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The Technology sector and its commitment to Environmental Sustainability

14/08/19 Rachael Dent Head of Operations & Manufacturing

The global technology sector is maturing in many ways including its commitment to environmental sustainability. Leading the way are large OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) who are driving the change both within their organisations and throughout the extended supply chains. 

The realities of the sustainability challenges we face grow more apparent.

In the past few years, we have seen the UK’s temperatures rise and climate change has continued to be at the forefront of some of the world’s biggest technology companies.

 

Many companies, organisations, and Governments across the world are ramping up to lead and drive change that’s good for business and the world — especially those in the technology sector.

Rachael Dent Redline’s Head of Operations discusses further “Carbon footprints, toxic chemical, recycling, and e-waste, worker health and safety - these are some of the environmental issues that are top of mind for technology companies today. Some of the issues are relatively new, such as striving for 100% renewable energy. Others are perennial, such as managing the toxicity of chemicals used in the manufacturing process when producing electronic components for the electronics sector. Many of Redline’s clients continue to develop what is defined as a ‘circular economy approach’ which is designed to ensure that materials are retained within productive use, in a high value state, for as long as possible. It focuses on reshaping business and economic systems so that waste is 'designed out' of how we live.”

Rachael continues: “These technology companies require bold leadership, while others are addressed by compliance with industry standards or government regulations. For market leaders, though, there’s increasing pressure to elevate their commitment to environmental responsibility and transparency, setting the bar higher for themselves and their supply chain partners.

The main reasons for a sharper focus on environmental issues vary from company to company, but typically are driven by pressure from employees, customers, corporations, governments, and consumers alike—and from shareholders. One factor is the increasing economic clout of the Millennial generation in the UK which is projected to overtake the Baby Boomer generation in population. According to UKTN, It’s predicted that, by 2020, millennials will make up 35 per cent of the global workforce. The new generation is even more environmentally conscious than ever before.

An MIT AgeLab survey found that Millennials consider themselves more concerned about the environment than their elders, while both Boomers and Gen Xers have become more concerned as they age.

If you scan any annual report published recently by a tech leader—Apple, Cisco, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, TSMC, and others—and you’ll find detailed charts and graphs documenting their progress reducing CO2 emissions and toxic waste, as well as improving water management. For example, over the past few years, tech giants such as Apple developed a trade-in program for iPhones called Apple Giveback. And it is promoting its iPhone disassembly robot named Daisy. While shredding old phones can recover some reusable materials, Daisy can take apart up to 200 iPhone devices per hour, removing and sorting components, and recovering materials that traditional recyclers can’t.
While everyday use of electronics that contain these chemicals is considered safe, the fear is that dust and particles from these substances can be inhaled or ingested during the manufacturing process and disassembly in e-waste facilities. They can contaminate air and water and enter the food chain through plants, fish, or other animals.  

So, is the Tech sector getting greener?

The answer is yes. There are standout technology companies amongst the largest OEMs on the planet that have an outsized impact on the industry’s environmental footprint. There is also an infrastructure of global standards bodies and trade organisations that are doing the essential work of defining best practices in the technology and manufacturing sectors. Perhaps the most important catalyst for accelerating the pace of change is pressure from customers, employees, and shareholders. The tipping point will come when the commitment to environmental sustainability is recognised wholly by technology industry leaders as an essential driver of business performance.

We are also seeing a rise in ‘greener’ manufacturing and operations jobs. Green jobs benefit both the economy and the environment and include everything from alternative fuels to horticulture.

For example, an Environmental Health & Safety Manager may work on a freelance basis, consulting with manufacturing businesses and helping develop environmental and health and safety policies.

There are many ‘green’ manufacturing and engineering job roles being introduced to the manufacturing life cycle and are included in all aspects of design, new product introduction, production, supply chain, manufacturing engineering and test. For example:

  • Acoustical Engineer
  • Environmental Data Analyst
  • Health & Safety Engineer
  • Environmental Health & Safety Trainer

Industry Perspectives: Risks and Opportunities 

The technology sector’s sustainability profile is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the sector holds great promise in terms of changing society’s patterns of travel and communication (and thus energy consumption) and bringing economic and social development to disadvantaged citizens. On the other hand, short product cycles lead to high disposability, electronics often consume considerable energy in the home even when not in use, and manufacturing processes are often resource intensive.

The rapid pace of technological innovation brings with it a relentless accumulation of obsolete products that in turn result in landfills overflowing with mountains of discarded computers, mobile phones, digital music players and video game consoles. The millions of tonnes of technological equipment generated annually pose regulatory, cost and reputational risks for the sector. Governments are considering regulations such as the European Union’s 2002 directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) that places responsibility for the disposal of electronic waste on manufacturers. The RoHS Directive took effect in 2006, this directive restricts the use of six hazardous materials in the manufacture of various types of electronic and electrical equipment. It is closely linked with the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive which sets collection, recycling and recovery targets for electrical goods and is part of a legislative initiative to solve the problem of huge amounts of toxic electronic waste.

The sector’s energy intensity—from the production of major inputs to product end-use poses further regulatory and cost risks in a carbon-constrained world. So, too, can the sector’s consumption of other resources, for example, the water used in semiconductor manufacturing, create regulatory and cost risks.

However, there are opportunities in technological innovation which have the potential to transform social patterns of travel and communication and change energy consumption. Video conferencing and telecommuting, by curbing the necessity for daily commutes and especially energy-intensive air travel, are prime examples of how technology can radically reduce energy use.

How can your business commit to sustainability in the tech sector?

You don’t need to have a big company to embrace sustainability. Smart and committed small businesses are adopting sustainability practices, too. They are incorporating recycled goods in their manufacturing supply chains.  They are requiring their transportation fleets to be more efficient.  They are reducing their energy consumption in day to day operations.

Incorporating sustainability into your business is an important step.  But it is equally important to communicate your commitment internally among your team, and externally to business partners, suppliers, customers and other stakeholders.

If you are a candidate and want to find out more about production jobs and careers in, or to see our latest job opportunities, click here or alternatively contact Rachael Dent on 01582 878847 or email RDent@RedlineGroup.com.