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Big business, sustainable technology and empowering the customer

Jacki O'Neill, Stefania Castellani, Antonietta Grasso
Companies can consider environmental issues across four dimensions: reducing costs and production impact, diminishing risks of lack of compliance to regulations, developing new products that have lower impact and promoting the brand environmental perception [1]. In this framework, Xerox made early innovations in sustainable technology with the aim of reducing its production cost, lowering risks and reducing the impact of its products on the environment: most of their machines use reclaimed parts, Xerox machines promoted energy star compliance before regulations were set, new inks have been produced that have lower impact, etc. [2] However, it has been only in answer to the new growing awareness of its customers and their concerns about sustainability, that the company has started an initiative to pull together the various scattered initiatives and work on a coordinated program (including production operations and research) toward the production of a concept eco-printer. In this initiative research will push its limits on manufacturing, power consumption and materials. While manufacturing is the most natural ground for Xerox to intervene, in parallel, this activity has triggered some re-thinking of how the service side of the companies offer can embrace and include sustainability considerations. To answer this request some rethinking of research topics is being undertaken in the research centres and we are now examining how each of the current projects could be environmentally relevant. In this position paper, we re-evaluate one such project – device technical support – in this light. We describe the ways in which the technology developed in this project might contribute to sustainability: primarily through ecological benefits, but also by enabling the customer to repair their own machine, that is to keep their machine up and running without recourse to costly support, waste might be reduced (that is, better to fix and mend than buy a new model). However, for the purposes of this workshop, with it s emphasis on international development, we note that the very features that enable the enhanced self-support are likely to mean that self-support is not available in the very places which need it most. In doing so, we begin to consider the practical relationship between profit, sustainability and empowerment. We are well aware that we raise more questions than we provide answers to but we hope that this paper will stand as an interesting starting point.
CHI 2008, Workshop on "HCI for Community and International Development", Florence, Italy, April 5-6, 2008.