Electronics and Earth Day
Electronics and Earth Day
I’m grateful to those companies that use Earth Day as a rallying cry to bring awareness of the environmental risks associated with electronics to their employees and communities. While I emphatically believe that every day should be Earth Day, I’m fully aware that it isn’t for most people, and that the education gap remains huge.
Although we can track many environmental metrics across the decades since the first Earth Day (1970), the emerging problems associated with electronics and the environment had not yet hit mainstream awareness. It was nearly a decade later when volatile organic compounds (VOCs), commonly used in the manufacture of semiconductors, were first discovered in shallow ground water from industrial operations in the Silicon Valley. And 1981 saw the declaration of a Superfund site to cleanup the results of semiconductor manufacturing.
With the expansion of free trade, manufacturing of nearly everything has found its home where labor costs are low and environmental legislation is weak. But the environmental risks associated with electronics are not relegated to their manufacture. The toxic compounds used in electronics are there from beginning to end, and beyond. Long after electronics have seen their last use, the toxic compounds inside persist.
While electronic waste is said to be the fastest growing waste stream in the world, health care advocates, environmental activists and forward-thinking corporations have made huge strides in addressing these issues in the last decade. Just ten years ago, the problems with electronic waste were not widely recognized. Today, around the globe, countries are enacting legislation to battle this epidemic. Just 5 years ago, the concept of certified recycling for electronics was new. Today, it’s a recognized best practice and a must have for any organization that values its brand, its data and the environment.
The leading environmental standards for electronic waste disposition in the U.S. – the R2 Standard and the e-Stewards Standards were introduced roughly 5 years ago. Today government and industry leadership advise organizations to choose providers that adhere to one of these standards. Not to do so leaves an organization vulnerable to worker health and safety concerns, environmental compliance issues, data breaches and brand damage.
Electronics production and consumption are at an all-time high, with continued growth on the horizon. Help me help others connect the dots. This unabated growth means unchecked use of finite resources. It means a concurrent growth in electronic waste. We can afford neither. If we want electronics to serve us well into the future, we need to consume wisely and reclaim the materials now in use. If the electronics you have are serviceable, use them. If they are not, get them into the hands of a certified IT asset disposition provider. Make sure next Earth Day you have something to say about the efforts you make this year to be a responsible environmental citizen. If you have more ideas about how to make electronics more sustainable, drop me a line at email@example.com.