Sustainability In Electronics Industry

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The 'Keys' To Sustainability In Electronics Industry

Sustainability Spheres

Sustainability seems to be the buzz word today in all industry and business circles. However, the concept of sustainability can seem abstract and complex without the context of making it relatable to a community's or an individual's everyday life. For companies, where sustainability extends to adopting a Triple Bottom Line (Financial - Profit, Social - People and Environmental - Planet), it is quite daunting for business owners and professionals to constantly balance the interconnections between the environment, society and economy. Another major challenge for companies is its measurability. Consumer Electronics is one such overarching industry, where we are yet to find the 'keys' to its sustainable use. 

Electronics has permeated our daily lives so much that living without them even for a day seems unthinkable. Everything from cooking to music uses electronics or electronic components. According to the Consumer Electronics Association, Americans own approximately 24 electronic products per household. No surprises that  electronic waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the country. 2.4 million tons of electronic waste hit US landfills each year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This enormous amount of e-waste includes 142,000 computers and 416,000 mobile devices thrown away on a per day basis. According to the EPA, just over 40% of consumer electronics is recovered, the rest ending up in landfills. the graph below gives information on recovery rates (through recycling and composting) of Municipal Solid Waste in 2014.    

 

TCO Development: Measuring Sustainability In The Electronic Industry

Electronics are associated with many sustainability risks throughout the life cycle, such as working conditions in manufacturing, negative environmental effects, energy consumption, hazardous substances, usability and e-waste. TCO Development, a non-profit organization based in Stockholm, Sweden, with regional presence in Asia and North America has developed the international sustainability certification for IT products: TCO certified. With life cycle criteria for social and environmental responsibility, TCO Certified helps organizations around the world make more sustainable IT choices. TCO Certified is a type 1 Ecolabel in accordance with ISO 14024. This means that criteria development is based on scientific principles and involves multiple stakeholders and experts in an open development process. TCO Certified contains criteria aimed at various phases of development and use of an electronic product.

Manufacturing: Socially responsible manufacturing, environmental management system.

Use: Climate, ergonomics, health and safety, extended product life and emissions.

Electronic RecycleEnd of Cycle:  Reduction of hazardous content and chemicals, design for recycling.

Impacts And Insights: A New Progress Report

TCO Certified  has released a new report chronicling 16 major companies and their progress toward a socially and environmentally sustainable life cycle for computers, tablets and electronics. The report compares the 2013 - 2016 data on compliance with code of conduct. Brand owners included in the case study are Acer, AOC, ASUS, BenQ, Dell, EIZO, Fujitsu, Hanns.G. HP, Iiyama, Lenovo, LG, NEC, Philips, TERRA and ViewSonic. The report 'Impacts and Insights' focuses on brand owner responsibility for manufacturing processes (including compliance with labor laws and international conventions), working hours in factories, conflict minerals, toxic chemicals in products and the impact of brand collaboration to pressure factories to improve conditions. It notes major progress on certain issues like sustainability and factory worker conditions as well as areas that still need improvement.

Soren EnholmSören Enholm, CEO of TCO Development, comments: “We’re really pleased to see these improvements in important areas like discrimination, forced labor in the factories where certified products are made. A continuing concern however is in working hours, with a large portion of the workforce taking excessive overtime. While we’ve seen some improvement this year, it’s clearly something that will demand our continued attention moving forward." 

Major Findings Of The Report

1. Socially Responsible Manufacturing

  • Measurable improvements in socially responsible manufacturing where TCO Certified products are made 
  • Reduction from 16 brand owners in 2013 to 2 in 2016 showing code of conduct violations. Remaining two brand owners showed health and safety non-conformities, which have since been remediated
  • Compliance with labor law provisions, particularly working hours, is still a persistent problem industry-wide, despite some measurable improvement among certifying brand owners.

​2. Hazardous Chemicals 

  • A paradigm shift in hazardous chemicals Moving from chemicals with unknown human health and environmental effects, to safer chemicals where these effects are known.
  • Only flame retardant chemicals that have been independently assessed and benchmarked as safer alternatives are used in certified products
  • Increased transparency through a public list of safer, accepted flame retardant chemicals

C. IT Industry’s Proactive Work 

  • Observed broader proactive engagement in social responsibility initiatives
  • Improved engagement in systems for handling corruption and worker grievances, along with greater supply chain sustainability
  • Further investigation needed in preventing non-conformities in working conditions and better knowledge of supply chain

Bjorn-Erik Lonn, Chair Global Ecolabelling NetworkThe electronics supply chain is very complex. Brand owners are best positioned to take overall responsibility for social and environmental sustainability, and the follow-up from TCO Development shows positive effects when they do”, says Bjorn-Erik Lonn, Chair, Global Ecolabelling Network, the organization for independent environmental certifications.  

About the Organization 

TCO Certified is a worldwide sustainability certification that promotes sustainably designed IT products. ​For 25 years, TCO Certified has provided solutions for reducing risk and meeting sustainability challenges connected to IT products. Independent verification of product, factory and brand owner compliance, both pre- and post-certification, is included in TCO Certified.