005.

The toxins and electronic waste debate serves as a clear and up-to-date example of a balance between economic interests and ecological and social demands of different actors within the world of information technology (IT). Debates of a similar nature have strongly shaped, even divided, the IT industry in the past: Buzzwords such as free software, digital divide, software patents and open source have harbored a strong potential for conflict for years, sometimes for decades. The debates associated with these buzzwords have so far rarely been associated with the term sustainability. This is mainly due to the fact that their focus was mostly on balancing economic and social interests. Ecological aspects only played a role with regard to health aspects and consumer protection.

The term sustainability originally comes from forestry. In the meantime it has had a remarkable career as a political concept and has been seeping into everyday language for several years. The result is competing definitions of terms and growing ambiguity. According to the Future Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland Report) published in 1987, sustainability is understood here as a process of negotiation between various actors and interest groups aimed at balancing economic, ecological and social interests. [1]

Some of these negotiation processes are outlined below and reduced to their basic normative idea: the mediation between economic, social and ecological interests. Such a reduction opens the discourses of the IT world to outsiders and allows a broader communication of what the sometimes very technical debates are about. This enables broad participation in the discussion of the question of which world we want to live with which technology. This participation is the necessary prerequisite for any form of sustainable development.