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How Tech Companies are Promoting Sustainability

Tech companies regularly promote sustainability. Some develop energy-efficient products made of renewable materials. Some incorporate sustainable practices into their business operations. And some go as far as encouraging consumers, employees and other firms to embrace sustainability.

Tech companies realize that sustainability is a good investment. Sustainability ensures business continuity by conserving resources. A company cannot produce goods and services without sufficient raw materials (e.g., clean water, wood, minerals, etc.). This, in turn, means decreased revenue for the company. In 2014, Unilever CEO Paul Polman declared that climate change-related natural disasters are costing Unilever at least USD300 million a year .

There is a saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” With the need to conserve resources, tech companies devise creative ways to stay a step ahead of their competitors. With the current demand for sustainability in business, tech companies promote sustainability to attract and maintain consumers.

Following are some of the ways tech companies promote sustainability.

Developing Green Products

Most gadgets either consume large amounts of electricity or are powered by toxic batteries. According to a 2014 report by the International Energy Agency, the worldwide electricity consumption of gadgets reached more than 600 terawatt hours in 2013, which is equivalent to the output of 200 medium-sized coal-fired power plants and three times more than what gadgets would consume had their manufacturers used energy-saving technology. Batteries contain hazardous heavy metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium. When batteries are disposed of in landfills, these heavy metals leach into soil and water, resulting in pollution and public health problems.

The good news is that tech companies are creating “green” products—energy-efficient gadgets that are made of recycled materials. In 2011, Samsung released the NC215 , a solar-powered laptop that doesn’t need electrical charging. The NC215’s lid has a solar panel, which charges a six-cell battery. Exposing the unit’s solar panel to sunlight for two hours will give approximately one hour of working time (the total battery life is estimated to be 14.5 hours).

Samsung has also made three “green” mobile phones— Replenish , Reclaim and Blue Earth —which are made of corn starch bioplastic, and have energy-efficient chargers and fully recyclable packaging. They are free of environmental pollutants such as polyvinyl chloride, phthalates, beryllium and brominated flame retardants.

Encouraging Employees to Engage in Sustainable Practices

A company committed to sustainability embraces and requires community effort. Executives, employees, clients and other stakeholders must do their share in promoting sustainability. This ensures that sustainability measures are effective and lasting, and that their effects will continue to be felt regardless of changes in management.

Intel’s Sustainability in Action program finances employees’ groundbreaking sustainability projects, which are typically focused on addressing local environmental issues. They can submit innovative environmental projects to Intel for funding, and are encouraged to collaborate with external stakeholders in their projects.

As of 2010, Intel has spent USD100,000 on 13 employee projects . One example is Grave to Cradle (G2C) , a plastic recycling project. Intel’s employees turned the company’s leftover plastic materials into pencil boxes. The final pencil boxes were then filled with school supplies and donated to local schools and charities.

Another example is the installation of five bee boxes at the Intel Folsom site in May 2012 . Many people view bees as a nuisance, especially during the summer. However, bees are responsible for about 80 to 90% of crop pollination—roughly 1/3 of humans’ daily diet. Due to extensive monoculture and pesticide use, about 30% of all honeybees die of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) every year. The five bee boxes, intended to house a total of 200,000 bees, aim to protect honeybees and raise awareness about their importance in food security. The team that built these bee boxes also holds a beekeeping class for their fellow Intel employees.

In addition to Sustainability in Action , Intel gives bonuses to employees based on their environmental performance. Employees are rewarded for meeting sustainability targets, such as reducing paper usage or planting flowers in a vacant lot.

Implementing Sustainable Product Life Cycles

Tech companies embed sustainability in every step of their production processes. From assembly to disposal, environmental impact is taken into consideration. Recycled materials are used as much as possible and hazardous chemicals are eliminated. Unnecessary packaging is reduced and a voluntary device take-back scheme is implemented.

Dell’s packaging is now more environmentally-friendly. It uses bamboo cushion instead of foam, and Styrofoam is replaced with mushroom spores and agricultural wastes like cottonseed and rice hulls . This equates to reduced waste and less consumption of materials hazardous to the environment. Styrofoam contains chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are harmful to the ozone layer.

HP’s comprehensive product return and recycling program (implemented in 73 countries) is another example of a sustainable product life cycle. Customers can send their used HP equipment (printer cartridges, servers, storage networking products, etc.) back to the company for recycling. They can also trade in their used IT equipment (of any brand and quantity) for credit towards new HP products.

Educating Consumers about Sustainability

As mentioned earlier, sustainability is a community effort. As companies create “green” products or implement “green” programs, consumers need to do their part by adopting sustainable lifestyles. Unplugging appliances when not in use (instead of just switching them off), recycling certain items instead of throwing them away and buying reusable items instead of disposable ones are some of the things consumers can do to help promote sustainability. The good news is that they can do more, and tech companies are educating them about it.

Through a massive Internet campaign, Nokia informed consumers about Take-back , its e-waste reduction program. The company set up 5,000 care centers worldwide where consumers can drop their old Nokia mobile phones for disposal. These old mobile phones are dismantled, and their components are recycled into other products . The cobalt, nickel and copper in old batteries, for instance, are used to generate new batteries, as well as magnets and stainless steel products. The gold, palladium and copper in mobile phone chargers are used to manufacture jewelry, musical instruments and other consumer electronics. Plastic mobile phone casings are recycled into traffic cones, park benches and car bumpers. The paper in mobile phone packaging is turned into newspapers, egg cartons and paper towels.

Another example of Nokia’s sustainability education measures is the label on their chargers reminding consumers to unplug them when not in use . This is an opportunity the company seized to teach consumers to conserve electricity. David Conrad, Nokia’s Head of Regional Sustainability in the Americas, believes that the company must use its popularity to spread the word about sustainability. In a November 2011 Mashable Asia article , he said, “If you can get people to unplug, then you're talking about a billion dollars of energy. We've got this information device, why not try to spread some information to influence customers to make better choices?”

Developing Partnerships with Like-Minded Companies

Tech companies do not only pursue sustainability by themselves. They collaborate with other sustainability-oriented organizations, sharing resources, talent and manpower. By doing so, they are able to come up with more effective sustainability strategies.

In 2007, Google and Intel founded the Climate Savers Computing Initiative , a nonprofit group of eco-conscious consumers, businesses and conservation organizations. The goals of the group are to save $5.5 billion in energy costs and to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 54 million tons per year . Participating manufacturers and members must commit to producing and purchasing power-efficient computing products. Members of the Climate Savers Computing Initiative include Dell, HP, IBM, Lenovo and Microsoft.

A similar organization is the Digital Energy and Sustainability Solutions Campaign (DESSC) . The DESSC is a group of ICT businesses, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), consumers and other stakeholders that aim to advance sustainable economic growth through technology-enabled energy efficiency and clean energy innovation. Members of the DESSC include AMD, AT&T, General Electric, Verizon and Texas Instruments.

Conclusion

Business is about more than making profits; it also means ensuring that operations will successfully continue in the long term. Sustainable products and operations help ensure that there will be sufficient raw materials for future products and services.

FirstCarbon Solutions (FCS) offers cost-effective sustainability management solutions, as well as guidance on industry best practices. To stay updated on global sustainability opinions, subscribe to the FCS Blog .

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