On November 15, 2017, Sustainable Brands reported that Amnesty International had released a new report revealing that tech industry giants such as Microsoft, Lenovo, Renault and Vodafone aren’t doing enough to keep child labor out of cobalt battery supply chains in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and China. “The findings come almost two years after Amnesty exposed a link between batteries used in their products and child labor. Time to Recharge ranks industry leaders, including Apple, Samsung SDI, Dell, Microsoft, BMW, Renault, Vodafone and Tesla according to improvements to their cobalt-sourcing practices since January 2016. The 108-page report revealed that only a handful of companies made progress, with many failing to take even basic steps, such as investigating supply links in the DRC. The report’s publication is timely, arriving just months after the UK government announced plans to ban new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040, which would ultimately lead to higher demand for cobalt batteries. This last point is particularly problematic as recent reports have revealed that cobalt resources are on the decline, despite demand growth predicted at 500 percent.”
The International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative (iNEMI) regularly produces industry roadmaps. According to the iNEMI web site, “Each edition is a global collaborative effort that involves many individuals who are leading experts in their respective fields and represent many perspectives on the electronics manufacturing supply chain. Our roadmap has become recognized as an important tool for defining the “state of the art” in the electronics industry as well as identifying emerging and disruptive technologies. It also includes keys to developing future iNEMI projects and setting industry R&D priorities over the next 10 years.”
The latest edition of the iNEMI roadmap will go on sale this month. In preparation, iNEMI is previewing highlights from select chapters in the following two webinars:
Asia (April 6): Internet of Things (IoT) and Packaging & Components Substrates chapters
North America/Europe (April 7): IoT and Sustainable Electronics chapters
The purpose of these webinars is to introduce the 2017 iNEMI Roadmap and identify key issues and needs, collect feedback during the Q & A session for ongoing gap analysis purposes, recruit participation in in the development of the iNEMI Technical Plan, and recruit participation in the next roadmap development cycle. (See http://community.inemi.org/content.asp?contentid=56 for information on the 2015 Technical Plan.)
I’ve written a fair amount on this blog about the EPEAT product registry, and its usefulness for consumers and procurement officers interested in identifying more sustainably-produced electronics devices. Previously the registry was only available for the PCs and displays (including tablets), imaging equipment (which includes printers, copiers, scanners and multifunction devices) and televisions. There has been talk for many years about the development of criteria to register mobile phones, but the multi-stakeholder process of criteria development is a long and rigorous process which takes time.
Those of us who have been waiting for those mobile phone criteria were delighted to hear the recent news that the Green Electronics Council, the organization that administers the EPEAT product registry and UL Environment, a business division of Underwriters Laboratories, a leading name in product safety, had announced a joint-certification to enable mobile phones that are certified to the ANSI/UL 110 sustainability standard to also be featured on the EPEAT Registry. This joint ECOLOGO/EPEAT certification is now available for mobile phone brands that want to certify their products to the latest UL 110 standard and also make them eligible for procurements and tenders that require EPEAT-registered products.
According to the UL Environment web site, “Products with this mark have achieved certification to lifecycle-based standards specifically tailored for mobile phones and are subject to ongoing verification through the EPEAT system. This unprecedented combination of pre- and post-market auditing ensures the credibility of manufacturers’ sustainability claims. It also allows the thousands of governments, institutions and businesses worldwide with an EPEAT purchasing policy to quantify how mobile phones contribute to their sustainable-procurement goals.”
While you cannot yet search the EPEAT registry for phones, according to the Green Electronics Council, “Several of the world’s most popular mobile-phone brands have already begun the pre-assessment process for UL ECOLOGO/EPEAT Joint Certification, while wireless carriers worldwide have expressed interest in working with vendors to require phones that carry the UL ECOLOGO/EPEAT joint certification mark.” I for one look forward to the day in the near future when we can search the EPEAT registry when making decisions about new phone purchases!
The February 15 deadline for applying for an EPEAT purchaser award is fast approaching. The EPEAT product registry is a useful tool to identify more sustainable electronic product options in the categories of PCs and Displays (including tablets), Imaging Equipment (which includes printers, copiers, scanners and multifunction devices) and Televisions.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently announced that 13 proposals had been selected for funding as part of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, which “invests in transformative architectures through the development of pioneering technologies.” According to the press release, “NIAC Phase I awards are valued at approximately $100,000 for nine months, to support initial definition and analysis of their concepts. If these basic feasibility studies are successful, awardees can apply for Phase II awards, valued up to $500,000 for two additional years of concept development.” Read the full press release on the NASA web site.
“Space missions rely utterly on metallic components, from the spacecraft to electronics. Yet, metals add mass, and electronics have the additional problem of a limited lifespan. Thus, current mission architectures must compensate for replacement. In space, spent electronics are discarded; on earth, there is some recycling but current processes are toxic and environmentally hazardous. Imagine instead an end-to-end recycling of spent electronics at low mass, low cost, room temperature, and in a non-toxic manner. Here, we propose a solution that will not only enhance mission success by decreasing upmass and providing a fresh supply of electronics, but in addition has immediate applications to a serious environmental issue on the Earth. Spent electronics will be used as feedstock to make fresh electronic components, a process we will accomplish with so-called ‘urban biomining’ using synthetically enhanced microbes to bind metals with elemental specificity. To create new electronics, the microbes will be used as ‘bioink’ to print a new IC chip, using plasma jet electronics printing. The plasma jet electronics printing technology will have the potential to use martian atmospheric gas to print and to tailor the electronic and chemical properties of the materials. Our preliminary results have suggested that this process also serves as a purification step to enhance the proportion of metals in the ‘bioink’. The presence of electric field and plasma can ensure printing in microgravity environment while also providing material morphology and electronic structure tunabiity and thus optimization. Here we propose to increase the TRL level of the concept by engineering microbes to dissolve the siliceous matrix in the IC, extract copper from a mixture of metals, and use the microbes as feedstock to print interconnects using mars gas simulant. To assess the ability of this concept to influence mission architecture, we will do an analysis of the infrastructure required to execute this concept on Mars, and additional opportunities it could offer mission design from the biological and printing technologies. In addition, we will do an analysis of the impact of this technology for terrestrial applications addressing in particular environmental concerns and availability of metals.”
Note that “TRL” refers to “Technology Readiness Level,” a measure of the technological maturity of a concept, indicative of the degree to which it has developed beyond the initial faults and unforeseen problems that inevitably arise when something theoretical is brought into practice. NASA TRL definitions help characterize whether a concept is ready for use in space flight during missions or has been “flight proven” as part of successful missions.
Though the idea is geared toward making missions to Mars more practical in terms of the weight of materials needed to pack for missions and dealing with the lack of a local repair shop in the event of a device breakdown, the concept–if successful–could have obvious positive impacts on sustainable electronic product design and responsible management of the ever-growing stream of discarded electronics here on Earth. This could end up becoming one more example of how technology developed to enable space exploration could have benefits to humans in their everyday terrestrial lives. NASA has published an annual accounting of such technologies called “Spinoff” since 1976.
The deadline has been extended until April 27th to submit applications for the EPEAT Purchaser Awards. The awards recognize excellence in green procurement of electronics. EPEAT Purchasers will earn a star for each product category for which they have a written policy in place that requires the purchase of EPEAT registered electronics.
The EPEAT Purchaser Awards are open to all organizations that purchase EPEAT-registered products and meet the following requirements:
Agree to have your organization as an EPEAT Purchaser. EPEAT Purchasers agree to share their specific EPEAT vendor contract language and to be listed on the EPEAT website. By submitting the EPEAT Purchaser Award Application, you agree to have your organization listed as an EPEAT Purchaser.
Must have an organizational purchasing policy in place for environmentally preferable procurement of electronics (see model policy language)
Must set specifications in contracts with vendors requiring that all electronic products in a specific category (PC/Displays, Imaging Equipment, and Televisions) achieve Bronze registration or higher in the EPEAT system in the country/countries of purchase (see model contract language)
Must report annual purchase volume of EPEAT registered products
Winners will be honored on Monday, May 23, during a ceremony in Washington DC. The Awards ceremony will be co-located with the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council (SPLC) Summit at the Kellogg Conference Center and will take place immediately following the SPLC Pre-Summit Courses. All EPEAT Purchaser Award winners are invited to attend a brief reception before the ceremony, and then to participate in the ceremony itself.
According to the report, over half the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and 20% of that is from artisanal mines where young children may be involved in unsafe practices exposing them to high levels of cobalt. From the Triple Pundit article linked to above, ‘“As with adult miners,” Amnesty International corroborated, “they were exposed to high levels of cobalt on a consistent basis, but did not even have gloves or face masks to wear.” In most cases, the authors pointed out, the financial gain of their work was nominal: “[The children reported] they worked for up to 12 hours a day in the mines, carrying heavy loads, to earn between one and two dollars a day.”’
The full report may be downloaded from the Amnesty International web site in English, Chinese, or French (PDF Format; 88 pages). According to the site: “This report documents the hazardous conditions in which artisanal miners, including thousands of children, mine cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It goes on to trace how this cobalt is used to power mobile phones, laptop computers, and other portable electronic devices. Using basic hand tools, miners dig out rocks from tunnels deep underground, and accidents are common. Despite the potentially fatal health effects of prolonged exposure to cobalt, adult and child miners work without even the most basic protective equipment. This report is the first comprehensive account of how cobalt enters the supply chain of many of the world’s leading brands.”
You can also check out the Amnesty International video below:
Manuscripts are still being accepted for the special issue of the journal Challenges, entitled “Electronic Waste–Impact, Policy and Green Design.”
From the issue’s rationale:
“Electronics are at the heart of an economic system that has brought many out of poverty and enhanced quality of life. In Western society in particular, our livelihoods, health, safety, and well being are positively impacted by electronics. However, there is growing evidence that our disposal of electronics is causing irreparable damage to the planet and to human health, as well as fueling social conflict and violence.
While global demand for these modern gadgets is increasing, policy to handle the increased volumes of electronic waste has not kept pace. International policy governing safe transfer, disposal, reclamation, and reuse of electronic waste is nonexistent or woefully lacking. Where laws do exist about exporting and importing hazardous waste, they are routinely circumvented and enforcement is spotty at best. While European Union countries lead the way in responsible recycling of electronic and electrical devices under various EU directives, most industrialized nations do not have such policies. In the U.S., for example, most electronic waste is still discarded in landfills or ground up for scrap.
It is imperative that we consider how green design practices can address the growing electronic waste problem. This special issue is meant to do just that and spur discussions on how electronic products can become greener and more sustainable.”
If you are interested in submitting a paper for this special issue, please send a title and short abstract (about 100 words) to the Challenges Editorial Office at firstname.lastname@example.org, indicating the special issue for which it is to be considered. If the proposal is considered appropriate for the issue, you will be asked to submit a full paper. Complete instructions for authors and an online submission form for the completed manuscripts are available on the Challenges web site at http://www.mdpi.com/journal/challenges/special_issues/electronic-waste#info. The deadline for manuscript submissions is December 31, 2015. Questions may be addressed to co-guest editor Joy Scrogum.
The Northeast Recycling Council (NERC) recently completed its “Simplifying Environmentally Preferable Purchasing” project, which was funded by the Roy A. Hunt Foundation. As part of the project, NERC developed Model Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) Specifications and Purchasing Guidelines for paper, toner cartridges, and office supplies. NERC also created fact sheets on each of the EPP Model documents, and presented a webinar on the importance of EPP and the EPP model documents.
Model EPP Specifications and Purchasing Guidelines
Does your organization use EPEAT to source environmentally preferable electronics? If so, consider applying for the first annual EPEAT Purchaser Awards, which recognize the efforts of those driving environmental improvements through environmentally preferable electronics purchasing. Applications are being accepted through April 6 for the 2015 EPEAT Purchaser Awards. All organizations that purchase EPEAT-registered products are eligible. Learn more and apply today at http://www.epeat.net/epeat-purchaser-awards/.