Green Materials Matter to Gadget Buyers

Energy efficiency is just one of the attributes that eco-minded consumers evaluate when shopping for electronics. Gadget makers are discovering that the material composition of devices is starting to matter to buyers.

Samsung knows this, and that’s why it’s quick to tout the mercury-free makeup of its new line of slim, LED backlit LCD televisions, right alongside the energy-saving benefits. “Environmental ratings are becoming swing factors in people purchasing CE [consumer electronics],” David Steel, Samsung Electronics’ senior VP, North America Strategic Marketing, recently told DailyFinance.

Toxicity is an important factor, but lately attention is also being drawn to where materials are sourced. Take, for instance, “conflict minerals.” They are fast becoming the electronics industry’s blood diamonds, a resource that manufacturers with a modicum of corporate social responsibility won’t want to touch with a 10-foot pole. Nokia takes a hard line against minerals sourced from the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo, earning the handset maker good press. Now, other major manufacturers, including Dell, HP and Motorola, are following suit and broadcasting their intentions to clean up their supply chains.

What can the electronics industry do to attract consumers who are increasingly looking beyond a gadget’s impact on the electric bill? Here are a few pointers:

Hold the toxins, please. Electronics makers are discovering the value of keeping their devices as non-toxic as possible. In Samsung’s case, it adds to the “premium” status of its pricier LED backlit LCD televisions, and it gives the company more ammunition to hasten plasma’s demise. By eliminating mercury, Samsung distances itself from the health hazards associated with the neurotoxin. Similarly, Apple emphasizes the MacBook Pro’s lack of several toxins, like PVCs and brominated flame retardants, to attract environmentally conscious computer shoppers and to fend off criticism from environmental groups.

Remember, less is more. Compared with its predecessors, owners of the new PlayStation 3 Slim get a compact unit that’s lighter, sleeker and uses fewer materials while staying true to the design goals that Sony established for its game console. Judging from web site iFixit’s “tear-down,” the console’s build quality is very good. Sony wisely avoided veering too far into a direction that could have resulted in a cheap-looking (and feeling) device.

Avoid conflicts. Learn from the diamond trade, and avoid the negative association with conflict minerals. Unraveling those tangled supply chains is complex work, but it’s worth the effort if it means avoiding even the slightest insinuation of supporting brutal factions or regimes, however indirectly. Look to Nokia, and a special forum at the upcoming BSR conference this fall, for some guidance on dealing with this issue.

Keep an eye on those regulations. I mentioned this in an earlier article about gadgets that fall short on their green claims, but it bears repeating: Recycling laws and e-waste regulations, both local and in other countries, are going to make it tough for companies to avoid dealing with end-of-life electronics. Easily recyclable gadgets with fewer toxic components mean less of a need for costly special handling and fewer worries about where those electronics end up.

To successfully market your wares to this growing flock of green consumers, follow some, if not all, of the above tips, and add information about toxicity, recyclability and materials sourcing to your device’s list of eco-credentials. Samsung and Apple sure aren’t shy about doing it.

Question of the week

Does the material composition of a gadget affect your purchasing decisions?