What is green electronics?

Green electronics is still taking baby steps. At the same time, sustainability has grown into a huge mega trend and a prerequisite for all kinds of companies. In electronics, we are accustomed to planned obsolescence, which makes our new devices quickly obsolete and replaceable. 

In the past, taking sustainable development into account in different production areas may have been enough to promote green electronics, but no longer. Today, green electronics can already offer many more benefits not only to the company that makes it, but also consumers and the environment. As requirements grow, the results really start to pay off. 

What then can be considered green electronics?

Traditionally, green electronics has meant more environmentally friendly production and material choices. 

Thus, commonly used toxic and emitting materials are being replaced by materials that are less harmful to the environment, even if they are more expensive than those used in the past. Recycled materials and biodegradable options are a major part of the change. The more variety and options there are to choose from, the better green electronics evolve. 

Another important part of creating greener electronics is reducing energy consumption and CO2 emissions throughout the production process, from collecting materials to transporting them to stores. Local production thus increases its value. When logistics are kept near, the emissions from transportation automatically lessen, as long as the transport is successful without unnecessary detours and with the least polluting mode of transport. Once again, it can cost significantly more, but it also gets support from consumers who want to favor local production and get more accurate information about the origin of the products.

The location of production is also a significant value issue that tells the company from within. In the long run, local production and support for the local workforce may prove to be significantly more profitable, even if the initial production costs are higher than in Asian countries, for example.

What about new green electronics? What more could be done?

The sustainability of a company and its products is not measured by its production alone. It is a great start for sure, and the least that can be done. But in this time and phase, we’re needing more. We’re needing effort for the entire life cycle of a product, not just for how it's made. 

When natural resources are depleted, their over-exploitation puts a strain on the environment and there is a shortage of raw materials in the sector, products need to be made to last longer than they can be used. 

Each electronic product is manufactured and assembled from a wide variety of materials, from metals to plastics, natural materials and those vital components. Each part used reduces the amount of that material. In the midst of the energy crisis and scarcity of raw materials, not all components and materials have simply been available, which has had a huge impact on the product development of both small and large companies. These materials, parts, and components could be re-used with minor modifications.

At first it would require a change in attitude. A want to develop products that last longer and are offered tech support for both maintenance and upgrades. An electronic device, such as a tablet, is a typical product with a limited lifespan, as after a certain period of time it is left on its own and no new upgrades are offered, even if the device still works properly. The customer is forced to get a new one, and even if they return or recycle their old tablet as guided, there is no further use for it or its parts.

Opting for repairability

Customers are actually wanting their products to last longer. It’s a hassle to constantly look for a new phone or laptop, when they’ve gotten used to the old one. The enthusiasm for the new product also evaporates quickly, which is why the charm of novelty is not very worthwhile. There is a global demand for electronics with a longer life cycle and the possibility of repair, but supply is far from available. It’s kind of understandable - what would product development aim for if not for selling new designs and products? However, could higher sales volumes turn in the direction of long-term service, commitment and responsible consumption? Offering customers the possibility to get their devices repaired when needed opens up a whole new market.

Upgrades, accessories, and by-products can be further developed and sold, while adding value to the original product and more support to the customer who purchased it. A long-lasting product offers the opportunity to commit to its purchases and buy wisely, knowing that the product will be in use for a long time. A meaningful product increases the desire to invest in its maintenance, equipment of by-products and better care, lessening the need to buy a completely new product seasonally or whenever the latest model launches. 

Investing in the after-use

Typically, electronic products are assembled in a manner that makes disassembly impossible. Not all parts and materials can be separated, making proper recycling of different materials and parts impossible. 

Consumers have a big role in recycling. When getting rid of old devices, ensure they are being processed by a responsible recycling facility and not just thrown away with the rest. Proper facilities can benefit from old devices and do their best to reuse and recycle the materials.

Most of the old equipment is further crushed and processed into raw materials for industrial use, but when the materials are mixed, their complete reuse cannot be achieved. Mechanical separation is also more laborious and again consumes more energy. 

Read here what happens to the collected equipment after use in Finland.

What if the equipment were also assembled for dismantling from the very beginning? If the devices were 100% disassembled, their parts and materials would be ready for re-use immediately. Many additional processing steps would be missed and more materials would be available. Recycled materials would become widely available and also put to use, improving the options for companies of all sizes. 

Right to repair initiative

The EU aims to achieve a circular economy by 2050 in the framework of the European Green Agreement, which is the EU's roadmap for achieving climate neutrality by 2050. The Right to repair initiative is a central part of the framework. The initiative addresses a number of issues relevant to green electronics, such as recycling, repair and reuse, with a goal of making repairing the old devices more beneficial than buying new ones.

Right to repair initiative has plenty of support, since most Europeans wish for the option to get their devices repaired rather than buy new ones, but the lack of service and higher costs stand in the way. Also planned obsolescence proves to be an obstacle, since even the parts that could be repaired or switched, are impossible to take out without breaking the entire device. 

The Right to repair initiative is working for a more resourceful and circular economy and improving the wellbeing of the environment through reduction of resource use, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption.

It differs from the present, where EU consumers have the right to repair defective products, but only if the defect occurs at the time of delivery and within the statutory warranty or warranty period, which in most EU countries is two years.

The new Right to repair initiative consists of perks for both the customer and the seller. The proposal suggests means such as additional bonuses, free repair and maintenance and extended guarantees, for example. It demands new things from companies to consider when designing and preparing products, and rewards customers for making green choices. For the sellers, the initiative makes more sustainable manufacturing more accessible. 

Team effort for success

To make green electronics widely available and common in use, team effort is required. Not only do companies need to develop and offer more sustainable devices, but consumers also need to buy them. Once bought, people need to be aware and have a way to properly maintain and recycle their devices. 

Consumers create the demand, but in addition we need guidance from the government. Regulations, mandates and support from the government urges companies to develop greener options, and brings them closer to consumers to benefit from.

By working together, everyone can properly promote the development and use of greener electronics and move towards a cleaner and safer earth.