How are consumer electronics becoming more sustainable?

May 16, 2022

 

Certain words sometimes get in danger of becoming no more than buzzwords. From “unprecedented” being overused in the pandemic, “lit” being used among millennials a few years ago, and now - “sustainability”.

But while some words should truly head to early retirements, “sustainability” isn’t one of them. With the looming climate change symptoms we’re experiencing, the mindset is beginning to change. Consumers are demanding more sustainable consumer electronic options!

So, with consumer electronic manufacturers feeling the pressure to cater to their target audience, they are also finding achieving eco-friendliness harder than it seems.

How do you procure the needed materials for manufacturing? How do the upgrade cycles already in place fit into a greener way of production? What will we do without plastic?

Before you descend into panic mode, read our insight on sustainability in consumer electronics to get a feel of what your competition is doing. Hopefully, you will walk away with some tricks up your sleeve!

 

Where are We Now?

It’s no secret that manufacturing in-demand gadgets such as smartphones is draining us of our natural resources and releases greenhouse gas emissions.

The entire quantity of resources required to make these new gadgets is hard to estimate, but manufacturers' efforts to disclose their products' environmental effects provide some insight. For example, Google estimates that the manufacture of its Pixel 5 phone emits 67 kilograms of CO2; the production of the company's less powerful Pixel 4a phone emits 33 kilos of CO2.

And none of this takes into consideration what occurs once a gadget leaves the manufacturer. Researchers discovered that when the devices are in use in customers' homes, they account for more than half of the carbon footprint.

The more you dismantle a product, the more difficult it becomes to make it eco-friendly: That's why the industry's efforts have thus far been concentrated on the packaging, materials, and cases of individual products, with little attention paid to the inner workings of our gadgets. Chipsets, circuit boards, and the like are time-consuming to manufacture, difficult to dispose of, and nearly impossible to replace.

Increased Recycling Efforts

Recycling is one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of “eco-friendly” efforts since it lowers the need for new materials and other resources. When an expert dives deep into product design, it becomes clear that lots of the resources used in consumer electronics can be sourced from recycled electronics.

 

And not just electronics. For instance, some computers are now being built with regular plastic resins! Overall, the movement is gaining traction, with some regions and countries even instilling initiatives that fuel greener behavior. The European Union (EU) has passed directives covering the Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), Energy-related Products (ERP), and Ecodesign.

One of the most important aspects of recycling correctly is proper testing to ensure that safety and performance are still intact, even with used materials.

Reducing Waste and Repairing Products

For the circular economy to work, we need to forget about cheap and disposable gadgets. Products should be used, reused, and recycled as much as possible. So the mantra, in this case, is “repair rather than replace”.

A great example of reducing waste is coming from France. To reduce the country’s carbon footprint, France introduced the Anti-Waste for a Circular Economy act (AGEC). One of the provisions is related to the availability of spare parts and obligating manufacturers to provide information on their reliability. Moreover, the act deals with time frames for repair and the need to leverage parts that sustain a circular economy.

Hardware and software with built-in obsolescence technology are from the act’s introduction (2020) required to display their repairability score. Other countries are encouraged to follow such a radical act since it has shown to lengthen a product’s lifespan, which in turn lowers waste.

Usage of Raw Materials

Another great way certain manufacturers are making their tech more green is by sourcing sustainable raw materials. Brands and manufacturers are not just doing this for marketing efforts, but also to reduce waste and lower their production costs.

Electronic devices use large amounts of lithium, cadmium, lead, and mercury. That contaminates both water and soil, along with air. That is why sizable efforts have been made to find alternatives to these practices.

Aluminum, iron alloy, graphene, borosilicate glass - all of these raw materials were found as useful for manufacturing electronics. And since we know we’re talking business here and that rarely does someone wants to make changes to their production cycle just for goodwill - let it be known that raw materials can save you time, money, and energy. If you are unsure where to start with such innovative solutions, you can always employ the help of a product design consultancy.

Energy Efficient Efforts

It’s not easy being green, but one of the ways we as a society have moved the most toward green consumption is energy efficiency. Those businesses committed to the cause have shown promising numbers in lowered energy consumption.

But with more and more people relying on personal gadgets, there needs to be an even greater push to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The ENERGY STAR program in the United States, for example, uses energy efficiency rating systems to assist consumers to pick better goods. The EU had to establish a new energy labeling system in January 2019 when the old version became outdated, demonstrating the usefulness of these initiatives in motivating firms to manufacture more efficient goods.

Consumer electronics makers have made significant progress in lowering energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Leading electronics businesses have demonstrated 70 percent improved product efficiency compared to a decade ago, the leverage of entirely renewable energy at facilities, and a 466,000-ton decrease in greenhouse gas emissions.

Final Word

Eco-friendly product design is a learning process. It is currently going on in many companies around the globe, small and big. It will get difficult before it gets easier, seeing how the simplest eco-friendly thing a business can do is just pack its product in “green” packaging - for now. But engineering consumer electronics by veering them into the more sustainable territory is a career-long effort for many professionals. Some things cannot be done yet because they haven’t been invented.

Balancing performance with recycled content is a delicate task since degrading the product is not an option. So we are slowly moving towards the goal, in eco-friendly baby steps.

 

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Thomas P
I believe in making the impossible possible because there’s no fun in giving up. Travel, design, fashion and current trends in the field of industrial construction are topics that I enjoy writing about.

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