Brice Bunner

Sustainability isn’t part of innovation… is it?


Image ©: HighsnobietyYou see the commercial, so you think it’s fair game, right? Anyone with the right number of greenbacks can purchase that particular convenience, if they wanted...

But, the growing reality is that is not exactly the case. As technology grows so fast, there are some features that are going to be in short supply. And, when we move fast, we tend to break things, don’t we?

The problem humans have always had

Since the beginning of time, the human race has never known the word balance. We indulge until our sides split (something you might have experienced at your latest Holiday meal, perhaps?), we populate until our borders break, and we innovate until our resources recede.

Recent progress has given us the sense that nothing is impossible; smaller, faster, brighter, lighter, you-name-it, are all things that we’ve come to expect. And expect it we will. So, manufacturers are tasked with pushing those limits for our overindulgent society. You make it, we’ll consume it—sometimes no matter the cost.

But in this innovation, rarely are things like recycling and circular economics built into the process. Resources are sought after merely as a way to achieve that breakthrough—not as a sustainably-sourced material. And, though we love technology, it is this part of innovation we, at Sage, reject. Sustainability has to be part of the design process—from the beginning—for innovation to continue beyond a few short years.

The cost of sustainable design

Typically, when the human race overindulges, it’s due to some economic reason. Population explosions are often matched with an improvement in harvests, or a particularly “good” year of crops. Balance comes from either a lack of resources (one could argue that not having the face ID in your Samsung phone is forcing balance), or because of an economic shift that turns the balanced life into an indulgence.

For recycling to be top of mind, it needs to be an indulgence—something that is economic. If not, there will need to be subsidies that make recycling feel like it’s a free—or mostly free—service. Subsidies force an economic shift by allowing people to think they’re indulging; like a trick to get people to do the right thing (in the case of recycling subsidies).

In an ideal situation, the subsidized proposed would come from within the life-cycle of the products or services that are needing changed. For instance, the SB20, which puts the cost of recycling into the cost of the object, gives consumers the illusion that responsibly disposing of their electronics device is a pain-free process.

Completing the circle of economics

Manufacturers also need to be held to claims of sustainability with the end of life resolution, to keep the balance working from both ends of the cycle. By building in circular economics, manufacturers could further solidify the “indulgent” part of recycling. Instead, they design things that cannot be recycled. Which puts the cost of responsible ownership back on the consumer.

But, why shouldn’t we pay for the responsible recycling of our electronic devices? After all, we are willing to indulge upwards of $1,000 to get the luxury of faceID. If we look at that as a "cutting-edge" tax, then wouldn’t adding a few dollars for sustainable recycling be just as easy? (Earth-Savings tax, anyone?) That way we could indulge in the latest trends of electronic devices in a balanced, sustainable way. And what’s more cutting edge than that?

By designing sustainability into the front-end of our products, establishing a subsidy within the cost of the device, and encouraging consumers and manufacturers to push for circular economics, we could turn into a sustainable process. We would be creating (and indulging in!) new technologies that we know—at the start—will be something our culture can sustain.

About Sage

Sage Sustainable Electronics leads the market in sustainable IT asset management and disposition (ITAD) by reusing more and recycling less. Every year, businesses retire millions of used-but-still-useful technology products, creating the fastest growing business and consumer waste stream in the world. We strategically and passionately help companies reuse more and recycle less than anyone else in the industry.

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