Reducing waste: a checklist for electronics manufacturers
Consumers are demanding lower impact goods and services. How can you make your supply chain green while saving money?.
From mining for natural resources to shipping the final product, electronics manufacturers have some of the biggest carbon footprints. But as we’ve already seen, lots of big players like Apple and HP have already made big commitments to reducing waste. For businesses, having higher environmental standards is both ethical and economical. Consumers care about the impact of their next buys and will reward the companies that align with their values.
A good place to start for companies is to follow low waste procedures in each step of the manufacturing process.
Step one: Opt for carbon neutral materials. According to Bloomberg, chip producers are overtaking automakers as the biggest polluters. Semiconductor production requires huge amounts of carbon, water and energy. Most components need common resources like copper, gold, tin, aluminum and cobalt as well as mining-heavy, rare earth metals like neodymium, scandium and dysprosium. Rare earth elements (REEs) are ideal for common goods like phones, batteries and lights because of high heat resistance, conductivity and magnetism.
By current estimates, only about 1% of rare earth elements are recycled from end products. Choosing carbon neutral materials is the most obvious path to lower impact because it automatically reduces the need to mine for REEs. Mobius is carbon neutral by default because we only sell parts destined for landfill.
Step two: Source from suppliers committed to renewable energy. Scores of suppliers have already invested in solar and wind energy infrastructure. A common theme among suppliers is the goal of net zero emissions by 2030. Some examples of leaders in sustainability are Solvay, SGL Carbon, STMicroelectronics.
Step three: Make sure components are RoHS compliant. Use of restricted materials is both environmentally and occupationally costly. The RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) directive originated in the EU and specifically targets hazardous materials found in electronic equipment. ANY business that sells or distributes to the EU is in trouble if it uses hazardous materials.
Step four: Weigh the packaging. Literally. Delivery of supplies can drastically impact emissions. The question of using plastic or cardboard packaging is a tough call. While plastic is only recycled half as much as cardboard, it is significantly lighter and stronger. Weight directly impacts fuel consumption. Minimizing weight and thickness of packaging has the largest bearing on emission reduction, so the options are worth calculating carefully.
Step five: Decide how to transport. For overseas transport, the options are air freight or sea freight. Clearly air freight is much quicker; however, longer flights produce nearly fifty times more greenhouse gas emissions than ocean freight per ton of cargo every mile. But there are other considerations: sea freight can release toxic gas directly over the water, leading to ocean acidification. And since ships are so much slower, there is a higher chance cargo could get lost or damaged on the way. The environmental cost of losing a product and having to replace it is usually higher than the emissions saved from sea freight. The good news in sea freight is that with technological improvements, ships are increasing in speed and fuel efficiency. Unless a product requires an extremely expedited timeline, sea freight will almost always be the better option for both cost and environmental footprint.