It looks like PC makers such as Dell (NASDAQ:DELL), Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ), and IBM (NYSE:IBM) are moving to make socially conscious investors happy by beefing up their commitment to recycling computer equipment. Dell is leading the pack at the moment, preparing to publicize its recycling goals, and its competitors are expected to feel pressure soon to follow suit.

The Calvert Group, which manages some 30 socially responsible mutual funds, has argued that many more PCs need to be recycled instead of being thrown away and that industry-wide standards need to be set, such as forms of measurement, which can help the public track progress. (For example, tons of PCs recycled or the number of PCs recycled might be cited.) While many household and office products that end up in landfills or burned are somewhat harmless, computer equipment is full of hazardous materials, such as lead, mercury, cadmium, and various chemicals.

To get an idea of how few PCs are recycled these days, consider that according to a ZDWire Plus article:

  • IBM took back 780,000 PCs in 2002 and 1.1 million in 2003, shipping 8 million and 9 million PCs in those years, respectively.

  • During the 12 years that Dell has had a recycling program in place, it has churned out tens of millions of PCs (more than 25 million in 2003 alone) but has only recycled 2 million of them.

  • Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM shipped a total of 60 million PCs in 2003, and on average, about 50 million PCs are expected to be discarded each year over the next five years.

  • "While most buyers replace their PCs every three to five years, the average age of a PC that is broken down by HP is between 11 and 13 years old and the average age of a PC collected by Dell at recycling events last summer was about 7 years old."

There's room for improvement on the recycling front. There's also a need for education on the topic, as many executives surveyed didn't seem to realize that throwing away computers isn't a good idea. (To be fair, many businesses donate old PCs to charity.)

What's motivating Dell and its peers? They may simply be realizing that recycling is the right thing to do, for the environment and shareholders alike. But more cynical sorts might note that there's movement among legislators to begin setting recycling requirements for the industry and that this kind of action might demonstrate that legislation isn't necessary. Small investors, meanwhile, may rejoice that some large investors, such as mutual funds, are pushing for progress.

To learn more about interesting and promising mutual funds, check out our brand new newsletter, Motley Fool Champion Funds .

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.