In this article, John Denslinger takes a look at the electronics industry’s environmental activities past, present and future
I n the memorable words of Kermit the Frog: “it ain’t easy being green”. Forgive me for choosing a light-hearted analogy, but the words ring so true for our industry as well. ‘It ain’t easy’ definitely describes the utter complexity and cost of pursuing a responsible environmental policy. Driven in part by necessity and part by a good stewardship desire, companies over time have institutionalized sizeable legal and environmental departments just to keep pace with lawmakers and regulatory oversight. For global companies, formulating and executing compliance plans, that effort is even more daunting. The rules are not always the rules. Continental, country and sometimes state interests and interpretations vary. It’s just ain’t that easy.
Green is the holy grail of environmentalism. Companies invest time, capital and human resources in energy conservation, electronic waste reduction and recovery, sourcing only verifiable/reputable suppliers, green supply chains, hazardous substance management, factory emissions, product labeling and documentation and just about everything else eco-centric until EOL. Each is addressed as a tangible, measurable event for any shareholder, employee, special interest or government to assess.
So how are we doing as an industry? Want to find out? Check social media, the intangible. With more than two dozen platforms connecting billions and billions of people worldwide offering commentary, judgement, photos, blogs and more, your company’s reputation can change in an instant. A serious failure anywhere in the supply chain can alter opinion, factual or not, to you and everyone downstream.
Let’s say you discover a company unknowingly introduced a conflict mineral from a restricted country into their production. One can easily see how everyone along the supply chain must initiate containment actions, as well as countermeasures, preventing future use of that material, component and/or assembly.
Because of that, procurement plays a key role assuring a robust discovery and continuous review takes place. Buyers don’t necessarily need to be eco-experts, but they should be well-acquainted with all the various rules and regulations when it comes to achieving environmental compliance.
So what are the most common regulations affecting the electronics industry? I would say (4) in particular: RoHS, Conflict Minerals, REACH and the forth-coming California Proposition 65. Both RoHS and REACH originated as European Union (EU) regulations but quickly spread to global adoption. Conflict Mineral regulation originated in the US with the passage of Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Recently, the EU passed its version slated for 2021 adoption. Finally, remember I said earlier that states may affect commerce by implementing their own environmental rules, California Prop 65 is such a regulation targeting labeling and warning requirements. This law will affect component manufacturers and distributors the most not only in compliance but more so in shipping logistics. The law becomes effective late this summer and may be a matter of time before other regions consider the same.
Despite my ‘it ain’t easy being green’ intro, our industry continually demonstrates incredible leadership in being green. Check out individual company websites for environmental responsibility statements.