Applied Thought! Wipro ready to meet Greenpeace challenge?

Feature story - November 23, 2005
BANGALORE, India — When large corporations are challenged to change their business practices, they usually respond grudgingly, with tentative, half-baked measures – especially if the change benefits the planet, not necessarily their bottom lines. Occasionally, however, a company like Wipro surprises us by acknowledging that what's good for the planet is good for business too! Ten weeks after Greenpeace told Wipro to reduce the burden of its electronic waste on the planet, the company has shown it is capable of leading the pack – and is willing to implement swift, decisive change.

Greenpeace activists urge Wipro to apply thought.

In September 2005, Greenpeace exhorted Wipro to 'Apply Thought,' shift to clean production and take responsibility for the tons of toxic electronic waste they have generated over the years. With 500 kilos of Wipro's electronic waste, we presented a convincing argument of the need for change, and of Wipro's role in the unfolding toxic crisis.

Ten weeks later, Wipro showed it is, indeed, capable of leading the industry towards positive change. In a meeting with Greenpeace campaigners, senior Wipro officials have committed to creating a road-map for 'Clean Production' within the next six months, and assured us that in the meantime they will set up systems to ensure they take back their e-waste.

How clean is clean?

International companies like Sony, Samsung and LG have already shown that it is possible to substitute harmful chemicals with safe alternatives. We want Wipro, with its growing stature as an Indian MNC, to occupy a similar position of pride in our international Hall of Fame.

Wipro's indication that it is ready to move towards clean production is welcome, however, at present they're only talking about the basic initial steps towards clean production. We're not going to be fobbed off with half-hearted promises - if Wipro says it is committed to clean production, we expect it to go all the way, and commit to eliminate all OSPAR chemicals  from their products. As a reminder, we have handed over this list to the senior Wipro officials who met us.

What about the waste?

In September, we asked Wipro if they had a policy to take-back end of life computers. They said, "Yes, but only if you're buying another Wipro computer." An exchange policy, you see, only if you're upgrading to a bigger, better (more expensive?) Wipro product. Not quite what we would call Extended Producer Responsibility, and we told them so.

But Wipro is set to surprise us yet again - they've taken up our challenge with appropriate seriousness, and responded with a plan that they have said would be implemented in the near future.

Apart from informing their customers, Wipro has committed to send all its waste only to authorized recycling yards. (They've been rapped on the knuckles by the Pollution Control Board for earlier transgressions on this count!)

They have even gone so far as to say they'll consider a commercial buy-back deal for some of their customers. Undoubtedly, this will make Wipro products an easier choice for organizational purchasers.

But we're not celebrating just yet; for one, this is just a statement that they concede our demands in principle. It will be six months before we even see a concrete plan for action, one that we can put under a microscope to see exactly how, and how much, it will affect the ground realities of the grisly recycling yards. Also, as one of the company officials admitted to us, Wipro controls only 2 percent of the market share - for real change, other companies must follow Wipro's example and take responsibility for their share of the waste-stream.

On its part, Wipro has initiated discussions on manufacturers' need to take back their end-of-life products, as well as on the issue of clean production, at the Manufacturers' Association for Information Technology (MAIT). It remains to be seen how responsive and responsible MAIT shall prove to be, but a nodal agency has been formed to respond to our persistent demands for clean production and extended producer responsibility.

So if you're about to junk the PC you're reading this on - hang in there for a while. The manufacturer might soon be held responsible to ensure that it is given a safe and decent burial, at a resting place that does not contaminate workers or the environment.

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