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    Getting Toxics Out of Electronics: I Second the Motion

    By Keith R | October 30, 2006

    Topics: Corporate Social Responsibility, Electronic/Electrical Equipment, Environmental Protection, Hazardous Substances | 2 Comments »

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    I recently came across another blog which discussed the controversy over Greenpeace’s “toxics in laptops” report I covered in this entry and that entry here on the Temas Blog and over at Treehugger in a guest blog as well. The “Inspired Protagonist” offered what I felt was very thoughtful advice well worth contemplating by all involved in, or concerned about, the materials used in the manufacture of the electronics that have permeated every aspect of our lives. I asked their permission to reprint that advice here, and they have kindly consented:

    Rather than point fingers, I’d encourage computer makers to get down to work and fix the problem. Based on our own experiences working to detox some pretty ugly consumer products, here’s some advice:

    1. Start by making the fundamental decision to transform your products into toxin-free goods that get completely recycled when life ends. That’s a huge mountain to climb, but keep a can-do attitude. It’s the only way you’ll do the impossible.
    2. Know that getting to the summit will take years. But don’t see this as a reason not to try. Accept it. Embrace it. Technologies are going to have to be re-thought and re-engineered. Materials substitutes identified and tested. New “take-back” mechanisms and recycling avenues created. It’s going to take a lot of work but know that it will result in products worth every penny of investment.
    3. Deconstruct your technologies and identify all the associated eco-issues. Then split these issues up and assign responsibility for them throughout the company not just to the usual suspects. Make sure everyone owns the initiative. It’ll happen faster and the creativity you need can flow from outside the usual places. If your company is going to think outside the box, you’ll have to bring in people in from outside the box.
    4. As solutions are found they should enter the pipeline. Don’t wait to institute changes until a bunch can be made at once. Deploy each alternative as its found so that your products improve incrementally rather than via quantum leap.
    5. In the meantime, start using every alternative non-toxic material/process that’s ready to go (and there are many that many companies aren’t using) and launch programs to take back every product you sell. (Old gear may not be recyclable yet, but you can at least ensure that disposal occurs in as responsible a manner as possible.)
    6. Launch a transparency and reporting initiative to come clean about all the environmental problems computers contribute to. We need an honest dialogue about the impacts digital technology is having on the biosphere . Be clear about what the challenges are and how you’re working to resolve them. Talk about the trade-offs required, admit to the mistakes you make along the way, and keep everyone apprised of your progress.

    I heartily second all six points, but would add a seventh: this cannot all be accomplished in-house. Companies have to work with others — with others within their industry, with communities and governments, and with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) — that may be willing to engage in serious and pragmatic partnership — in other words, people interested mostly in solutions, not just issuing press releases.

    Yes, it will take time and alot of effort and expense. There are no swift and easy resolutions to making electronics “greener,” no matter what others would have you believe.

    — Keith R

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    2 Responses to “Getting Toxics Out of Electronics: I Second the Motion”

    1. » Blog Archive » some Green thoughts on the new iPhone Says:

      […] Here is an excellent discussion at of what companies like Apple can do to make greener electronics from the ground up. There are some companies, like NEC who are starting to think of ways to make the cell phone more earth friendly, like this 2005 model of a corn-based phone, seen on […]

    2. Larry Groff Says:

      thanks for the link and the comment at greatgreengadgets. I thought your 7th point about needing to have broader, more cooperative solutions to ewaste instead of just inhouse goes to the root of the problem. If corporations truly want to solve this problem they will find a way, sadly most companies seem to me more concerned about their public image than the real issues.
      It is good to see more and more attention being paid to this issue. Another area that gets even less attention is in the environmental cost of mining and processing the raw materials in the creation of many electronics. I hope to post on this subject in the near future.
      Great blog, I hope to return soon.
      Best Regards
      Larry at greatgreengadgets

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