It’s hard to imagine a world without electronics. From the data centers that support “the cloud,” to “smart” cars, thermostats and phones, to online education to social networks, electronics have insinuated themselves into every nook and cranny of contemporary existence.
We have become wholly reliant on them and must, if we’re intelligent and responsible, learn to value them as the precious resource they are. As electronics become smaller and smaller, smarter and smarter, cheaper and cheaper, it’s easy to take them for granted. Yet, their ubiquity belies their actual value and vulnerability. To better communicate the various dimensions of sustainability related to electronics, I’m going to embark on a serious of topics that, when taken together, begin to address the complexity in approaching “sustainable electronics”.
What does sustainable electronics mean? When we talk about sustainability in general, we talk about the conservation and judicious use of resources. When we talk about sustainability applied to electronics we need to consider:
• Energy – from the energy used to create electronic devices, to the energy electronics use during their useful life, to the energy needed to recycle and reclaim what’s actually reclaimable once a device in no longer useful.
• The raw materials used to create the electronic device, including:
• The use of recycled (reclaimed materials) in a device’s creation
• Opting for safer materials (including excluding mercury, for example)
• Conflict minerals
• Rare earth elements
• The water needed to create electronic devices
• Potential reuse of electronic devices, the realities of recycling, and gaps in circularity.
We can also talk about the ways in which electronics are being used to further sustainability – from smart homes, to agricultural support, to optimized logistics. Electronics and their associated infrastructure – the internet and networks of all sorts – have become the platform on which contemporary societies operate. And if we want to continue to exploit them in all the ways we envision, we need to consider what responsible, sustainable use means.
Join me as I blog about these topics and more as we explore "sustainable electronics."
Carol Baroudi has been focused on sustainable electronics for more than 15 years and is recognized for her prominent work as lead author for Green IT for Dummies. Carol is a contributing guest blogger for CNE Direct and consulting to support new sustainability initiatives.