Shrinking Products, Energy Sipping and Reusing Anything: Electronics Industry Makes Green Progress

Shrinking Products, Energy Sipping and Reusing Anything: Electronics Industry Makes Green Progress

For many consumer electronics companies, recycling and making energy efficient products are not new concepts. But whether companies embraced those ideas long ago or just recently, the consumer electronics industry has made large strides in improving the environmental impacts of its products, facilities and supply chains.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) overviews industry efforts and specific company successes in its new report, Environmental Sustainability and Innovation in the Consumer Electronics Industry. After first identifying 31 companies with the largest market share, the CEA analyzed the operations of the 20 of those companies that track and report environmental data.

The report highlights practices and industry trends that, intentional or not, are reducing materials use, bringing down energy consumption and providing a host of other environmental benefits both directly and indirectly. Smaller products that provide multiple functions (phone, GPS, music player, camera, etc.) lead to fewer raw materials used, smaller packaging and fewer shipments needed to move items around.

Companies are looking beyond what they manufacture, improving efficiency within their offices and facilities. Just as quickly as companies started switching to CFLs and biodegradable diningware, they are now looking at LEDs and reusable plates and silverware.

Showing that the practices are more than just good ideas, the CEA highlights individual company efforts:
  • Epson makes its packaging from trees grown specifically for that purpose and plants 20 percent more trees than it cuts down.
  • Lenovo's energy efficient EPEAT Gold monitors contain 25 percent recycled materials, and the company recovers gold, silver and other precious metals from products at the end of their lives.
  • Nokia has reduce the amount of no-load energy (the electricity cell phone chargers consume when they are left plugged in after a phone is charged) sucked up by its phone chargers by 90 percent over the last nine years, and its phones now alert users to unplug chargers.
  • Panasonic's current plasma TVs consume 96 percent less energy than its plasmas from 2000.
  • Kodak has recycled 1.2 billion single-use cameras since 1990, recycling 120 million last year. Almost all of the company's new single-use cameras contain recycled parts.
  • Intel runs a capital funding program solely for conservation and efficiency efforts, approving more than 200 projects since 2001 that have saved more than 400 million kilowatt hours of electricity.
Looking beyond just those main 20 companies, the CEA surveyed 64 electronics companies, discovering 64 percent of them recycle, 14 percent are setting up recycling programs and 38 percent reuse parts of products they make or use. Those companies with successful recycling operations said they have benefitted from having clear metrics and goals, company-wide education and communication of goals, support from top leadership and linking changes to the promotion/review process.