Your smartphone is still destroying the planet, but there may be a more sustainable solution

Your smartphone is still destroying the planet, but there may be a more sustainable solution

The consumer technology industry has been slower than other sectors to get environmentally friendly products into the hands of customers. The reasons behind this slow progress are numerous, multi-layered and complex, but the feasibility study for green technology is finally getting better.

“If you look at other industries, you actually find more sustainable behavior, a bit more transparency,” says Eva Gouwens, CEO of Amsterdam-based Fairphone, a small sustainable smartphone maker. “The electronics industry has been a bit behind.”

For years, consumer tech companies have been resistant to adopting environmentally friendly practices because they have been costly. But they alone are not to blame: Consumers have traditionally wanted only the latest and greatest gadgets regardless of the impact on the environment, and government regulations regarding repairability and recycling have been minimal.

With each of these factors changing, consumer technology is beginning to shift. Katie Green, Sustainability Experience Planner for Dell’s Consumer Product Group, equates the slow evolution of sustainable consumer electronics with the human life cycle.

“We’re teenagers now,” says Green. “We have gone beyond the toddler stage and are growing into the youth stage. We have made great progress in packaging and plastics, and we are growing in other areas that are more challenging to product design.”

according to 2021 Pew Research, more than 97% of Americans now own a smartphone, with more than 300 million people roaming with devices in their pockets. About 75% of Americans own a laptop, while almost half own a tablet.

More than three-quarters of industry carbon dioxide emissions come from manufacturing, shipping, and first-year use of smartphones, laptops, and tablets alone. When devices are not required, they become electronic waste. a World Economic Forum Report 2019 It is estimated that around 55 million tons of global e-waste is generated annually, and it is expected to grow to more than 132 million tons by 2050.

As the world becomes more aware and focused on the climate crisis, consumer demands are changing, and Generation Z is driving the change. A recent report prepared by First Insight and The Wharton School It found that 75% of Generation Z respondents would choose sustainable goods over branded ones. And their interest in sustainability affects other generations, too.

Supply Chain Optimization

Many consumer electronics companies have significantly reduced their reliance on single-use plastics and non-recyclable packaging, which many in the industry agree has been the low outcome of the current sustainability movement. Now, more technology manufacturers are upping the ante and helping their suppliers transition to a greener environment.

For example, Acer, which makes a range of products from advanced gaming PCs to Chromebooks for education, has launched its Earth mission Initiative, which includes working with suppliers and motivating them to become greener.

“We are asking all major component suppliers and all of our plants to join us to reduce their emissions, and then give them points and more business,” says Greg Prendergast, president of Pan-America Operations at Acer. .

Acer is not alone in making such commitments. Google was one of the first to adopt ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) initiatives when it announced its net-zero ambitions in 2007. In 2020, Apple said it would bring its supply chain to zero by 2030. HP, Dell and Lenovo also presented Pledges to go to net zero.

Samsung also has recently announced A commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions at the enterprise level by 2050, and achieving net-zero emissions across its consumer electronics business by 2030. Part of that promise includes committing to total carbon neutrality, which is a formidable challenge, according to Mark Newton, Head of Division Sustainability for Samsung Americas.

“By 2027, Samsung will be 100% renewable everywhere in the world except Korea,” says Newton. “Korea is a special challenge. We have a lot of semiconductor manufacturing going on there, and the infrastructure isn’t very well developed yet. So we’ve been leaning into that and not just waiting for it to happen, and expecting to be able to get to it. We won’t get to net zero without that. We have to find out that part of it.”

Increased awareness and organization

Technology and recycling processes have advanced to the point that consumers may not realize that they are choosing a greener, more sustainable device. The industry says going green no longer means compromising on cost, performance, durability or life.

“Consumers don’t know, but they are already buying a computer with sustainable materials,” Green says of Dell products. “Consumers are buying it without knowing it, and it is better not to pay more for it. We really want to make sure that our sustainable products are not too expensive and not too expensive.”

Newton adds that the industry has been “quietly working” on improvements but needs to do more to educate consumers about them.

If you do not consider social and environmental impacts when making business decisions, you are not making fully informed business decisions.

Mark Newton, Head of Sustainability, Samsung Americas

“The great thing about it is that we don’t have to make it up. We just have to communicate it more effectively,” he says.

When it comes to defining and managing green appliances, each country has its own requirements and regulations – of varying strength and effectiveness.

in january, France approved the reform clause For laptops, smartphones and tablets. This new law requires device makers to tell consumers how well their products can be repaired with a score of one to ten.

It is part of a move to combat the increasing demands on our planet’s resources and planned obsolescence. Momentum is on companies to award their products a degree inrepairability index“Which includes how easy it is to disassemble the machine and how easy it is for people to get everything from spare parts to technical documents.

France won’t start imposing fines for non-compliance with the index until next year, but companies like Fairphone have already begun to capitalize on the results and educate their customers.

Making green technology a good business

As these factors converge to drive consumer technology companies toward a greener and more sustainable future, the feasibility study is beginning to take hold.

“What you’re seeing now is that other companies are becoming more and more concerned and aware of sustainability,” says Fairphone’s Gouwens. “I’m really convinced that to some extent leaders decide, ‘Hey, that’s important.'”

Newton says the sustainability feasibility study also comes from focusing on the company’s greater impact on its markets and the longer-term impact of that on market share.

“If you don’t consider social and environmental impacts when making business decisions, you’re not making fully informed business decisions,” he says. “Bringing these off-balance sheet things to this resolution helps our leaders make better decisions. When we do that, we are likely to stay in the business longer, which is another definition of sustainability.”

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