I am honored to be involved in the Sustainable Electronics Forum hosted at the Wingspread Conference Center by the US EPA. About 30 representatives from industry, government, and academia are grappling with how to define what a sustainable IT economy would look like in 2030. Here are some of the questions I'm expecting we will consider over the next couple of days:
- What will be the material composition of products and can we sustainably source these materials through recycling and recovery processes, renewables, biobased materials, or some other new innovation? Can we continue to innovate and generate new products without depleting non-renewable resources?
- Electronics require energy to operate. Can we generate that energy through more sustainable processes, including kinetic, solar, etc.?
- How can we improve stored energy issues? Batteries need to be improved in order to support portable devices. How can we extend their lives, reduce their toxicity and make them safe to handle and dispose?
- There will be electronic products we will be using 20 years from now that cannot be predicted. Smartphones did not exist 10 years ago. How do we define the future when it’s difficult to predict the basic tools we’ll use?
- The drive to innovate encourages the rapid development of new technologies and products, which promote rapid obsolescence of legacy products. If consumers want to always get the latest gadget, the disposal of electronics will continue to accelerate. How can we innovate in “durables” without making them “disposables”?
- The world will continue to become more interconnected. Consumer technology is spreading quickly across the globe. Emerging markets are adopting technology at a significant pace, and they have a good infrastructure to support it. How do we account for these trends?
- People want so much – we want access to information at fast speeds, reliably. The drive to meet these demands can run counter to environmental goals which require us to set limits. Do we need to change people’s expectations for electronic products in order to achieve a sustainable electronics industry?
- We need to understand marketing and consumer psychology. What is it that consumers want and how can we provide attractive products to them that are sustainable?
I'm sure many other questions will arise during this process, and I hope a roadmap and action plan to proactively prepare for the future will develop. I'll let you know how it goes.