Sustainability is changing consumer electronics

November 13, 2023

The consumer electronics (CE) industry faces increasing pressure to become more sustainable. This is being driven by several factors, including growing consumer demand for sustainable products, government regulation, and the increasing awareness of the environmental and social impacts of the industry.

Consumers demand sustainability

Consumers are increasingly aware of the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations associated with the products they purchase, and they actively seek products that align with their values.

From an environmental perspective, they're looking for products that are energy-efficient, have minimal carbon footprint, and use eco-friendly materials. According to Forbes contributor, Greg Petro, "consumers across all generations—from Baby Boomers to Gen Z—are now willing to spend more for sustainable products."1

Social considerations also play a role in consumer demand for sustainability. Buyers want assurance that the products they purchase are produced under fair labour conditions, without exploitation or human rights abuses. CE companies that prioritise diversity, inclusion, and fair wages throughout their supply chains are preferred.2

Governance practices are another area of concern for consumers. They want transparency and ethical business practices from their CE manufacturers. Consumers value companies with strong corporate governance structures, accountability to stakeholders, and high ethical standards. According to Harvard Business School Online, when it comes of corporate social responsibility (CSR), "25% of consumers have a zero-tolerance policy for unethical behaviour."3

Government regulation is playing a part

Government regulations and policies have a significant impact on sustainability practices in the consumer electronics industry. Two notable examples are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive in the European Union.

The EPA has implemented programmes to promote sustainable practices in the electronics industry. The Energy Star programme for instance, awards labels on energy-efficient home and office products.

This encourages the use of energy efficient products that protect the environment, and the label serves as an easy identifier for a sustainable product. The programme resulted in a reduction of more than 4 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions since its inception in 1992.4

In the EU, WEEE mandates electronics manufacturers to take responsibility for the collection and safe disposal of electronic waste. This directive has led to the establishment of e-waste collection systems and the promotion of environmentally-friendly design and production processes.5

These government regulations have incentivised electronics manufacturers to adopt sustainable practices such as how raw materials are obtained and refined6, as well as investing in green technology R&D. They have also prompted companies to implement responsible e-waste management systems, reducing the negative impact on the environment.

The response: sustainable actions by CE makers

Major players are committed to achieving ambitious sustainability goals7, including greenhouse gas emission reductions, carbon neutrality, and sourcing renewable energy for their operations. Companies have made commitments to using 100% renewable energy, with several already achieving this milestone.8

Companies are actively focusing on energy efficiency and recyclability in product design. They are developing products with longer lifespans, making repairs more accessible, and reducing the use of hazardous materials. Additionally, some companies have implemented take-backs to ensure proper disposal and recycling of their products, reducing e-waste.

In terms of social considerations, companies are working to improve labour conditions throughout their supply chains. They are implementing codes of conduct, doing regular audits, and collaborating with suppliers to ensure fair treatment of workers and adherence to human rights standards.9

Governance practices are also a focus for many CE companies. Big players are implementing robust corporate citizenship initiatives, enhancing transparency by publishing sustainability reports, disclosing their ESG performance, and engaging with stakeholders to address business practice concerns.10

START materialising progress

With the CE industry facing increasing pressure to become more sustainable, it is important, if not expected, that CE manufacturers find ways to meet sustainability demands. By providing traceability and transparency, START helps businesses understand how their supply chains are impacting the environment, society, and consequently their bottom line.

START is setting a new transparency standard, one that's supported by sustainable and fully traceable materials, empowering companies to prove their sustainability commitments to their consumers.