Whether electronics harm the environment or not depends on how environmentally accountable the manufacturer is
Most phone and high-tech companies globally are investing in environmental accountability. For instance Apple, which recently launched its new range of products, would be shipping them without the customary charger and headphones being included in the box. Though this might put off quite a few of its customers, it is part of the company’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions and ramp up the use of clean energy. With over 700 million headphones and two billion power adapters already out there with the customers, the firm has taken a bold measure to stop including the same in its retail product pack to cut down electronic waste generation at source and reduce carbon emissions, which are generated in the process of mining for precious earth materials. Moreover, due to the removal of the charger and headphones, Apple has been able to reduce the size of its boxes, enabling it to fit 70 per cent more boxes and, therefore, transition to a more effective logistics template. By 2030 the consumer technology giant aims to achieve net zero climate impact from its entire business, including manufacturing, supply chain and product cycles.
Samsung, too, is setting up new standards in conserving the environment through its “circular resource management system” that hinges on recycling, green purchasing from vendors amid effective hazardous material management. The company is focussing on reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) emissions to the extent of 70 per cent in the near future. Another global tech giant, Nokia, is redefining how products become more environmentally accountable. It calls this “Responsible Technology” and has gone a step further by joining 86 other like-minded companies to ensure that the strategic vision for the group is aligned with reducing the global temperatures by 1.5° Celsius in order to collectively battle climate change. This is in addition to the active initiative currently under way to completely remove single-use plastics across its production spectrum.
For a world that is drowning in electronic waste, especially in countries such as India where e-waste regulations are anything but effective, these firms are setting a benchmark in product responsibility and accountability towards the environment. However, they still have a long way to go since not all products end up getting 100 per cent recycled. The day they can recall their “end of life cycle product” back to the starting point for recycling is the day they can claim 100 per cent environmental accountability. However, their efforts are thought-provoking and make one wonder where do Indian companies figure in comparison? And why do none of the Indian-made products achieve such comprehensive environmental accountability? The answer lies in vision or the lack of it. Much of the corporate social and environmental responsibility in India is aimed at satisfying Government protocols and very little actually percolates to the ground level. One can still see the impact corporate vision has on some social project, but one is hard-pressed to effectively find an environmental project that has the stamp of a sincere corporate effort on it.
Indian manufacturing companies need to build a much-needed environmental dimension into their products. This is no easy task given the fact that sometimes even finding after sales service for many products we buy today can prove to be a harrowing experience. To graduate from this stage to a level where the companies produce a 100 per cent recyclable product is a long journey that needs encouraging policies and incentives from the Government and world-class corporate leadership. In this journey, innovative methods and ideas can lay the foundation for Indian companies to produce environmentally-accountable products. One of the initiatives that can be pursued is to create a category of “green” electrical and white goods which are made of 100 per cent recyclable material and have a clear-cut end of life cycle disposal plan. This category can be promoted and encouraged by the Government through tax and logistics sops besides finance options to manufacture them. On the consumer end, they can also carry compelling finance schemes or lucrative discounts. The clear environmental and viability-related benefits would surely drive manufacturing firms to increase their “green product” portfolio as it would also improve the company’s image and standing for being environmentally conscious. Similarly, the drive to produce at the lowest cost and sell at the maximum profit is the root of all evils because in the pursuit of driving down costs, manufacturers disregard all ecological concerns and use suspect material that is environmentally hazardous. Recycling then is impossible. Therefore, to give credence to the concept of “green products”, the Government must rein in the supply chain and third-party vendors for whom quality assurance and environmental responsibility are alien concepts. Surprise checks, quality control at Government laboratories and harsh penalties for defaulters can help infuse a new-found respect for the environment. Products that we buy today continue to exist long after we dispose them. Whether they harm the environment or not depends on how environmentally accountable the producer is.
(The writer is an environmental journalist)