The consumer technology industry has been slower than other sectors to get greener products in the hands of customers. The reasons behind this slow progression are numerous, layered, and complicated, but the business case for green technology is finally improving.
“If you look to other industries, you actually see more sustainable behavior, and a bit more transparency,” says Eva Gouwens, CEO of Amsterdam-based Fairphone, a small sustainable-smartphone manufacturer. “The electronics industry has been a bit of a laggard.”
For years, consumer tech companies have been resistant to adopting greener practices because they were 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 recyclability have been minimal.
As each of these factors changes, consumer technology is beginning to shift. Katie Green, a sustainability experience planner for the client product group at Dell, equates the slow evolution of sustainable consumer electronics to a human life cycle.
“We’re teenagers by now,” Green says. “We’re out of the toddler stage and growing into young adults. We’ve made a lot of progress in packaging and in plastics, and we’re growing into other more difficult areas of the product design.”
According to a 2021 Pew Research study, more than 97% of Americans now own a smartphone, with more than 300 million people walking around with devices in their pockets. Around 75% of Americans own a laptop computer, while roughly half own a tablet.
More than three-fourths of the industry’s CO2 emissions come from the manufacturing, shipping, and first-year usage of smartphones, laptops, and tablets alone. When the devices are no longer wanted, they become electronic waste. A 2019 World Economic Forum report estimated around 55 million tons of global e-waste is generated per year,…
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