On the Road: 2015 Emerging Green Conference

09/29/2015

Industry Leaders Tackle the Opportunities and Obstacles Electronics Pose to a Circular Economy

 

 

 

 

Fast Facts

This was the first conference held by The Green Electronics Council

More than 200 attendees registered for the three-day event

The conference included over two dozen sessions and keynotes from various experts

The event was sponsored by several industry leaders, including UL, TÜVRheinland and Electronics Recyclers International, Inc.

The Green Electronics Council manages EPEAT standards

 

 

On the eve of Pope Francis’s now famous address to Congress regarding the earth’s man-made environmental instability and President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s promise to reduce greenhouse emissions in their respective countries, engineers, scientists, CEOs and electronics experts gathered in Portland, Oregon to discuss the impact electronic devices have on the planet and ways to combat the inevitable environmental risks of such an industry.

 

BLI attended as a session speaker to share its knowledge of the progress made by the document imaging industry thus far (based on BLI’s proprietary environmental testing), some of which was originally published in BLI’s 2014 white paper, “Environmental Trends and Projections, A Detailed Analysis of BLI Test Data.” Other sessions included discussions on e-waste, the use of hazardous materials and viable alternatives, closed-loop recycling, green product evaluation and corporate responsibility. Since electronic components can be found in just about everything from cars to kids’ toys, the speakers and topics varied greatly. Scientists discussed redesigning semiconductor packaging, chemists from leading universities shared their struggles with designing natural flame retardants, doctors decried certain chemical restrictions and economists assured us that alternative energy sources won’t be a detriment to society.

 

In addition to the panels and keynotes, The Green Electronics Council also gave out their first “Catalyst” award—to Dell. According to the Council, the Catalyst award recognizes electronics and related infrastructures' positive impact on the circular economy, where circular economy is defined as "an economic system that is safe and restorative by intention and seeks to eradicate waste through the careful design, manufacture, use and handling of products and components." Dell was recognized for its work to “close the manufacturing loop by using 100% post-consumer recycled plastic for certain components.” Dell beat out organizations such as Arrow Electronics, AutoDesk, Inc., ENERGY STAR, HP, Innovative Recycling, LittleFootprint Lighting, ReDeTec and Toshiba America Business Solutions for the inaugural award.

 

Key takeaways from the conference:

     Informed consumers hold the power. Public pressure and environmentally conscious RFPs can often shape the industry.

     Identifying conflict minerals is still a difficult process. Finding the true source of minerals (and whether they’ve been ethically extracted) can be challenging and costly. One solution mentioned was to phase out the use of metals and instead use recyclable plastics wherever feasible. In addition, one speaker mentioned that the use of precious metals in devices encourages dangerous ad-hoc methods of recovery, which can be seen in developing nations that receive the brunt of the world’s e-waste.

     Chemical use is also a struggle. While one speaker mentioned how RoHS is not a viable standard for medical equipment due to the lack of alternatives for the chemicals used, another speaker mentioned how the lack of transparency from the chemical industry is a roadblock for development.

     Supply chain procurement needs to be more transparent. Many speakers and attendees criticized the lack of information disseminated from companies regarding their supply chains.

     E-waste continues to increase. In addition to the mounting destruction caused by e-waste dumps in developing countries, some future waste has yet to be dealt with, such as photovoltaic panels, which are expected to grow from 60,000 tons in 2015 to 20 million tons in 2050; and nano materials, such as nanotubes, that are difficult to remove from water and survive municipal waste incineration.

 

Although many of the issues highlighted have no direct solutions, organizations are working on standards and guidelines, such as EPEAT, that the electronics industry can use to help combat some of these issues today and into the future. But help from corporate collaboration, government institutions and the public is needed to further improve our environmental future. Andrew Winston, author of “Green to Gold,” spoke at the event’s awards dinner about the countless opportunities that can come with environmental action. But it takes some initiative. He used the analogy of a boat filling up with water. “You wouldn't ask everyone in the boat how much they think they can bail in the next hour and then perhaps give them a ‘stretch’ target. No, you'd figure out how much water needs to be bailed and divide up the labor as equitably as possible.”

 

Many of the presentations delivered at the conference will be available through The Green Electronics Council’s Emerging Green website in the coming weeks.