On Tuesday I had the pleasure of moderating a panel of environmentally-minded consumer electronics execs at the Consumer Electronics Association’s Industry Forum, an event where hundreds of the leaders and decision-makers in the industry gathered to talk shop. Together with my fellow panelists, Yalmaz Siddiqui, Office Depot’s Environmental Strategy Advisor, Jason Linnell, Executive Director of the National Center for Electronics Recycling, and Jeff Kellogg, VP of the Natralock Division at packaging giant MeadWestvaco, we put together this list of the 10 things that consumer electronics makers need to do to get ready for the shifting landscape of environmental regulations and consumer attitudes:
1). Education: Learn the new green language, which includes an entirely new alphabet of standards and protocols (EPEAT, GEC, EPR, ROHS, REACH, LEED, PBDE, SVHC, DFE, SCCP, GRI, LCA, VOC, PBTs, RECs, CO2 — OMG). As Yalmaz suggested on the panel, start off by reading the EPEAT site, and learn to love it.
2). Participate: Start participating in some of the standards committees that are setting the next wave of criteria for environmentally preferable products in your market, such as EPEAT. Choices made by these groups in the coming years will have a big impact on gadget developers’ product and supplier decisions for years to come. So join the conversation now.
3). Act Quickly, Efficiently: Use the new criteria and standards to make design decisions quickly and architect products to be energy efficient from the ground up. Don’t rely on consumers to cut their own phantom power.
4). Be transparent: Learn the most effective ways to disclose your materials and substances, to track your recycling and to monitor your carbon emissions. If there aren’t specifications yet for a certain area, get ahead of the curve by setting your own performance measurements, particularly for something like a recycling program.
5). Tell your story: Learn how to tell your story well. Make sure the general public, NGOs and policy makers know how your company is working on environmental matters through annual reports, but also through marketing campaigns, participation in public meeting and other online opportunities. Learn from Apple’s new strategy.
6). Renewable Energy: Experiment and innovate around clean power sources and find ways to bundle consumer electronics with REC-purchases. You might think renewable energy is for utilities, but early adopters will be interested in distributed carbon-free options (see solar, wind, and even kinetic-powered gadgets).
7). Ownership Over End-Of-Life: Take ownership of the recycling, reuse and/or disposal of your products at the end of their life. Figure out the best way to maximize the value per component, and create partnerships to get your items back in the cheapest and most convenient manner. If your company hasn’t already, get your voluntary recycling program in place – via mailback or limited recycling points across the country, for example — you will need to have an answer to how you help consumers recycle your products. Collective programs are also available.
8). Dematerialization: It’s a little abstract, but get ready for dematerialization. The Internet is leading the way with more goods offered virtually online. Think about how you can profit by designing your product to use less stuff.
9). It’s the Law: Learn about compliance with state recycling laws — there will be about 25 in place by 2015! Evaluate which model of state laws achieves the best results at the least cost for your company. Laws for disclosing your carbon emissions are also currently going through the Senate, and recently passed the House. A cap-and-trade system for limiting carbon emissions in the U.S. could be a reality some day soon. What are you going to do about it?
10). Put It In the Budget: Budget costs and staff resources for significant compliance costs. It will take an initial investment, but could also save your company money in the long run. As Yalmaz put it on the panel, to find out what types of programs could save money and what won’t: “Hire an expert.”