High Tech Hits the Environmental and Safety Wall

Last Updated Jul 30, 2010 4:26 PM EDT

Just when you thought you were safe spending money, a new report found high levels of BPA, a chemical linked to health risks, in cash register receipts. It seems that the substance, often found in plastic water and food containers, showed up in two-fifths of the slips tested by the non-profit Environmental Working Group.

What do cash register receipts have to do with high tech? Everything. They come out of peripherals tied to point-of-sale systems and are an example of how health, safety, environmental, and political issues that have confronted other industries now face technology. The considerations for reputation and legal safety are significant. Executives will need to address at a fundamental level how they approach business, make decisions, and run their operations.

Studies have found that people often have elevated levels of BPA in their systems. A noted chemist last year suggested that cash receipts could be a significant cause.
The receipts came from purchases made at places including Safeway, Whole Foods, CVS, Walmart, Chevron, McDonald's, the U.S. Postal Service and cafeterias in the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. They also included three fast-food franchises (Starbucks, Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's) located in Japan.Chemical analyses turned up BPA on all but seven receipts. Sixteen hosted substantial quantities, averaging 1.9 percent BPA by weight of a receipt (and ranging from 0.8 to 2.8 percent).
With only 36 receipts tested, the sample was laughably small. But these companies won't be laughing when many consumers who are already nervous about the chemical decide that anger and panic are the better part of rational analysis. And who will have to explain how a suspected carcinogen wound up on the receipts? The CIOs.

Think that this is an odd case of tagging tech for terrible tendencies? Not on your life. Here are just a few incidents that recently were in the news:
It won't be too long before all companies manufacturing or using technology will need to ensure that they don't directly or indirect cause harm. I think that, at a minimum, they'll have to conduct due diligence to ensure that the technology they use avoids unsafe working conditions, health risks, environmental damage, and the like. That means high tech companies had better expect corporate clients to eventually demand all sorts of certifications and testing. No CEO or CIO will be willing to shoulder the potential bad publicity or liability for using products and tools that simply shouldn't create problems.

Image: Flickr user ER24 EMS (Pty) Ltd., CC 2.0.
  • Erik Sherman On Twitter»

    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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