What the Electronics Industry Should Learn From the Automotive Industry

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What the Electronics Industry Should Learn From the Automotive Industry

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Electronics industry should learn from automotive industry, @Carol_Baroudi @ArrowGlobal http://3bl.me/7ar8r4
Tuesday, February 16, 2016 - 3:35pm

I don’t know any people who talk about needing to recycle their car. You can sell your car, donate your car, or trade it in. Few have storage options that allow them to just hang on to the old one when they get a new one. And we don’t expect garbage collectors to pick it up if we leave it on the curb.

We perceive that a car has value even when it no longer functions. And the automobile industry understands that there’s money to be had in your new purchase as well as for your trade-in. Markets for used cars may include remote locations, but also often include the lot right next to the new car lot.

I suggest that the automotive industry, through sheer practicality and business savvy, is already embracing the circular economy. It’s also embracing the service economy, with new car leases versus new car salescontinuing to rise. In both traditional sales and lease contracts, the presumption is that the car will come back to the manufacturer – or at least back to the automotive ecosystem – one way or another.

Not so the electronics industry. There is no such presumption. Initiatives in various regions put the onus of reclamation back on the manufacturer (extended producer responsibility). These regulations force manufacturers to collect a certain amount of used product, but there’s little evidence that this mandated collection is impacting design or business models. And in the grand scheme of things, what’s taken back accounts for very little of what is perpetually being pushed out. The electronics industry, for the most part, is very much locked into the linear economy: create/use/discard. Notable exceptions include Dell and its incorporation of reclaimed plastic in newly manufactured goods, and what we do here in Arrow’s value recovery business.

The automotive industry is highly brand-aware, and that’s a good thing. In selecting a car for the mainstream consumer, factors such as
– reliability,
– fuel consumption (energy efficiency),
– affordability, and
– resale value
can influence the purchase. And all of these factors can be aligned with sustainability values. Imagine if these values truly informed electronics purchasing. Instead, too often the push to create market demand by declaring usable product obsolete forces an unsustainable model.

I was frustrated recently when a favorite app I use decided to no longer support my current device. My device is paired with other devices, which are incompatible with newer devices. To get back to my current functionality would mean replacing everything, even though nothing stopped working except the app. Imagine if every time new models of cars were introduced, you had to replace all the roads and bridges because the new models simply wouldn’t work with them. We wouldn’t let that happen.

Instead, the automotive industry is aligning more closely with sustainability objectives and with the values held by younger drivers. Toyota has announced plans to stop making gas-only cars by 2050. Google co-founder Sergey Brin says that the need for individual car ownership is going away. We’re headed toward an “uber-Uber world.” Car sales to millennials are markedly down, and car manufacturers prepare to shift the focus from the individual driver to cars designed for fleet use or car-share services such as Zipcar. In some cases they are even developing car-share services of their own.

What choices do we have when it comes to electronics? How do we express a preference for a more responsible product? We can choose EPEAT and Energy Star-rated products for starters. We can consider the whole life cycle, including end-of-life plans for both the new product and any product we’re replacing, when we make our purchase. We can take pride in equipment that keeps working and support a responsible brand with brand loyalty.

Got other ideas about how we can help move the electronics industry in a circular direction? Drop me a line at cbaroudi@arrow.com.

Carol Baroudi works for Arrow’s Value Recovery business, promoting sustainability awareness and action. She is the lead author of Green IT for Dummies. Her particular focus is on electronics at the IT asset disposition stage, e-waste, and everything connected. Follow her on Twitter @carol_baroudi and connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/carolbaroudi.

Keywords: Environment & Climate Change | Arrow Electronics | Business & Trade | Carol Baroudi | Corporate Social Responsibility | ITAD | Recycling | Technology