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Electronics Brands: It’s Time to Super Charge Sustainability

One Electronics brand (Fairphone) sets an example while three other brands (Asus, Apple, and HP) have made progress for the Electronics sector in regards to sustainability by embracing the challenges and opportunities associated with the Electronics sector. One brand, Fairphone, received a “B” label, and three brands, Asus, Apple, and HP received a “C” label for the Electronics sector ranking. The remaining 15 brands received either a “D” or “E” label. Due to the challenges associated with the Electronics sector, Electronics brands must influence sustainability during the entire lifecycle of their products, from mining minerals and choosing chemicals, to responsible disposal or recycling at the end of a product’s useful life.

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However, many Electronics brands have not yet capitalized on the opportunity to implement initiatives in regards to issues such as product energy efficiency, extension of products’ useful life, product recycling/takeback, elimination of toxic materials/suspect chemicals from products, and avoidance of conflict minerals. The Electronics sector has the opportunity to “supercharge” efforts to be more sustainable, and place these initiatives at the forefront of this sector’s operations. However, many brands have not become actively involved in the unique opportunities the Electronics sector presents.

At the beginning of the electronics life cycle, minerals are mined from the Earth and toxic materials/suspect chemicals are used to assemble electronic products. For example, according to Greenpeace, common plastics and flame retardants used in electronics result in some of the most toxic chemicals known, especially during production at the end of a product’s useful lifecycle. The process of mining electronic products’ materials is also a sustainability issue, especially for conflict minerals. These minerals are mined in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo or surrounding nations, and profits from these minerals support human rights violations in these countries. A number of initiatives have been developed to address conflict minerals.

During a product’s useful life, brands have the opportunity to make their products more sustainable while they are in use by consumers. Certifications such as Energy Star indicate reduction of energy consumption by about 30-50%, depending on the type of product. With technology advancing at an ever-increasing rate, electronics are becoming outdated faster than ever before. Some companies have even been known to design their products such that they will only last a short amount of time, forcing consumers to throw away the device and purchase a newer model. This pattern of a high-throughput electronics lifecycle is problematic because in 2014, the United Nations University estimated that approximately 41.8 million metric tonnes of E-Waste was generated globally, while only about 15% of this waste was taken back and/or recycled. By 2018, E-waste generation is expected to reach 50 million metric tonnes.

Electronics brands can help address this issue by implementing product recycling and takeback programs to encourage consumers to dispose of our recycle their electronics responsibly. In doing so, Electronics brands can even remove valuable materials from old devices, and re-use them in new devices, thus closing the loop on their products and contributing to a circular economy. If E-Waste is not disposed of or recycled properly, it can be extremely problematic when disposed of in developing nations at open dumps that contaminate groundwater or is burnt in open pits, thereby resulting in the release of toxic chemicals into the air.

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Of the brands analyzed for this research, Fairphone scored the highest ranking, a “B” label, on a scale from A (best) to E (worst). Fairphone is the only brand out of those researched to report clear enough on its labor conditions policy and respective results realized at its supplying production facility. Similarly, Fairphone is the only brand that offers chargers for its product as an option only, uses at least 20% recycled plastic for its device, implements an active policy in place to increase the product life –span, and uses only replaceable batteries in its device. Apple is the best-performing brand for this sector in regards to climate change policy, scoring all but one of the maximum possible points on its reported initiatives for this topic. HP is also among the top-performing brands. For instance, it clearly reports on its measures to reduce its water use for its own operations as well as its suppliers.

When you are looking for more specific information on brands, a list of the brands can be found here. We hope to see some Electronics brands receiving higher labels in the future! To encourage your favorite Electronics brands to become more sustainable, you can send them a message through each individual brand’s page on the Rank a Brand website.

 

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