Each year, the computer and electronic manufacturing industry rings up close to $3 trillion in revenue. But at what cost to the environment?
The Portland, Ore.-based Green Electronics Council (GEC) engaged its stakeholders in a conversation centered on that weighty question in late September during the non-profit’s initial Emerging Green Conference.
Part of the three-day event featured the rollout of a report linking Earth-friendly stewardship with return on investment in the electronics industry. The research was conducted by Trucost, a London-based company that specializes in quantifying and valuing the environmental impacts of operations, supply chains, products and financial assets.
It’s encouraging that individual enterprises take eco-steps such as incorporating recycled content into their products, Jonas Allen, GEC director of marketing, tells Waste360 in an interview. But the council wants the electronics sector to grasp the force and financial benefits of circular-economy principles applied on a global scale.
“Years ago, there was lots of concern about greenwashing,” Allen says. “Our organization exists to make sure everybody is on the same page. We’re working toward a world where electronics are part of a more sustainable society.”
The council manages the EPEAT registry, short for the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool. The voluntary standard had its beginnings 14 years ago when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded a grant for developing a tool for an electronics environmental assessment via stakeholder consensus. Representatives from manufacturing, public and private purchasing, environmental advocacy, academia, government and the recycling sector collaborated on the project, which launched in 2005.
Companies meeting EPEAT standards can significantly reduce the amount of e-waste generated because their designs minimize hazardous substances and encourage recycling and reuse.
A few days after the conference wrapped up, Allen answered questions from Waste360 about the opportunities and benefits for greener electronics.