Flash back to 1989: Did we ever imagine a world in which we carried in our pockets palm-sized devices that connected us to everything from our friends to the Internet super-highway?
The technology of twenty years ago has evolved into sleek, ingenious, energy-efficient machines today. But electronics’ functions and design aren’t the only things that have changed. Today our ever-changing vernacular and familiarity with technology are commonplace; “tweeting” is a commonly used verb, and computer keyboards are as familiar as the back of our hands. Technology is no longer entertainment – it’s an essential.
But now the electronics industry is moving into a new direction that’s coated with an eco-friendly lining. “Green” is the new buzzword, and technology is doing everything to grab a piece of the pie. Here are eight ways our favorite gadgets have gone green:
1. Recycled Materials Are Abundant
You may not realize how many virgin materials are required to manufacture your PDA. According to the EPA, “cell phones are made from valuable resources such as precious metals, copper and plastics – all of which require energy to extract and manufacture.”
Samsung’s Reclaim is the first cell phone in the U.S. to be made in part from bioplastic, a material that’s uncommon in the electronics industry. Released in August, the phone is made from 80 percent recyclable materials. The corn-based bioplastic makes up 40 percent of the outer casing, and is PVC-free.
Recycled materials aren’t just for cell phones. Canon recently released a line of calculators made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic.
2. It’s Electric!
It’s all about fuel efficiency, and the hybrid has certainly changed the way we think about the future of automotives. In a May interview, Ford Hybrid Marketing Manager David Finnegan told Earth911.com that the automotive industry is always thinking ahead, planning for the next trend.
While biofuel is certainly a much-touted debate, the hottest topic in the industry now is the electric car, and its popularity among celebs has thrust it into the limelight. Tesla is the big name in electric vehicles, but other automotive companies are catching on, including Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen.
3. Solar Is Taking Charge
Solar power goes beyond the roof. Electronics have found a way to harness that power into, well, more power. Sprint’s new SOLIO Mono Hybrid cell phone charger has an integrated solar cell to allow for “mobile charging,” as the photovoltaic solar cell is capable of charging a lithium ion battery using just the sun’s rays.
The solar-powered charger idea has also been applied to a solar panel for everything from iPods to cell phones and other DC-powered objects. Kaito Electronics Inc. also has an AM/FM/SW radio with a compass, thermometer, siren and clock – all powered by the sun.
4. Seriously Slimmed Packaging
You may not pay attention to the packaging when purchasing your brand new plasma TV. But it becomes a huge nuisance after you’ve successfully installed your flat screen on the wall and the foam crates and cardboard box litters your living room floor.
While it may not be the first thing you look for, consider this: According to a recent study by Pike Research, it is estimated that the worldwide market for packaging is currently valued at $429 billion and is expected to top $500 billion in the next five years.
Some companies are beginning to see the benefits to limited packaging and have embraced the advantages of recycled content. Recently, a T-Mobile pay-as-you-go phone implemented new packaging that cuts its plastic usage by 45 percent, resulting in a 40 percent reduction in transport materials.
Additionally, one of the coolest sustainable packaging endeavors we’ve seen is Earthmate’s CFL packaging that doubles as a recycling kit.
5. Companies Are More Responsible
Corporate Social Responsibility is defined as “the integration of business operations and values, whereby the interests of all stakeholders including investors, customers, employees, the community and the environment are reflected in the company’s policies and actions,” according to CSRWire.
The term is becoming more important as consumers are taking an interest in companies’ environmental and ethical standards. Examples of companies pursuing ecologically and socially responsible operations include:
Nokia: For the past decade, Nokia has been trying to responsibly realize its vision of a world where everyone can be connected. Its 2007 CSR positions Nokia as a global company with both environmental and social initiatives.
Dell: Dell’s CSR report looks at the entire business from the perspective of sustainability. This examination leads into employee engagement, community involvement, corporate accountability and environmental responsibility.
Motorola: Motorola says it is working to make products that have a minimal environmental impact. One approach to this goal is the development of a strategy that reduces greenhouse gas emissions from company operations through energy-saving adjustments.
6. Gadgets With a Mind of Their Own
It’s the same idea as the motion lights in your backyard: Electronics can now sense your presence. Sound like something from The Matrix? It’s actually a huge energy saver. Philips Brilliance LCD computer display actually detects when you’re at your desk. The PowerSensor function works independently from the operating system, allowing it to go dim by 50 percent in your absence without affecting your work.
Philips’ Eco TV scored the top spot on PC World’s list of “5 Eco-Friendly Gadgets.” The 42-inch screen includes a dimming mechanism that lowers the backlight depending on what is on the screen. The sensor also measures the room’s light, automatically adjusting accordingly.
7. They Have Standards
How do you measure the environmental impact of your PC? Leave the mathematical headache to the pros. The EPEAT system helps consumers evaluate, compare and select electronics based on their environmental attributes. However, the system only covers desktop and laptop computers, thin clients, workstations and computer monitors.
In order to be registered with EPEAT, electronics must meet 23 required environmental criteria. Registered products are rated Gold, Silver and Bronze, depending on the percentage of additional criteria met. Some Gold-standard desktops include, the Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro, 2.26GHz (MB990), Lenovo ThinkPad T400, the HP Mini 2140 Notebook PC ENERGY STAR and the DELL Latitude E6400 ATG.
8. Disposal is Top-Priority
Proper e-waste disposal is a topic that we continue to cover heavily. With news reports uncovering improper disposal overseas, the government is cracking down on the illegal shipping of derelict electronics, but the legislation to regulate these practices has been criticized for its numerous loopholes.
Currently, the U.S. has no federal law against sending e-waste to dealers overseas. However, individual companies are making an effort to ensure their products are responsibly managed. Dell recently became the first manufacturer to ban all e-waste exports to developing nations. The company also launched its Reconnect program in partnership with Goodwill to recycle computers.
Several other manufacturers have partnered with the EPA in its Plug-In To eCycling campaign to encourage responsible recycling of electronics at their end of life. AT&T, Best Buy, LG Electronics, Motorola, Nokia, Office Depot, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Sprint, Staples, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless have all pledged to increase awareness about cell phone recycling.