Is sustainable technology a possibility? As we all know well, technology is the forefront of innovation. With nearly 2 billion devices sold in 2016 alone, it looks like demand for more and more consumer electronics will only continue to grow. This mean more mined materials, dirty energy and e-waste. The UN has estimated that e-waste globally will surpass 65 million tons in 2017. That’s enough to bury San Francisco to 14 feet!
Today, Greenpeace USA released the 2017 Guide to Greener Electronics, with rankings of seventeen of the world’s leading consumer electronics companies rated on sustainable manufacturing and design of their IT products. The brands were evaluated based on their transparency, commitment, performance and advocacy efforts in the areas of: reduction of greenhouse gases through renewable energy, use of recycled materials and elimination of hazardous chemicals.
Is Sustainable Technology in Our Future?
Unfortunately, it seems like we have a long way to go before sustainable technology is a reality. The average grade across the 17 companies evaluated was a D+, showing that the sector as a whole has work to do. Fairphone, based in the Netherlands, scored best overall with a B, followed by Apple with a B-. Dell and HP follow Apple and Fairphone with a C+. Eleven companies, including Samsung, Huawei and Amazon, all fell in the D and F range.
Why? Samsung’s manufacturing system relies heavily on fossil fuels, for example. The company used more than 16,000 GWh of energy in 2016, with just 1% coming from renewables.
Up to 80% of the carbon footprint of electronic devices occurs during manufacturing. While Google, Apple and other Internet companies are making progress transitioning their data centers to renewable energy, nearly all of the companies have yet to address the rapidly growing carbon footprint and dependence on dirty energy in their supply chains.
According to the report, apple is the only company thus far that has committed to moving towards 100% renewable power for its supply chain.
Another problem is that planned obsolescence is not exactly a sustainable technology strategy. Many of the latest products are difficult to repair or upgrade, and purposely so. HP, Dell, and Fairphone are the notable exceptions to this trend, producing a growing number of products that are repairable and upgradable.
We don’t know enough about their suppliers, either. Most companies publish little information on their suppliers, keeping their environmental footprint of their supply chains hidden. More transparency is going to become even more important in future reports. In order to have truly sustainable technology, the public will need access to more supplier information.
And what about the chemicals used in production? Apple, Dell, Google, and Microsoft are the only companies in the Guide that publish a list of substances that must be restricted in the manufacturing of their devices (MRSL), including known hazards benzene, n-hexane, and toluene. It kind of makes you wonder what the rest are hiding, doesn’t it?
What are we hoping for in the near future? As the companies that produce our beloved electronics continue to grow, we hope that they’ll take responsibility for a rapidly increasing footprint on the planet. The goal, as the folks at GreenPeace put it, is go:
- Shift supply chains to be renewably powered.
- Reduce the cycle of constant consumption of more minerals and other resources by designing long lasting products that use more recycled materials.
- Detox their products and their supply chain by finding alternatives to hazardous chemicals.
How Consumers Can Push for More Sustainable Technology
The question now is, what can we do while we’re waiting for sustainable technology to become a reality?
Ask questions. Find out if you the product you are purchasing is going to be obsolete quicker than your intended lifecycle for the product. Don’t let manufacturers trick you.
Demand better. Let the technology companies know that you expect them to be working towards a better future for the planet. After all, they live here too. If we demand better, sustainable technology may truly be a possibility.
Purchase less. Sure, those new bluetooth headphones are trendy, but do you really need them? Can you hold on to yours for one more year, and get new ones next year instead??? Think about it, at the very least. There’s always going to be something new coming out. Always. That’s the lure of a trend.
Give your tech a longer life. Donate any items you’re no longer using. There are people in need all over the place who would benefit from technology. Call local charitable organizations. Check in with the police department, especially for cell phones. You can even donate old and broken items to high schools and tech schools for their classes.
To read the entire 2017 Guide to Greener Electronics from Greenpeace USA, go to: www.greenpeace.org/greenerguide.
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